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Sleep and I don’t always see eye to eye. I long for it. I want it. And yet it sometimes alludes me. I know the main culprit is stress. While I’m working on that, I know it can’t always be completely controlled. So I make sure I follow good routines, get proper nutrition, exercise and other things that improve the ability to sleep well. In this particular article, let’s discuss the Best Foods For Sleep.
Sleep Affects Wellness
As I discussed in a previous post, How Sleep Affects Wellness, sleep plays a vital role in healthy brain function and maintaining physical health and wellbeing. According to a 2022 Sleep Statistics report by The Sleep Foundation, over 35% of Americans claim to sleep less than 7 hours a night. Furthermore, 10-30 percent of adults struggle with chronic insomnia.
A lack of sleep or long hours and repeated nights of missing sleep can leads to sleep deprivation symptoms and other health problems. In that last post about sleep (see link above), I talked about the effects of deprivation and a number of approaches to take to address sleep issues. In this post, let’s address foods a bit more closely.
Best Foods and Better Sleep
Before we talk about specific foods, let’s remember a few basics. Snacks before bedtime are not generally a good thing- especially right before bed if you can help it. If you must eat, a light healthy snack is best. It is also best to avoid caffeine( coffee, non-herbal teas, soft drinks and chocolate). It may be best to skip the alcohol too, although there’s some difference of opinions on that one. Also, while this post is mostly about foods to eat in the evenings to promote restful sleep, a well-rounded low sugar diet full of healthy fats, fruits, vegetables and quality proteins is what is always best for health and sleep.
There’s no one magic cure for sleep. If you only have a little sleep issues occasionally, then just one or two of the foods below may help significantly. But remember, as we discussed in the previous post and will in others to follow, there’s a lot involved, and these foods alone or in combination may not be all you need to do. But here’s the foods to incorporate into your evening snacks that could be a step in the right direction.
This is a new one for me. There are several in my list today that I’ve read about before- even tried. I didn’t know about kiwi so I decided to start with it! I would never have guessed that Kiwi is considered one of the best foods for sleep. Apparently a study found that people who eat 1-2 kiwis an hour before bedtime fell asleep faster, slept more and had better quality sleep. They are not, however, sure why this is. One possibility is something to do with the antioxidant properties, a somewhat high amount of serotonin or folate. I imagine it’s a combination of these factors. Either way, I’m delighted as I’ve been buying these more lately for their abundant vitamin c!
Tart Cherries (Melatonin)
Tart Cherries and tart cherry juice are high in melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland and is essential for sleep. The gland produces more melatonin when the sun goes down (affected by daylight) and there are foods high in melatonin that could assist you when having difficulties with sleep. Tart cherries are one of these foods. Others include eggs, nuts, milk, fish, and goji berries. Haven’t tried tart cherry juice or goji berries? Try your local store or here for the juice and here for the berries. I sometimes add goji berries to whatever herbal tea mix I’m making and let them steep there until I drink the tea!
Brazil Nuts (selenium)
My husband has been on a big selenium kick recently after some of his functional medicine coursework. That just means it’s brought to the forefront of his attention and is keeping us on our toes with one brazil nut a day. That’s pretty much all that is necessary as brazil nuts are loaded with selenium. So I found it a little coincidental that as I read article after article on foods associated with better sleep in preparation for this post that I discovered that a survey through NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) indicated a correlation between selenium intake and greater difficulty falling asleep. If your local store doesn’t carry a good quality bag of brazil nuts, you can get a bag on Amazon.
Vitamin D and Calcium
In the same survey listed above by NHANES, a correlation was discovered between low vitamin D and difficulty maintaining sleep as well as low calcium intake. See my post on Vitamin D to really enhance that vitamin/hormone as while you can eat some foods to minimally assist what you need, they do not contain an adequate amount for your needs without enough sunshine and other sources. For calcium, leafy greens are a wonderful source as well as grass-fed milk, yogurt and eggs.
Foods Rich in Magnesium
I’ll just group these all together because there’s quite a few. Magnesium is a mineral. There’s quite a bit of research that shows magnesium supplementation (here’s one I like) can help with sleep. It has the ability to enhance the secretion of melatonin within the body.
You can sometimes get adequate amounts in whole foods if you make a concentrated effort. Foods rich in magnesium include almonds, cashews, dark leafy greens, as well as legumes and seeds. I think almonds and cashews could make an easy snack an hour or so before bed.
Foods High in Tryptophan
Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter or a ‘chemical messenger’ in the body that plays an important role in sleep cycles. Tryptophan is an amino acid in turkey and other foods. Think about how you feel after that turkey dinner at Thanksgiving. Of course the carbs play a big part of that too. But tryptophan has been shown to improve sleep in some people. Foods containing tryptophan include whole milk, turkey, tuna, chicken and nuts.
Remember how kiwis (see above) were high in antioxidants? Because it is thought that oxidative stress and inflammation are big contributors to poor sleep, antioxidants, which help combat both oxidative stress and inflammation, may play a big role in your sleep. This goes back to a well balanced healthy diet based on foods rich in antioxidants- mainly fruits and vegetables – being essential for wellness and SLEEP. Foods high in antioxidants that should be eaten throughout the day include berries, cherries, spinach and other greens, kiwis, fresh vegetables, herbs and more.
A future post will do this topic of herbs more justice, as there are so many that are helpful and ways to take it, they deserve their own post. But if you want to do some internet or grocery store searching before I get to that, I figured I’d at least mention them here and give you just a couple of my Amazon affiliate links to some teas. I love having a nighttime tea (like this one)before bed.
The herbs I suggest looking into are Chamomile (see my post on Chamomile here), Skullcap, Passionflower, Wood betony, Lemon balm, Catnip, Lavender, California poppy, and Linden. I would like to note here that it’s important to do some of your own investigating into these herbs before trying any. Chamomile tends to be safe for everyone as I mentioned in my post (see link above). But all herbs can have paradoxical effects because our bodies are so vastly different from one another. So while you can try different herbal tea blends, read up on the individual herbs first and take notes on how they affect you.
What Will You Try?
In closing, it’s best to have a well balanced diet. Focus on quality fats, proteins and fruits and vegetables loaded with antioxidants. A light snack at the end of the day if you are experiencing sleep issues may include a slice of turkey and a handful of berries, or some fresh vegetables and a handful of nuts, or perhaps a kiwi with nuts or turkey. Maybe a glass of cherry juice with that turkey. There’s a lot of combinations you can try!
Do you struggle with sleep? Have you tried any of the food ideas listed? Do you have any other natural methods that help you sleep better?
Please remember: I am not a doctor or licensed healthcare provider. This post, as are all others on My Wellness Basket, are for educational purposes only. Please see my disclaimer page.