How are you sleeping? Sleep — or the struggle to sleep — seems to be a hot topic these days. The current climate of high anxiety combined with a lack of normal structure, (plus a few other worries thrown in) contribute to more sleepless nights for many of us. Before you turn to medication or other interventions, look first to natural aids to support your rest.
Lean on Your Diet
The first thing to consider when planning for a good night’s sleep is your diet. We are already planning, shopping and preparing meals, so why not include ingredients that double up on their nutritional benefits? Many foods naturally contain sleep-regulating hormones and brain chemicals, such as melatonin and serotonin, along with antioxidants and nutrients known to enhance sleep. Build them into your daily menu to help get back on track to a good night’s sleep.
Walnuts and almonds, along several other types of nuts, are a source of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin regulates your internal clock and signals your body to prepare for sleep.
Almonds and walnuts are also excellent sources of magnesium. Studies show that consuming adequate amounts of magnesium may help improve sleep quality, especially for those who have insomnia. Magnesium’s role in promoting sleep is related to its ability to reduce inflammation and cortisol, a sleep-disrupting stress hormone. Walnuts contain fatty acids that may also contribute to better sleep. They provide alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that’s converted to DHA in the body. DHA is tied to increased serotonin production.
• Try a small handful (approximately 1 ounce) 1-2 hours before bed.
Eat Turkey + Fatty Fish
There’s evidence that consuming small amounts of protein before bed is associated with better sleep quality. Turkey and fish both deliver high-quality protein in a healthier package than some of their protein counterparts, and both contain additional sleep-supporting nutrients.
Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout, sardines and mackerel, contain omega-3 fatty acids and high levels of vitamin D. This combination has the potential to enhance sleep quality, as both seem to increase the production of serotonin, a sleep-regulating “happy hormone.” They also deliver a wealth of health benefits and should show up on your menu a couple times a week as part of a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet.
If turkey is part of your Thanksgiving tradition, you have probably noticed that it can bring on the yawns. Turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan, which increases the production of melatonin. If you’re like my family, the Thanksgiving table will be smaller this year and there will be lots of turkey leftovers. Make turkey sandwiches, soups and more with sleep support in mind.
• Eat a few ounces of turkey or fatty fish an hour before bed.
Eat Bananas + Cherries
Bananas are a good source of both potassium and magnesium which are natural muscle relaxants. And like turkey, bananas contain the amino acid L-tryptophan. L-tryptophan gets converted to 5-HTP in the brain and then converts to serotonin (a relaxing neurotransmitter) and melatonin (a sleep-regulating hormone.)
Cherries are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. They are also one of the best food sources of melatonin, the chemical that controls the body’s internal clock to regulate sleep. And although the cherry season is short and sweet, frozen cherries, dried cherries and tart cherry juice is abundant year-round.
• Eat a banana or a small handful of cherries about an hour before bedtime.
There’s evidence that certain types of tea have health benefits that include calming effects to support sleep ease. For example, chamomile tea may boost your immune system and reduce both anxiety and depression. In addition, it contains apigenin, an antioxidant that binds to certain receptors in the brain that may promote sleepiness and reduce insomnia.
Like chamomile, passionflower contains apigenin. Passionflower tea has been studied for its potential to reduce anxiety. There’s also evidence that passionflower increases the production of the brain chemical gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) which works to inhibit other brain chemicals that induce stress.
Valerian and hops also boost production of GABA. While valerian appears to function primarily as an anxiolytic (an anxiety reducer), hops functions more as a sedative. Studies show these herbal supplements pair well together and in fact it appears that hops may be more effective for sleep when in combination with valerian. Hops has been linked to increased sleep duration and Valerian helps people fall asleep more quickly and reduces restless sleep. Research also shows valerian is effective in treating menopause-related sleep problems. I’m a fan of Yogi Tea’s “Bedtime Tea” but there are a number of tea brands that incorporate some or all of these four herbs into a tea and I encourage you to give them a try.
• Get in the habit of sipping tea 1-2 hours before bed as part of your nighttime routine.
The above foods and herbs are part of a multi-pronged approach to sleep success. In addition to attending to your diet, protect your sleep environment, keep a close eye on your pre-sleep habits, and be consistent with your bedtime routine and schedule. Here are some helpful hints recommended by the CDC to help you better manage your routines and physical environment to support consistent, quality sleep. By combining healthy sleep habits with sleep-enhancing foods and herbs, you’re giving your body the opportunity to get the restorative, health-giving sleep it needs on a regular basis. Sweet dreams!
What’s your secret to a good night’s sleep? Are there natural sleep aids you regularly lean on for support? Please share below! Be sure to come follow Blendtopia on Facebook to stay connected, and follow us on Pinterest to learn more ways to help support your mental, physical, and emotional wellness.