Even as a Registered Dietitian, with a passion for helping people heal through diet, there is one thing that I believe is even more important than diet. That one thing is getting enough sleep. Sleep is woefully neglected in our go, go, go world. But, getting at least 8 hours is the most important thing you can do for your health.

When you don’t sleep enough, your mood is affected and you can’t handle normal daily stress very well. Stress hormones surge and your body starts to store fat. You start to crave sugar and fat to help give you energy. You certainly don’t want to exercise. Can you see how it impacts everything?

Sleep should be your number one health priority. Here are a few foods that can help you get a good night’s sleep:

  1. Herbal tea is a common before-bed beverage for it’s relaxing properties. There are two types of tea that are particularly beneficial for sleep- chamomile and passionflower. Both contain a substance called apigenin that has been found to reduce insomnia and help you fall asleep faster.1 Passionflower has also been found to increase GABA production in the brain, which helps lower stress and anxiety, preventing you from falling asleep.2
  2. Nuts, such as almonds and walnuts are a source of the sleep promoting hormone melatonin.3 They are also a good source of magnesium, a mineral that encourages relaxation and can improve sleep quality.4
  3. Turkey. Yes, to some extent turkey does make you sleepy, although it’s probably not the only reason you feel tired after Thanksgiving dinner (maybe a little too much food has an impact too?). Turkey is high in an amino acid called tryptophan that is needed to make the sleep hormone melatonin.5 The protein in turkey may also promote a more restful nights sleep.
  4. Fatty fish, high in omega-3s, such as salmon may also help with sleep. One study found that those who regularly ate salmon fell asleep 10 minutes faster than those who ate beef or pork.6 This may be because of the omega-3 and vitamin D content of fatty fish, both which help lower inflammation that can help promote sleep.
  5. Kiwis are an incredible sleep-promoting food. In one study, when adults ate two kiwis an hour before bed they were able to fall asleep 42% faster than those who did not. They were also able to sleep 13% longer.7 Kiwis encourage sleep because they are high in serotonin, a relaxing neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep cycles.
  6. Milk is a fairly common pre-bedtime tradition. Milk, like turkey, is a source of tryptophan. It has been shown to improve sleep, particularly when paired with daytime physical activity.8

A Few More Thoughts on Sleep

Getting enough sleep isn’t just about eating a kiwi or drinking a glass of milk, although those can help. A good night’s sleep is about creating a consistent routine around sleep. Turn off any electronic devices an hour before bed and turn the lights down. Go to bed at the same time every night. Read a relaxing book or take a warm bath. . If you need additional support, a supplement like Sleep Solve 24/7, can help. Creating a routine helps signal to your body that it’s time for bed and helps you drift off peacefully.

Yours in health-

Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
IVL Community Registered Dietitian

References

  1. Leach MJ, Page AT. Herbal medicine for insomnia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Med Rev. 2015;24:1-12.
  2. Lydiard RB. The role of GABA in anxiety disorders. J Clin Psychiatry. 2003;64 Suppl 3:21-7.
  3. Meng X, Li Y, Li S, et al. Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin. Nutrients. 2017;9(4):367.
  4. Boomsma D. The magic of magnesium. Int J Pharm Compd. 2008;12(4):306-9.
  5. Richard DM, Dawes MA, Mathias CW, Acheson A, Hill-Kapturczak N, Dougherty DM. L-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioral Research and Therapeutic Indications. Int J Tryptophan Res. 2009;2:45–60.
  6. Hansen AL, Dahl L, Olson G, et al. Fish consumption, sleep, daily functioning, and heart rate variability. J Clin Sleep Med. 2014;10(5):567–575.
  7. Lin HH, Tsai PS, Fang SC, Liu JF. Effect of kiwifruit consumption on sleep quality in adults with sleep problems.Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2011;20(2):169-74.
  8. Valtonen M, Niskanen L, Kangas AP, Koskinen T. Effect of melatonin-rich night-time milk on sleep and activity in elderly institutionalized subjects. Nord J Psychiatry. 2005;59(3):217-21.