You are What You Eat (and Sleep)

While we are well aware that a minimum of 5 fruits and vegetables a day is essential for good health, my list of 6 of day will actually help you to sleep better!

Variety, they say, is the spice of life –  especially when it comes to food – it is essential in getting to sleep as well.

So, what can you eat or drink when desperate for a good night’s sleep?

There are six categories to choose from:

·         Fruits·         Vegetables
·         Nuts/Grains·         Snacks
·         Protein·         Drinks

But before I share some suggestions with you from each of the above categories, here’s a few tips of what to AVOID eating before bedtime:

fried chips

  1. High fat fried foods – this requires a longer digestion period which can interfere with sleep
  2. Highly salted foods – the salt will cause dehydration, which will wake you up
  3. Spicy food – the heartburn will make it harder to sleep
  4. Alcohol – it dehydrates, increases wakefulness and causes you to sleep too deeply, which disturbs your normal sleep sequence

Now for a look at the six categories:

Get Fruity

While too much fruit isn’t recommended (sugar is sugar is sugar, even in natural form!) – small servings of fruit before  sleeping can make a real difference:

Kiwi1-2 medium size fruitIn a study  people fell asleep 45% faster and slept 13% longer
Pineapple0.5-1 cup diced fruitResearch has shown that melatonin production increased by a whopping 266% when pineapple was consumed
Figs1/4  – ½ cupFigs are full of calcium, iron and magnesium, which help increase time slept
Watermelon2.5 cm (1 in) thick sliceContains choline/lycopene, which help reduce sleep disturbances

Eat Your Veggies

Vegetables are not only an essential part of your 5 a day – but they can also be useful in helping you catch some zzzz’s. Try a few servings of the suggestions below:

Lettuce:   Lettuce contains the phytonutrient Lactucarium, which encourages relaxation and sleep.v2 cups is all you need.  An English folk remedy recommends making tea with chopped lettuce leaves for restful sleep.

Kale:   Kale is full of calcium which is a precursor for the production of the amino acid typtophan, which encourages melatonin production.  Melatonin is one of the main “sleep hormones” – serotonin is the other.  2 cups of kale are sufficient to help you to fall asleep.

Sweet Potato:   Sweet potatoes really do encourage sweet sleep – full of potassium, magnesium and calcium, 1 sweet potato can both encourage relaxation and lower blood pressure.

Use Your Nut(s)

opened and unopened walnutsNuts: (and grains too) – aren’t just for the holidays – and it’s amazing what a handful can do for your sleep; 28g (1 oz) of nuts, or roughly a handful can boost your ability to fall and stay asleep!

Walnuts:   Long considered “brain food” (due to the it’s appearance to the two halves of the brain), walnuts contain several vitamins and Omega-3, which boosts the production of melatonin.

Almonds:   A handful of almonds provide 19% of the daily recommended amount of magnesium, which can relieve insomnia and stress.

Healthy Snacks – it’s Not an Oxymoron

Snacks CAN be healthy – if you take a bit of care in what you choose. Two of my favourite snacks are on this list….though I actually eat them for other reasons!

pieces of dark chocolateDark Chocolate:   Favourite number 1 – I eat dark chocolate not only because I prefer the taste, but the active ingredient, Theobroma, is excellent as an expectorant and soothes asthmatic symptoms (that’s my excuse and I’m stick to it!).  However, it is also full of magnesium, which helps regulate our circadian (day/night) rhythms for better sleep.

Popcorn:  My other favourite snack – as long as it isn’t loaded with butter, salt, caramel, etc.  it’s actually quite a healthy snack – it provides roughage for the digestion and a little bit can fill you up for several hours.  I eat plain popcorn not only because I love it, but it also can help you control calories if you’re trying to lose weight.  As a sleep aid, studies on sleep and popcorn consumption indicated that it encouraged people to sleep longer.

Hummus:  Half to one cup of this Middle Eastern favourite contains folate, a B vitamin found in the chickpeas it is made from.  The folate helps regulate sleep patterns and keeps our body clock on track. I love it on toast!

Proteins – the Building Blocks of Good Sleep

There is a huge debate over proteins these days – and whether we need to reduce or even eliminate the consumption of proteins from animal sources. Whichever side of the debate you are on, there are both meat and non-meat options available that can help with good sleep.

bowl of oatmeal with fruit and jar of raw oatmeal

Whole Grains:   Whole grains, e.g. brown rice, rye or oats are made of complex carbohydrates, which stimulate insulin release.  This encourages the production of amino acids such as tryptophan to be pumped into the brain and produce sleep –inducing and relaxation hormones such as serotonin and melatonin.  Additionally, oats contain B6, which contain anti-stress properties.  A serving of oat porridge with cinnamon or a slice of rye bread with soup or brown rice with dinner can help you to better sleep.

Fish:   2-3 servings (283 g/10 oz) is enough to encourage better sleep; in a study of  people who ate salmon for 6 months, it was noted that they fell asleep 10 minutes faster than people eating other meats.

Tofu:  Another non-meat offering, 2 servings (1/2 cup) of tofu helped research subjects to sleep longer and have a better quality of sleep.

Cheese and Crackers:  This surprised me – but cheese and crackers can help reduce insomnia by encouraging the production of serotonin.

Eat, Drink…and Be Sleepy

sour cherries on treeJuices: Especially if made fresh – are a wonderful way to take in nutrients without too much stress on your digestive system. However, if you have issues with waking at night due to a full bladder – you may want to avoid having any liquid six hours before you go to bed!

Goji Berry:   In a study conducted, 70% of the subjects in a research study found that they woke up more easily, while 50% stated they felt less tired.  118ml or 4 oz of this Chinese superfood can get you sleeping and waking up refreshed.

Passionflower:   Called maracujá in Brazil, I can attest personally to the effectiveness of passionflower (after drinking some juice in late afternoon and was hard pressed to stay awake an hour later!), in whatever form you have it!  It is especially good for children, as it is very mild.  Passionflower tea (or juice) can help reduce anxiety and improve sleep.

Tart (Sour) Cherry Juice:  1 cup of this juice increased the time slept 90 minutes longer in a study conducted with adults over a two week period.