9 nutritional strategies helping you fall and stay asleep

9 nutritional strategies helping you fall and stay asleep

In case you’re reading this article in the middle of the night because you can’t fall asleep, you’ve got company.  Globally, insomnia is the world’s most common sleep disorder with 30 % or 2.2 billion people who suffer frequently from it.  When you have persistent sleep problems – at least 3 nights per week - with falling or staying asleep or both and you wake up feeling unrefreshed, this can have a negative impact on your ability to function during the day.

Just like eating, sleep is an essential part of life.  Sufficient, quality sleep is vital for our mental and physical health affecting how we think, work, learn and for growth and development in infants, children and teens.  The amount of sleep necessary varies among individuals but generally most adults require 7 to 8 hours of sleep while infants and teenagers need more.  Some studies have shown certain risk factors for insomnia – heredity, chronic disease, psychological or stress-related factors. Having ongoing sleep deficiency can increase heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. 

If insomnia has been an unwelcome relentless visitor during the night, instead of resorting to sleeping pills or other means, one option is a more natural approach with food.  Certain foods can help induce the production of substances in the body promoting sleep. 

Sleep strategies using food

1.     Eat foods that naturally boost melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, which helps control your sleep and wake cycles.  It has a soothing effect causing drowsiness, lowers body temperature and makes you feel ready for sleep.  Certain foods seem to help with this cycle by inducing sleep more than other foods.  Some foods that help include milk, cherries, walnuts, and kiwifruit. A double-blinded pilot study showed drinking tart cherry juice twice a day helped reduce insomnia in elderly people as it increased melatonin helping reduce sleep disturbances.  Also eating kiwifruit before bedtime seemed to improve sleep in another small study.  So maybe having a warm glass of milk with a small handful of walnuts and cherries or kiwifruit may just do the trick to nod off to sleep.

2.     Eat foods rich in magnesium. 

This mineral may play a role in increasing sleepiness as research has shown deficiencies may impair sleep.  Magnesium rich foods include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, green leafy vegetables, fish, soybeans, avocados, and dark chocolate.

3.     Limit alcohol intake before bedtime

On the one hand, alcohol can make you feel drowsy helping you fall asleep, but overindulging may backfire, causing you to wake up during the night.  Too much alcohol can suppress REM (rapid eye movement) associated with deep sleep crucial to feeling rejuvenated in the morning.  Best advice, drink alcohol in moderation with a meal several hours before bedtime. 

4.     Eat foods rich in vitamin B6.

Vitamin B6 helps your body make melatonin and serotonin, both neurotransmitters for regulating the sleep/wake cycle.  Try eating more fish such as tuna, salmon and halibut in addition to raw garlic and pistachios, all good sources of vitamin B6, to help with sleepless nights.

5.     Eat foods rich in tryptophan along with a carbohydrate rich food

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid the body can’t make so you have to get it from food sources such as turkey, elk, chicken, fish, milk or hummus.   Eating tryptophan-containing foods with foods high in carbohydrates will boost your serotonin levels that give you a relaxed feeling and a sense of well-being.  A good bedtime snack would be a small amount of whole-grain crackers with hummus or try crackers, granola or unsweetened cereal with milk for nighttime drowsiness.    

6.     Drink chamomile tea

Sipping a cup of chamomile tea can help increase the amino acid glycine.  Research has shown that glycine has mild sedative properties by helping relax muscles and nerves improving the quality of sleep. 

7.     Be careful when and how much you eat before bedtime

Eating a large, high-fat meal close to bedtime is not advised.  This could result in indigestion making it harder to fall asleep.

8.     Go easy on caffeine

Caffeine-containing substances such as coffee, tea and soft drinks, should be consumed several hours earlier in the day to allow the stimulating effects of caffeine to wear off before bedtime.  Everyone reacts differently to caffeine but if it’s consumed too close to bedtime, you may find yourself too wound up to nod off. 

9.     Reduce fluids for an uninterrupted night’s sleep.

To avoid having to get up during the middle of the night, limit fluid intake a few hours before turning in for the night.

In conclusion

If insomnia is keeping you awake at night, try some of the suggestions listed to assist you in achieving a good night’s sleep.  Sleepless nights should not be a repeated pattern and if it is, see your physician for their advice to get the sleep you deserve.