Foods to Help you sleep
Recent research has shown sleep quantity and quality could be one of the single most important indicators of health. Some studies have shown that it could be more important than exercise and nutrition in predicting overall health. This could be because our sleep habits could affect our nutrition and exercise habits. So how can we use food to help improve sleep?
While you sleep your body undergoes many regulatory processes including generating hormones and very importantly, giving your brain a rest. Achieving good sleep (roughly 8hrs of restful sleep per night) means improved brain function, concentration, productivity, memory, improved immunity and better physical performance.
If you aren’t getting enough sleep, this could lead to lower immunity, meaning a higher chance of getting sick, and greater risk of health conditions including type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression and heart disease.
Lack of sleep affects the hormones that control your hunger and satiety. If you lack sleep, ghrelin (the hunger hormone) increases, thus you feel hungrier, and leptin (the hormone telling you you feel full) is suppressed. When lacking sleep your brain is not as sharp, so it's easier to reach for less nutritious food.
The good new is there are nutrients and compounds that can help improve sleep.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain and helps to regulate our internal body clock. Melatonin levels are low during daylight hours and increases at night when it is no longer bright. Tryptophan, an essential amino acid is needed to produce serotonin, which can be converted to melatonin, and Vitamin B6 is also needed to make melatonin. Low levels of magnesium, iron and folate in the body have been associated with shorter sleep durations. Increasing your consumption of foods that contain melatonin, tryptophan, vitamin B6, magnesium, iron and folate can help aid sleep!
Melatonin in found in a wide variety of foods from fruit and veg, to legumes and nuts. Grapes, cherries and strawberries, tomatoes, capsicums and mushrooms contain higher contents of melatonin among fruits and vegetables. Fish and eggs are higher in melatonin compared to other meats. Legumes, seeds and nuts all contained good amounts of melatonin with pistachio and almond nuts being the highest.
Good sources of vitamin B6 include oily fish such as tuna and salmon aw well as garlic, chick peas and pistachio nuts.
Tryptophan is found in protein rich foods such as poultry, red meat, fish, eggs, milk and yoghurt, but also in sesame seeds, chicken peas, almonds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.
When trying to boost magnesium intake think oily fish, nuts and seeds and also think green foods – avocado, spinach, kale, broccoli, peas, beans, Brussels sprouts and asparagus are all high in magnesium. These foods are also good sources of folate and iron! We can look at red meat for a healthy dose of iron too.
Consuming these foods in the evening and hours before going to sleep could help you fall asleep faster and help you sleep longer.
- Chicken stir fry with broccoli and asparagus spears on rice with a sprinkle of sesame seeds over the top
- Salmon, sautéed in garlic with a Kale and chickpea salad and a sprinkle of nuts and seeds
Post-dinner snack suggestions:
- A glass of milk
- Yoghurt with some crushed almonds and pistachios
- Roasted chick peas