A good night’s sleep can make the difference between a good or bad next day; most people understand this intrinsically, whether or not they know why this is. Healthy sleep affects brain function, mood, immune system function, and the health of the skin, the body’s largest organ. Food has an effect on sleep cycles; it relates with serotonin, the hormone that brings on sound sleep. When you choose foods that relax the body, sleep gets better. B Vitamins and folic acid are important nutrients for quality sleep. Read on for some powerful foods that aid sleep.
The body needs vitamin B6 to make melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. Bananas have B6, and they have potassium, which is necessary for maintaining healthy joints. A healthy sleep friendly dessert is a banana and almond milk smoothie, with cinnamon or honey instead of sugar.
A fine source of calcium and folic acid—both crucial elements for quality sleep—kale is delicious and easy to grow in the garden. Gently steam kale (overly high heat will kill its nutrients) and drizzle lemon juice on the leaves to make a tasty salad, especially with a red onion or watercress. Some people make smoothies with kale and apples.
Many western diets are deficient in calcium, an essential mineral for healthy bones and healthy sleep. Calcium deficiency makes it hard to fall asleep, as a few recent studies have found. Yogurt is a good source of calcium, along with probiotics, the microorganisms that keep our guts happy (and, by extension, our brains—the brain is sometimes called the largest digestive organ).
A requisite for melatonin production, Vitamin B6 is found in certain fish—flounder, tuna, salmon, and halibut. These fish are good for the heart; they’re low in saturated fats and rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, the healthiest sort of fats. Omega-3s have the added benefit of lifting a dark mood.
5. Fresh herbs
Herbs seem to get overlooked in modern times (well, all except a few wildly popular ones), but humans have been treating ailments with fresh herbs for thousands of years. Cardamom, skullcap, basil, and sage all calm the nervous system. If you make pasta sauce at home with basil and sage, you’ll save money and reap the benefits of their relaxing qualities.
6. Cherry juice
Melatonin is a hormone the brain releases to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. One excellent source of melatonin is tart cherry juice (which is also good for kidney health). A study of people with chronic insomnia found that drinking a cup of cherry juice two times a day reduced their symptoms. Keep away from any juices loaded with artificial flavors and sugars; that added stuff has hollow calories and can keep the brain jumpy.
7. Whole Grains
A mineral that helps the brain function correctly, magnesium is frequently absent from western diets. Inadequate magnesium levels make it harder to stay asleep, according to the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. Magnesium is found in bulgur, barley, flax, and other whole grains. A note on foods and sleep: it’s wise not to eat anything for an hour before you plan to go to sleep. Too much digestive tract action makes it hard for the brain to rest.
8. Jasmine Rice
For reasons unknown to modern science, jasmine rice helps people fall asleep much more quickly than long-grain rice. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition studied meals of carbohydrate-rich dinners with jasmine or with long-grain rice, and declared jasmine the healthier choice. Jasmine rich has a high-glycemic-index (GI), while long-grain rice has a lower-GI; it’s thought that the greater levels of insulin triggered by a high-GI meal increase the levels of the amino acid tryptophan in the bloodstream, letting it reach the brain. Tryptophan is a natural sedative; it’s also present in milk and turkey meat.
9. Fortified Cereals
Fortified cereals also have good vitamin B6 content. If you can’t handle eating cereal for some reason (and it’s pretty easy to eat), try a vitamin B6 supplement. This is one of the easiest ways to up the melatonin levels in your body, and feel sleepy at bedtime.
10. Herbal tea and other drinks
Fluid intake affects sleep quality—drink too much water before bed and you may have to get up a few times in the night. On the other hand, the right drink can aid a good night’s sleep. Chamomile tea is a natural sedative; warm milk with its tryptophan load is another. Valerian root tea will also calm jittery nerves, and skullcap tea helps folks who are detoxing calm their minds and bodies.