If you’re having trouble catching those all-important 8 hours, what you eat could be the culprit. Along with other psychological and environmental factors, diet is one of the key elements that could be disrupting your eight hours of beauty sleep.
So what should you eat and what shouldn’t you eat? There are old wives tales a-plenty citing turkey (for the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan) and warm milk, à la a newborn baby, as the perfect pre-sleep nibbles. But the former requires you to eat a lot of turkey (you need one gram of tryptophan to see any results, and the average turkey dinner contains only 250-350 mg of the good stuff), while warm milk has more of a placebo effect than anything else.
Here are a few surprising things that will actually help you nod off — taking you from one of our favourite pastimes (eating) to the other (sleeping).
Almonds are rich in a variety of nutrients including phosphorus, manganese and riboflavin. They are an excellent source of fibre and are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. All good reasons to eat them, but may also help you sleep, too. These delicious nuts contain the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin and also magnesium which can help to reduce the stress hormone cortisol.
Walnuts are also a great source of tryptophan and research has shown that they contain their own source of melatonin. As they also feature iron, selenium, calcium, zinc, vitamin E and some B vitamins, they are an excellent inclusion in your diet, even if catching those zzzs come easily to you.
Beatrix Potter famously described lettuce as soporific (sleep inducing). She was talking about its effects on rabbits but it turns out that lettuce contains lactucarium, which has sedative properties. It could be worth adding a salad to your evening meal.
This fish is high in vitamin B6, which your body needs to make melatonin and serotonin. Salmon and halibut are also good choices, and a fish supper could help you sleep while offering a variety of nutritional benefits to boost your health.
It might not be your drink of choice, but a glass of cherry juice could make you fall asleep faster. Cherries, especially the tart varieties, boost melatonin production and a study in Pennsylvania showed that those who drank cherry juice saw an improvement in their insomnia. It can't hurt to try, right?
Chickpeas in general are a good source of tryptophan, so hummus and whole-grain crackers would be an excellent evening snack. Chickpeas can be added to many recipes to give them a nutritious boost so keep a few tins in your kitchen cupboard as they are sure to come in handy. (Doesn't exactly hurt that this is a delicious option, too.)
Kiwis are low in calories but high in a number of important nutrients including vitamin C and potassium. Also high in antioxidants, the fruit is beneficial for your general health but may also aid sleep due to the presence of serotonin which helps regulate your sleep cycle.
Oatmeal is high in carbs and has been reported to cause drowsiness when eaten before bed. Additionally, oats are a known source of melatonin and so offer dual benefits if you need to improve the quality of your sleep. It also keeps you full for longer, which is always great, too.
If you enjoy bananas you're in luck because they contain tryptophan and are a great source of magnesium. That bedtime bowl of oatmeal could be enhanced with slices of banana to create an excellent sleep inducing snack. Plus, it only takes a few minutes to whip up... so no complaints here about long cooking times.
If you're having trouble falling asleep, the first and best port of call should be your GP, who will be able to advise a correct treatment plan.
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