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Eating these foods may help you sleep at night

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Foods are sometimes regarded as medicines. They contain nutrients and phytochemicals that can act in the same ways as drugs and supplements. In this way, the foods you eat can help you sleep at night or make you stay awake. Which foods can you eat to relieve your insomnia and how do they ease you to sleep? This article picks the best 10 foods that will help you sleep quicker, deeper and better.

What we eat can affect our sleep. Some foods promote drowsiness while others cause insomnia.

Foods may not act as rapidly as drugs but a habit of eating the wrong foods can still be the root cause of chronic insomnia.

Foods that help us sleep at night may stimulate the production and release of certain brain chemicals. They may also simply provide relief for some underlying conditions that can interrupt sleep. On the other hand, foods that keep us awake often keep our bodies ticking late into the night, providing a reservoir of energy that disrupts the normal sleep-wake cycle.

Discussed below are the foods that promote sleep. These can provide relief for your insomnia even without resorting to sedative drugs.

The Kinds of Foods that Promote Sleep

Foods Rich in Calcium

Milk is an excellent example of calcium-rich foods. In fact, warm milk is a commonly recommended insomnia cure in many homes.

How does calcium help put you to sleep? By increasing the production of melatonin.

Melatonin is a neurohormone that contributes to the sleep-wake cycle. It is released at nightfall when it is dark. This antioxidant hormone helps calm down brain activity and promotes sleep.

Calcium is, however, not the whole reason milk is great for putting us to sleep. It is also rich in tryptophan, an amino acid discussed below.

Foods Containing Calcium
  • Milk
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Almonds
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Figs

Foods Rich in Magnesium

Magnesium is another nutrient that can improve sleep. In fact, health experts advise that calcium levels should not be raised without also raising magnesium levels. This is because without magnesium, high calcium levels may lead to the deposition of calcium stones on different organs of the body.

Magnesium is noted to closing calcium channels of nerve cells. Therefore, it reduces neuronal transmission.

When this happens in the neurons of the central nervous system, it produces a calming effect that promotes sleep. When it occurs outside the brain, it relaxes the muscles.

This is also why magnesium deficiency causes restless leg syndrome and muscle spasms. These involuntary movements can disrupt sleep at night and lead to insomnia. Therefore, magnesium-rich foods can help relieve magnesium deficiency.

In addition, studies also show that magnesium promotes slow wave or “deep” sleep.

The link between magnesium and deep sleep is actually well-established even in infants. Therefore, magnesium does not only increase the duration of sleep but also improves sleep efficiency. These effects allows for more a restful sleep and a refreshing feeling after waking.

Foods Containing Magnesium
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Brown rice
  • Unprocessed wheat bran
  • Almond
  • Cashew
  • Pumpkin seed
  • Sunflower seed

Foods Containing L-Tryptophan

L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid that plays multiple roles in brain chemistry.

On one hand, the amino acid is used as a precursor in the synthesis of niacin, a B vitamin. How niacin can help relieve insomnia is discussed below.

However, the major mechanism by which tryptophan improves sleep involves serotonin and melatonin.

Melatonin is produced from tryptophan in a 4-step reaction with serotonin as an intermediate. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter known to improve mood. Therefore, it can promote sleep by relieving depression.

Melatonin, however, is the hormone released from the pineal gland during the night. It directly promotes sleep and is commonly used as a dietary supplement and sleep aid.

Foods Containing Tryptophan
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Soy milk and soy products
  • Eggs
  • Seafood
  • Lentils and beans
  • Cooked cereals
  • Brown rice
  • Nuts

Complex Carbohydrates

While complex carbohydrates are often substituted for low carbs, they are actually good for sleep.

In fact, low-carb foods are known to promote insomnia. In contrast, complex carbohydrates are filling. Therefore, they can relieve hunger without necessarily adding caloric load.

In addition, complex carbohydrates are nutrient-dense foods. Food sources of complex carbohydrates recommended for improving sleep include whole grains and vegetables.

These foods have the added advantage of also being low-glycemic. This means that they provide a more stable glucose level and, therefore, do not cause insomnia through glucose-fueled highs and sugar crashes.

Complex carbohydrates contain tryptophan which is known to help ease the body into deep sleep.

Therefore, if you must take bedtime snacks to help you sleep, take whole grain toasts or cereals and preferably with a warm glass of milk.

Foods Rich in B Vitamins

B vitamins are the most important vitamins to sleep health. Some B vitamin deficiencies are known to cause insomnia.

Because B vitamins are cofactors for a number of important enzymes, they are important to general health. These vitamins can improve mood disorders, relieve anxiety and promote sleep by stimulating the activity of serotonin, dopamine, GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) and melatonin.

How B Vitamins Help Sleep
  • Thiamine – thiamine deficiency often causes magnesium deficiency too. In addition, thiamine is required in the production of GABA, the chief sleep-promoting neurotransmitter in the brain. However, high-dose thiamine has been shown to also cause insomnia too.
  • Niacin – niacin relieves depression and anxiety, two common causes of insomnia. Studies show that niacin supplementation can improve sleep quality.
  • Pyridoxine – pyridoxine is involved in the syntheses of serotonin, dopamine, GABA and melatonin.
  • Folic acid – folate deficiency causes depression, cognitive decline, anemia and restless leg syndrome. These conditions can cause insomnia. Therefore, folic acid can help provide relief for the certain causes of sleeplessness.
  • Cobalamin – symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are similar to those of folate deficiency. In addition, studies specifically indicate that vitamin B12 can improve the sleep-wake cycle.

