Eat Right, Sleep Tight

Get ready for another post about two of life’s greatest pleasures: food and sleep! My last post focused on how mindful eating can (hopefully) prevent distressing dreams, but there are tons of other ways that the right foods and eating habits can help guarantee a restful slumber. For instance, while it’s fairly common knowledge that warm milk helps you sleep, what’s really interesting is the science behind its and other foods’ soothing effects.

Melatonin

sleep cherryThis is the hormone that causes us to fall and stay asleep, regulating the body’s circadian rhythm. Darkness, namely due to nightfall, triggers the pineal gland into secreting melatonin into the bloodstream to cause drowsiness. Blood melatonin content then stays high for roughly 12 hours before falling back to virtually undetectable daytime levels.

What to eat:

  • Tart cherries or cherry juice
  • Pineapple
  • Chickpeas, soy products, wild Atlantic salmon, and other foods rich in Vitamin B6, which boosts melatonin production
  • Calcium (warm milk!), which also helps produce melatonin

Serotonin

A neurotransmitter that is essential to the sleep cycle because it gets synthesized to create melatonin. Serotonin levels drop during REM, allowing the brain to be more active and dream, but low serotonin levels, often due to stress, can cause sleep disruption and disorders. Similarly, serotonin deficits have been linked to depression and increased aggression, which is why it the chemical is also considered to be a mood balancer.

*What to eat:

  • Dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa
  • Walnuts
  • No caffeine, which is a serotonin depressant

*some research suggests that serotonin doesn’t cross the “blood-brain barrier,” meaning that consuming food containing the chemical won’t actually affect the brain. What seems to have more effect is tryptophan, explained below.

Tryptophan

You might have heard of this amino acid with reference to turkey on Thanksgiving. Tryptophan contributes to melatonin and serotonin production and is said to help people fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. Vitamin B is especially helpful in converting it to serotonin.

cereal healthyWhat to eat:

  • Carbs (oats, whole grain breads, etc.), which cause a spike in blood sugar that triggers insulin and clears the bloodstream of tryptophan-inhibiting acids
  • Protein (turkey, bananas, peanut butter, milk, eggs, and cottage cheese)
  • Carb-protein combinations! Try low-sugar cereal with milk, cheese and crackers, or peanut butter sandwiches.

Magnesium

This vitamin reduces muscle tension, helping the body relax to fall asleep. Not to mention that it is known to combat high blood pressure and has been tentatively linked to reducing risk of developing diabetes, migraine frequency, and the intensity of PMS symptoms.

What to eat:

  • Leafy greens
  • Brazil nuts
  • Bananas

Bonus mythbuster: a glass of red wine before bed? Well, alcohol is a depressant and might make you feel tired in the short-term, but it can also cause disruptive internal gas and prevent you from achieving REM sleep. So, if that’s your sleep aid of choice, make it a small glass.

Hope you enjoyed this short guide to sleep-science jargon!

Sweet dreams,

Eva

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