This article appeared on the SumoSalad blog in 2019. Click here to read the original.
Want to find foods that help you sleep? March 15 is World Sleep Day and it turns out, Australia is a very sleepy nation. Figures from the Sleep Health Foundation suggest that up to 40% of Aussies regularly don’t get the sleep they need.
Poor sleep is linked with a range of alarming health side effects – it impacts everything from appetite to inflammation to heart disease risk. Plus, a report from Deloitte Access Economics estimates that our poor sleep habits are costing Australia more than $66 billion each year.
Food fuels you through your busy day, but it can also help you rest and restore at the end of it. We looked to the pantry to find common foods that help you sleep.
Food affects your sleep
When looking for the best foods that help you sleep, it’s kind of like a chain reaction. You might have heard of melatonin, which is a hormone that plays a role in getting you a good night’s sleep. It essentially helps you get to sleep and stay asleep, too.
Here’s where the science lesson comes in. One of the things that influences your melatonin levels is your intake of tryptophan. This is an essential amino acid, which is a basically like a building block of protein. “Tryptophan is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin and the neuro-secretory hormone melatonin, both of which are linked to sleep and alertness,” says nutritionist Ashleigh James.
Also, Ashleigh points out that your intake of certain vitamins and minerals can affect your melatonin levels. “Deficiencies of group B vitamins and minerals (e.g. magnesium) may disrupt sleep, and their effect seems to be based on their influence on the secretion of melatonin.”
Melatonin itself is also contained in some foods. “Melatonin is also naturally found in cow’s milk, hence the Western cultural practice of drinking warm milk and certain fruits such as tart cherries or kiwifruits to promote sleep,” Ashleigh adds.
Foods that help you sleep
Clearly, there’s a range of factors – and foods – that can impact your sleep. However, there are a few superstar ingredients that you can try to get you on the way to a better snooze.
Almond butter Try this deliciousness spread on veggie sticks or wholegrain crackers – it’s a good source of magnesium. Ashleigh points out that serving sizes will vary depending on what you’re eating it with, but as a rule of thumb, one tablespoon is a good portion. “Looking for organic brands, or those with 100% almonds, is a good idea to avoid additives, preservatives, sugar and extra salt,” she adds.
Oats This classic breakfast staple is a surprisingly rich source of tryptophan. Cook up some porridge, then really knock it out of the park by pairing it with other sources of magnesium. Raspberries, sliced banana or a handful of nuts and seeds will do the trick. FYI: raw cacao contains magnesium, if you want to put a chocolate spin on your breakfast.
Salmon and tuna They contain tryptophan, magnesium and vitamin B6, which is a great recipe for top sleep. “Some vitamins like B3 and B6 may promote the availability of tryptophan for serotonin synthesis,” explains Ashleigh. Essentially, they help your body use as much of the tryptophan as possible. Toss a can of tuna through a salad or simply steam a fillet of salmon and serve with a good dose of greens. Fatty fish are also great for brain health, so it’s a win win situation!
Milk If you can tolerate dairy, a serving of milk is a winner because it contains tryptophan, as well as magnesium, B vitamins and, of course, calcium. Calcium helps your brain use that sleep-promoting tryptophan.
Dark leafy greens, like kale and spinach 1 cup of cooked greens will give you a decent serving of magnesium. Plus, they pack in calcium – yep, calcium isn’t just in dairy products! If you want to mix it up, try tossing a handful of baby spinach in a smoothie. Don’t worry, it won’t dramatically affect the flavour.
What not to eat
Besides the usual things, like caffeine, there are a few other foods that can derail your snooze. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that eating less fibre, more saturated fat and more sugar is linked with lighter, less restorative and more disrupted sleep. In fact, they found that just a single day of greater fat intake and lower fibre can influence your sleep.
It’s also a common misconception that alcohol helps you sleep. Research from the Sleep Research Laboratory at the University of Melbourne found that while alcohol may help you fall asleep quicker initially, it causes sleep disruption later in the night. Maybe time to re-think that nightcap?
Essentially, the good sleep diet is pretty simple. If you’ve got a balanced plate, packed with plenty of colourful plant foods, then you should be getting be getting the foods that help you sleep, too. “Overall, foods impacting the availability of tryptophan, as well as the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin, may be the most helpful in promoting sleep,” Ashleigh explains. Happy snoozing!