Food sources of B vitamins include liver, kidney, beef, fish eggs, leafy vegetables, yeast, wheat flour, brown rice, oatmeal, legume, whole grains, nuts, seeds, seafood and poultry.

9 Foods to Help You Sleep

1. Dairy Products

Milk is the traditional remedy for sleeplessness. As discussed above, milk induces sleep because of its calcium and tryptophan contents.

Tryptophan can increase the production of niacin, serotonin and melatonin.

Calcium is required to stabilize nerve cells in the brain. Because calcium is important to electrical conduction between neurons, it can help reduce the “noise” signal that keeps you awake and, therefore, reduce brain activity in order to promote sleep.

Warm milk is usually recommended because warm liquids have a rather soothing effect.

Furthermore, milk can evoke a warm feeling and has a psychological effect that help people recall their childhood when mothers give milk to put children to sleep. Such comforting memories help relax the brain and lull the body into restful sleep.

However, milk is not the only dairy product that can help you sleep better at night. Yogurt (especially Greek yogurt) is also commonly recommended.

Another dairy product used to induce sleep is cheese. Cottage cheese is often recommended for its casein content. Because the body digests casein slowly, cottage cheese can serve as a continuous source of sleep-promoting amino acids such as tryptophan.

2. Banana

Banana is a food that contains all the right nutrients to promote sleep. It is an excellent source of potassium and magnesium as well as tryptophan.

Potassium and magnesium are involved in muscle activities and nerve conduction. By supplying these nutrients, banana can help calm overactive neurons and reduce brain activity at night. Furthermore, potassium and magnesium are useful for relaxing the muscles. Therefore, they can also promote sleep by providing relief for those suffering from nightly periodic limb movements.

The tryptophan in banana serves as precursor for serotonin and melatonin.

Increasing serotonin levels improves the mood and can promote sleep by relieving depression and other mood disorders. Serotonin is also used to synthesize melatonin.

Overall, banana can promote sleep by multiple mechanisms and it should be your go-to food on sleepless nights.

3. Tart Cherries

Tart cherries are also known as sour cherries.

Sour cherry is a good source of a number of nutrients that can promote sleep. These include B vitamins as well as magnesium and potassium. However, the most interesting sleep-inducing compound in tart cherry is melatonin.

Tart cherry is only one of two fruits known to contain melatonin (the other one is grapes). But can the melatonin in cherry promote sleep? Available studies show that the answer is a resounding yes.

Researchers found that drinking a glass of tart cherries can quickly put you to sleep.

Therefore, besides all the benefits provided by the antioxidants in cherry, its melatonin content supports its folkloric use as an insomnia remedy.

4. Grapes

Grape provides the same benefits as cherries. It is also rich in antioxidants as well as B vitamins, calcium, potassium and magnesium. And also melatonin.

Italian researchers reported the melatonin contents of 8 varieties of grapes in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. Of the grape varieties tested, they found that Nebbiolo grapes had the highest concentration of melatonin followed by Croatina grapes and then Merlot grapes.

Since grapes are used to make wines, it is possible that some of their melatonin content may survive the production process.

However, it is advised that grapes should be used as sleep aids rather than wines because the alcohol in wines can disrupt sleep.

5. Oatmeal

Oatmeal is not just a breakfast meal, it should also be a nighttime meal because it can help you sleep.

First, oatmeal is a good source of complex carbohydrate. Therefore, it does not produce the sugar high common with sugary foods. In addition, it does not keep the digestive system active for long. Lastly, it is filling and can, therefore, help reduce food cravings.

Oatmeal is also a good source of calcium, magnesium and potassium. These nutrients can help relax the body and ease it into a good night’s sleep.

6. Whole Grain Cereals

Whole grain cereals also provide the same benefits as oatmeal. They are healthy snacks made of complex carbohydrates that can increase the bioavailability of tryptophan.

In addition, whole grain cereals goes well with milk, another sleep-inducing food.

7. Almonds

Almond is the ideal nut to help you sleep. Even if you cannot tolerate the nut, you can still get the same benefit from almond butter.

Almond is rich in B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium and magnesium. These are nutrients that help regulate brain activity, relax the muscles and increase the secretion of sleep-inducing compounds such as melatonin.

In addition, almond is rich in 14 amino acids including tryptophan which is used to synthesize serotonin and melatonin.

Lastly, almond can help regulate your blood sugar levels. By preventing wild fluctuations in blood glucose level, this nut allows the body to enjoy restful sleep.

8. Turkey

While your choice of protein foods is endless, it is important to choose a protein source that is especially rich in tryptophan. When tryptophan is the predominant amino acid, it helps reduce the competition with similar amino acids that share the same transport mechanism for crossing the blood-brain barrier.

Turkey is not only a good source of B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and potassium but it is also the best source of tryptophan.

Therefore, you should get the renowned post-meal sleepiness associated with this Thanksgiving delicacy every day.

9. Decaf Teas

Teas are relaxing and they contain the right ingredients to help you sleep. Unfortunately, they also contain caffeine.

Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake at night and, because its effect can last awhile, it is to be avoided in the evening.

Teas such as chamomile and green teas are known for their healthful, relaxing and sleep-inducing effects. Therefore, you should get decaf varieties of these teas to drink in the evenings.





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