The benefits of having enough quality sleep are well known, with studies showing that the recommended seven to eight hours of shut eye each night (for adults) has a positive impact on everything from your heart and weight to your mood, memory, and longevity. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy waking up feeling rested and ready to take on the day? The trouble is, many people struggle to have that kind of peaceful, rejuvenating sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, almost six out of 10 Americans report having insomnia or sleep problems at least a few nights a week.
But did you know that a better diet can help combat this? Yes, the key to the perfect night’s sleep partly begins on your plate. In conjunction with other lifestyle factors, you can supercharge your potential for a deep slumber by making sure you are getting the right nutrients to support the production of sleep hormones. You can also load up on foods that contain small amounts of these sleep neurotransmitters.
Precursor nutrients allow our bodies to produce sleep hormones (melatonin and serotonin), which act as a catalyst for us to feel sleepy, calm, and relaxed.
Tryptophan is a key nutrient for sleep. If your diet is lacking in it, the result can be lowered mood, irritability, and a feeling of fatigue. Most quality, clean protein sources contain tryptophan and it’s ideal to include these as part of a protein-rich dinner to enhance quality sleep. Load up on eggs, poultry, fish, chickpeas, almonds, spirulina, and sunflower seeds. Earlier in the day you can enjoy foods such as buckwheat, bananas, dates, and oats to boost your intake of tryptophan.
This is the kind of good fat you want to be chowing down on daily. Omega-3 fatty acids help to regulate serotonin and relax your mind and body —which in turn helps facilitate a deep and restful sleep. An increased omega-3 intake has been linked to helping you fall asleep more quickly and increasing length of sleep. Quality primary dietary sources of omega-3 fats to include in your meals are oily fish, flaxseeds and flax oil, and hemp seeds.
This is the most important of the B-group vitamins when it comes to a restorative sleep as it plays an important role in the production of sleep neurotransmitter melatonin. To get your B-6, make sure you are enjoying leafy greens, salmon, walnuts, flaxseeds, and bananas.
Researchers have found that melatonin and magnesium levels correlate in the body and those with depleted levels experience poorer sleep. Ample levels of magnesium can not only help you fall asleep more easily, but also assist with greater quality of sleep. Magnesium-rich foods to enjoy include nuts, legumes, bananas, and spinach.
This natural mineral has been shown to have a beneficial impact on getting a good night’s sleep, with research-collected data equating adequate levels of potassium with improved sleep quality. It helps nerves and muscles communicate, and helps move nutrients into cells and waste products out of cells. Top food sources include bananas, coconut water, leafy greens, and citrus fruits.
Having enough vitamin D is important for proper sleep, as well as mood. Our bodies need sunlight to produce this. According to experts, an ideal range for vitamin D in healthy individuals is between 1,000 and 2,000 IU daily. This is the equivalent of about 20 to 30 minutes of sun exposure (without sunscreen) three times a week.
Melatonin and serotonin are required for optimal sleep, helping govern our sleep patterns.
Melatonin plays a key role in communicating our light/dark cycle to our bodies, known as our circadian rhythm, which is essential for a good night’s sleep. While melatonin is naturally produced in our bodies, you can obtain small doses of it from consuming cherries, walnuts, tomatoes, and goji berries.
The “happy chemical” serotonin is responsible for wellbeing and making us feel good. It also has an important function when it comes to regulating sleep. Again, the foods to be eating are eggs, salmon, bananas, walnuts, and seeds, which are all high in serotonin. Be warned, though, you could be undoing all your good work if you are also consuming stimulants (yes, this includes caffeine and other drugs) and alcohol, which inhibit the correct function of serotonin and should therefore be avoided for a better night’s sleep.
“Don’t underestimate the power of observing your natural circadian rhythms (sleeping when it’s dark, rising when it’s light). Sleep onset requires stimulation of the pineal gland, which produces melatonin. This happens as the body winds down, when we stop looking at blue light (screens!), and commence relaxation, which should really start happening at dusk,” says nutritionist Sarah Newland, who also recommends finishing eating at least two hours before bed and resting your digestive system for 12 hours overnight for better sleep and general wellbeing.