The Best Foods For Falling Asleep
Have you ever wondered what impact your diet is having on your sleep quality? If you are having trouble getting to sleep or are waking frequently during the night, there could be something that you’re eating (or something that you’re not) which is causing you some grief.
We all know how hard life becomes once we stop getting a good nights sleep. Aside from helping us to feel sane, quality sleep is a vital part of maintaining good health, helping us to gain muscle, lose weight and recover after exercise.
While it’s true that sleep is a complicated process affected by many things aside from simply what we eat, there are certain foods whose unique combination of nutrients can help you to fall and stay fast asleep with greater ease, just as there are foods that will help you to stay awake.
What Causes Use To Feel Sleepy?
The key hormone at play within our sleep cycles is called melatonin. The body releases it during the day according to your sleeping patterns, with melatonin levels rising as you approach bedtime and falling after you wake up.
There are certain foods that either contain melatonin or other amino acids which aid in its production. Here we break down some of these foods and how they can help you to fall and stay asleep with greater ease.
Widely regarded as an extremely healthy nut, Almonds are a great source of melatonin, helping to regulate your body’s internal clock and send the signals to prepare your body for sleep. Almonds are also a great source of magnesium and tryptophan, which can assist with calming muscle and nerve function – perfect for helping you to enter a relaxed state.
Oats are another great source of natural melatonin which, along with key supportive nutrients like magnesium, helps to relax the body and promote a better nights sleep. Whole grains like oats naturally raise blood sugar levels, triggering insulin production once eaten which in turn can make you feel sleepy.
Kiwifruit is high in vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, potassium, fibre and antioxidants, all of which combine to make an extremely nutritious fruit. Not only can it improve digestive health and help lower inflammation, eating kiwifruit before bed can also help with improving sleep quality as it contains serotonin, a chemical that helps to stabilize your mood and regulate the sleep cycle.
Long touted as a bedtime tea, the antioxidants contained in dried chamomile flowers help to reduce inflammation and stress, producing calming, sleep inducing effects. Aside from all its health benefits, the simple act of drinking a glass of warm liquid before bed helps to increase body temperature and (especially during the colder months!) support a relaxed and restful state.
White rice is often considered in health circles to be the poor cousin of the more nutrient dense and fibrous brown rice. However the lack of fibre, along with its high carb content, cause white rice to have a high glycaemic index – meaning that it quickly increases blood sugar levels. Consuming foods with a high GI around 1 hour before bed may help to improve sleep quality, as once the initial spike of energy has passed a feeling of sleepiness can set in.
What Doesn't Help Us Sleep?
As previously mentioned, there are also foods whose nutritional content can work against your goals of sleeping soundly through the night. Here’s a look at some of the main culprits:
In case this was not already obvious, foods and beverages that contain caffeine, such as coffee, work against your sleep cycle in the sense that they stimulate the central nervous system in order to keep you awake. Due to the long lasting effects of caffeine, it is generally recommended to allow at least 6 hours between your last cup and bedtime to give the effects enough time to wear off.
Despite what was previously mentioned around foods with a high GI helping to promote feelings of sleepiness, diets that are high in sugar intake have been linked to a reduction in deep sleep and more frequent sleep disruption during the night.
Sleep deprivation can also lead to increase sugar cravings to following day, which in turn leads to poor sleep, and so on.
At first glance you might think that a wee nightcap would be very helpful in putting you to sleep. Indeed I’m sure we’ve all felt like a nap after a few beers before. While alcohol can help to promote feelings of tiredness, it won’t necessarily help you to sleep deeply through the night. Alcohol is know to reduce the amount of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep that you get, which is the type of sleep that occurs between 60-90 minutes after falling asleep and is essential for quality rest.
Alcohol can also mess with your sleep patterns, increase the need for bathroom breaks during the night and aggravate breathing problems, all of which keep you from resting.
Eating And Sleeping – A Broader Perspective
While it may be true that there are foods that can work to improve your sleep quality, the degree to which we rest and recover during the night is dependant on a vast array of factors. Your physical and mental health, your state of mind, how stressed you feel and how much light you are exposed to all contribute to how deeply and easily you will sleep.
Yes you could increase your intake of almonds and swap a late night Irish coffee for a cup of chamomile tea, and potentially notice some benefit. However if sleep is something that you are struggling with it would be useful to take an overall view on your eating habits to get an idea on whether what you it is contributing to an improvement in your wellbeing.
By prioritising your nutrition you walk in the right direction towards your goal of a healthier state of being. Every meal is a fresh opportunity to enhance your health and a good nights sleep comes closer to being your every day (night) experience.