For those living in modern industrialized countries, the lack of physical activity, among other things, has contributed to an insomnia epidemic. The over-the-counter sleep aid market now accounts for over $600 million in annual sales.
In addition to increasing physical exercise, eating sleep promoting foods a few hours before bedtime may help you fall asleep faster, and even improve the quality of your sleep.
Bananas are high in potassium and magnesium, nutrients that double as natural muscle relaxants. Plus, they contain the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan, which ultimately turns into serotonin and melatonin in the brain.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation; melatonin is a chemical that promotes sleepiness. It takes about an hour for tryptophan to reach the brain, so plan your snack accordingly.
Milk is full of tryptophan and has a sedative effect. Plus, it’s a good source of calcium, which helps regulate the production of melatonin. In fact, yogurt, milk and cheese all contain tryptophan. And calcium is effective in stress reduction and stabilization of nerve fibers.
Cherries are one of the only natural sources of melatonin, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Botany in 2011. If fresh ones aren’t in season, try cherry juice. According to a team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and University of Rochester, cherries, particularly tart cherries, naturally boost the body’s supply of melatonin, which helped people with insomnia.
Just one bowl provides plenty of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, and potassium—all sleep-promoting nutrients. Stephan Dorlandt, a clinical nutritionist based in Southern California, says oatmeal is warm, soft, soothing, easy to prepare, inexpensive and nourishing. It’s rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and potassium—the who’s who of nutrients known to support sleep.
Almonds are full of protein. And they also provide a solid dose of magnesium, promoting sleep and muscle relaxation. Try a handful before bed, or spread some almond butter on toast. “Almonds are a winner,” says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers.
“They contain magnesium, which promotes both sleep and muscle relaxation. And they have the added benefit of supplying proteins that can help maintain a stable blood sugar level while sleeping, and help promote sleep by switching you from your alert adrenaline cycle to your rest-and-digest cycle.”
“Chamomile tea is a very helpful and safe sleep aid,” says Dr. Teitelbaum, adding that green tea is another good choice. “Green tea contains theanine, which helps promote sleep. Just be sure you get a decaf green tea if drinking it at bedtime.” Experts recommend trying a 1-cup serving.
7) Miso Soup
A few 8-ounce packs of instant miso soup may help when you’re having trouble falling asleep, says Stella Metsovas, CN, a nutritionist in Laguna Beach, California.
Here’s why: Miso contains amino acids that may boost the production of melatonin, a natural hormone that can help induce the yawns. Bonus: Research shows that warm liquids like soup and tea may also relieve cold symptoms, helping you sleep better when you’re feeling under the weather.
8) Hard Boiled Egg
If you have trouble staying asleep at night, it may be because you didn’t eat a pre-bedtime snack high in protein, or perhaps your snack was too high in simple, high-sugar carbohydrates, like cake and candy.
“The problem with simple carbs is that they can put you on a ‘sugar roller coaster’ and drop your blood sugar while you’re sleeping, causing you to wake at 2 or 3 in the morning,” says Dr. Teitelbaum. A better bet? “Eat an egg, cheese, nuts or other protein-rich snack instead,” he says, “so you can not only fall asleep, but stay asleep.”
According to Dr. Dalton-Smith, if you’re dealing with menopause-related symptoms, the natural estrogen-like compounds found in soy-based products can be very beneficial in controlling those nighttime hot flashes that can disturb your sleep.
If it’s crackers and dip you’re craving, try making this easy edamame recipe: In a food processor, blend together 2 cups of shelled, cooked edamame with 1 tsp salt, a drizzle of olive oil and 1 clove garlic (optional) until smooth.
Not only is whole-grain cereal a healthy snack, but it may also help you sleep. “Complex carbohydrate–rich foods increase the availability of tryptophan in the bloodstream, increasing the sleep-inducing effects,” says Dr. Dalton-Smith. Top your bowl with a sprinkling of dried cherries.