Disclaimer: The information below is for informational/educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional help. Before beginning a new exercise regimen or making any other changes in your lifestyle, always consult with your physician and/or a certified coach.
For the past month since I returned from my trip to the States, I’ve been sleeping really well. As you may know, I was quite a bit of an insomniac for many months before, and have been enjoying my daytime activities these days because of good sleep.
Regular exercise, calming activities such as yoga and pilates, as well as other healthy habits certainly play a big part of the sleeping puzzle. But what you may have never considered to help you sleep better is your daily diet.
Certain foods contain naturally-occuring substances that put you to sleep like a baby. Cutting out edible food-like substances (in the words of Michael Pollan) out of your plate is only the beginning, but when you start watching what you put in your mouth on a day-to-day basis, you will see the difference between what gives and what disrupts an otherwise good sleep.
Along with the inspirational foodies on Instagram, I want to encourage you to start thinking about some of the goodies you can add to your diet to help you sleep better tonight. These are my favorite 10:
Bananas are one of those few comfort foods that provides you with quick carbs as well as a better mood. The fruit is best known for being a rich source of potassium and magnesium, two minerals that work synergistically to help your muscles relax. Bananas are also rich in vitamin B6 – an essential B-vitamin for your body to synthesize melatonin, a sleep-regulating hormone usually triggered by darkness.
2. Tart cherries
These sweet and sour berries have long been touted as the #1 food for good sleep. Not only do cherries are high in antioxidants as well as anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, they are also naturally abundant in melatonin, which helps you fall asleep faster. In this study, researchers saw that drinking tart jerry juice twice a day over the course of 2 weeks increases sleep time for adults with sleep troubles.
Like bananas, fatty fish are high in melatonin-producing vitamin B6, but they also deliver a high amount of an essential amino acid tryptophan, which was shown to increase sleepiness. Tryptophan also helps to release serotonin in your body, a “feel-good” hormone that lowers feelings of stress and has a calming effect on your mind. Serotonin and melatonin balance each other out throughout the day to regulate your mood, your appetite, body’s internal clock. Read this for more on the relationship between serotonin, melatonin, and how both chemicals affect your sleep.
4. Miso soup
Miso, a seasoning made from fermented soybeans, has been shown to promote a healthy gut and is a rich source of tryptophan, helping you to up the melatonin release as you ease off through the night. You’ll normally find the instant kind like the one I have in the picture in Asian food stores, with the whole miso paste in one pack and the seaweeds and onions in another. All you have to do is mix the two packs into one empty bowl and just add hot water to stir.
Alternative: Indonesian tempeh
5. String cheese
Basically all forms of dairy are wonderful if your goal is sleeping better, but I personally have a special place in my heart for cheese. Dairy contains traces of tryptophan, a lot of protein (which helps you sleep), and are great sources of the essential mineral calcium, which is great for keeping your nervous system healthy and taking the burdens off of your mind (and heart). Interestingly, while there have been no definitive conclusions so far, cheese is widely believed to ward off nightmares from your sleep. Click here to read more on it.
Alternative: Cottage cheese
6. Black beans
Beans and other legumes are loaded with magnesium (a whopping 73% daily value in just 1 cup of black beans!) and the essential B-vitamins, which work together to regulate cell metabolism, circadian rhythm, and natural levels of serotonin and melatonin. Not only are beans are a vegetarian- and vegan-friendly source of proteins, and high protein is frequently linked with quality sleep, beans also help keep the average Joe and Jane keep the inches off their waists as they deliver high amounts of dietary fiber to keep you full.
Alternative: Kidney beans
7. Hummus dip
Dip a wholegrain bread into this spread before going to sleep: Not only does this high-protein snack help curb your late-night appetite, hummus also contain heaps of essential B-vitamins and tryptophan, thus increasing the levels of melatonin in your body to help you relax. Consider cooking up whole chickpeas for extra texture and as a more concentrated dose vitamin B6.
Alternative: Whole chickpeas
8. Oatmeal + honey
Oatmeal and other whole grains such as brown rice, buckwheat, and barley are an excellent source of sleep-promoting nutrients we’ve mentioned so far, namely vitamin B-6, tryptophan, and magnesium. Other micronutrients that are found plenty in oatmeal include iron, phosphorus, selenium. Studies have shown that deficiencies of these nutrients are associated with sleep problems.
Whole carbs like oats provide a steady release of serotonin for a long period of time, whereas enriched and/or sugary carbs spikes your blood sugar levels, wake you up in the wee hours, and make you feel cranky by morning. Go with honey for a natural way to add flavor to your oatmeal. The slight kick in insulin from honey’s sweetness makes it easier for tryptophan to reach the brain.
9. Raw almonds
Almonds are your best friend when it comes to good sleep: A quarter cup delivers you 98.7 mg of magnesium and 21.9% of your daily tryptophan requirement, both power players for relaxing the mind and muscles. Chow down on a handful before bed, or spread some almond butter on a wholegrain bread.
Alternative: Raw walnuts
10. Hot chocolate
Generally speaking, warm liquids have a soothing effect on your body, so sipping it serves as a precursor for good sleep. Although it’s a good source of magnesium, cocoa has moderate amounts of caffeine-like properties, so for some this may defeat the whole purpose of drinking this cup of goodness. I drink a steady amount of caffeine throughout the day from tea, so drinking hot chocolate at night has helped me to cozy up more than it keeps me up. Consider plain milk or decaf teas if you’re watching your caffeine intake.
Alternative: Hot milk
Now over to you: Which of these foods are you going to try tonight?