If you’re having trouble sleeping, 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 rest.
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 catch those elusive zzzs — taking you from one of our favourite pastimes (eating) to the other (sleeping).
High in melatonin, magnesium and vitamin B5, pistachios are the MVP of the snacking world. A small handful before bed helped relax the elderly participants of one particularly study, and when taken with magnesium supplements improved their overall sleep time and quality.
When consumed with a protein – like an omega 3-rich piece of salmon, for instance – a high glycemic-index white rice encourages insulin production, which will help our old friend tryptophan, the amino acid that tells your brain to sleep, to do its thing. Consider this your invitation to switch out your usual brown rice for white in the evenings.
The hormone melatonin is what regulates your sleep cycle, so it stands to reason seeking out foods that contain naturally high amounts of the stuff is a safe bet. That means pistachios, yes, but also cherries, which are a good source of melatonin. Sure, you can chug a glass of cherry juice if you want to, but we recommend a handful of fresh fruit in the evening instead as a lush, pre-bedtime snack.
Speaking of fruit, if you’re trying to have a better night’s sleep, stock up on kiwis the next time you’re at the supermarket. The humble kiwi is a powerhouse of nutrients, from serotonin to vitamin C and folate. Studies have investigated the specific role that kiwi fruit might play in easing adults into sleep, finding that eating two fruits an hour before bedtime led to an overall better and more restful night’s sleep.
Hummus fans, rejoice! Chickpeas are high in tryptophan, which means your favourite dip could be the perfect late night snack. Try some on wholegrain crackers no later than an hour before bed. Anything eaten after that could have the opposite effect of spiking your blood sugar levels and keeping you awake even longer than you initially intended. (Some other bad late night snacks include caffeine-rich dark chocolate, anything with a protein in it and anything too sugar-heavy. If you’re not a hummus fan, try natural peanut butter on some crackers instead.)
Salads with leafy vegetables
Salad greens like lettuce and leafy vegetables like kale and spinach are a great choice for an evening meal. Kale and spinach are high in calcium and lettuce contains lactucarium, a known sedative. In general, try and eat lighter of an evening. Anything too heavy, like a big steak, a burger and chips or a cheesy pizza will be harder for your stomach to digest and wreak havoc on your nighttime digestion.
The lighter the meal, the less hard your digestive system has to work, which could lead to an easier sleep for you. Plus, if you’re a hot sleeper, a lighter evening meal will help keep your body temperature down, whereas chowing down on a steak will cause your temperature to rise as it works on breaking it down.
It might be a placebo effect, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence out there that a cup of chamomile tea half an hour before bed will relax and calm you into sleep. Containing no caffeine and plenty of stress and anxiety soothing properties, a mug of warm chamomile tea is something you should try and incorporate into your bedtime ritual if you’re looking to improve the quality of your sleep.
Now that we’re on the topic, here are 10 simple ways to enhance the quality of your sleep – starting from tonight! – plus the 7 things making you tired… that have nothing to do with how much you’re sleeping.
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