Are you sleeping well? If so, enjoy it while you can. A recent study found that 14 percent of participants who were sleeping just fine developed insomnia at some point during a five-year follow-up period. Almost 40 percent of those who reported sleeplessness in the first year of the study still had sleep issues after five years.
The problem with persistent sleeplessness isn’t just the dark circles under your eyes. People who don’t get enough sleep are likely to develop mental and physical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and can be more at risk for heart attack and stroke. Insomnia contributes to obesity and depression, as well.
Eat right, sleep tight
But there’s hope—and it’s right on your plate: Sleep researchers say eating well can help us sleep better and, ultimately, feel healthier. For your best sleep, add food to your diet that boosts levels of melatonin, the hormone that signals to the body that it’s time to rest. Think eggs, fish, milk, and nuts, which are all naturally high in melatonin.
Or look for foods high in tryptophan, an amino acid that increases melatonin production. Turkey is known for its knockout power because it has lots of tryptophan, but chicken, canned tuna, cheese, nuts, oats, and bread also contain this amino.
Research has found that carbs make us sleepy because they elevate blood sugar levels. But avoid them if you have diabetes or are otherwise watching their sugar intake.
Nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans) and seeds (sunflower seeds, pine nuts, flaxseed) have loads of tryptophan, but also contain magnesium, which is associated with sleep promotion. Other magnesium rich foods include leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, kale and collards.
Early diners sleep better
Yoga instructor Bobbie Ellis of Highland Park, N.J., says it’s not just what you eat, but when. Eating too close to bedtime can be a bad idea because digestion requires your body to do work just as your circadian rhythm is telling it to shut down for the night.
“Don’t eat anything four hours before going to bed,” she says. And keep that last meal of the day light.
“You still have beautiful light options [for dinner],” she says. “Have more vegetables, [but] little oil so your body doesn’t just digest all night. Your organs need to rest.”
If you’re seeking sleep, you probably know better than to indulge in caffeinated beverages before bed. No coffee, hot chocolate, or caffeinated teas and sodas. But also watch out for decaf coffee, energy water, and coffee ice cream, which contain caffeine. Additionally, steer clear of spicy dishes that can cause heartburn when you lie down. Ditto alcohol, which might make you sleepy initially, but ultimately disrupts your deep sleep cycle.
A rest-worthy menu
If you’re looking for meals that encourage rest, here’s a week’s worth of recipes with sleep-inducing ingredients to help send you off to the land of nod.
Try these Pink Salmon Toasts from Better Nutrition as your last mini meal of the day. Salmon has Omega-3s and vitamin D, both of which are said to increase serotonin levels needed for rest. Here, it’s layered on crusty whole-grain bread with Greek yogurt, lemon, chives, and cilantro.
For a light dinner, make this Mediterranean Salad from Clean Eating. Toss oven-crisped chickpeas, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, hummus, and eggs with romaine lettuce and drizzle it with a vinaigrette made with fresh mint and basil.
Food blogger Nisha of Honey, What’s Cooking shares a traditional Indian recipe for Rice Kheer, a creamy, delicious dish by slow-cooking rice in milk, with sugar, almonds, cardamom, and a bit of rose water. This soothing dish can be eaten hot or cool.
High-fiber foods like beans help promote sleep. Vegetarian Times’ Black Bean Tostadas with Kiwifruit Salsa tops a tostada with canned black beans, a dollop of plain Greek yogurt, and a salsa made with kiwi, onions, lime, cilantro, and chiles.
All the ingredients in Tropical Fruit Yogurt Parfait from Epicurious help boost sleep-enhancing melatonin. Kiwi, pineapple, and mango are all high in antioxidants which improve sleep quality. Stir honey and a bit of ginger in low-fat Greek yogurt. A whole-oat granola adds crunch.
This Margherita Sheet Pan Quiche from Clean Eating relies on eggs, cream and fresh mozzarella as a base for grape tomatoes and fresh basil. Choose your crust option—homemade or store-bought, phyllo, gluten-free, or quinoa-based.
New Mind Nutrition’s Almond Bliss Balls combine almonds with the melatonin-rich oats for a sleep-inducing snack. Mix together oat flour, blanched almonds, flaxseed, almond butter, honey, and oat milk. Shape the balls and refrigerate.