THE BLOG

Tossing and Turning? Six Superfoods for Better Sleep

07/25/2013 12:36 EDT | Updated 09/24/2013 05:12 EDT

If you find yourself popping sleeping pills and still tossing and turning all night, you may want to look at a few foods you can add into your diet that will help you get a longer, deeper sleep.

Allow your sweet tooth to help you sleep: Who says we can't indulge a little and improve our health at the same time? Chocolate contains tryptophan and the brain chemical phenylethylamine known to promote our feelings of attraction, excitement and love. Chocolate is, in fact, one of the richest dietary sources of magnesium, a natural sedative that can greatly improve sleep. A deficiency of magnesium can result in difficulty sleeping, constipation, muscle tremors or cramps, anxiety, irritability, and pain.

Unsweetened cocoa powder provides almost 500 milligrams of magnesium per 100-gram serving. Other foods rich in magnesium are legumes and seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, wheat bran, almonds, cashews, blackstrap molasses, brewer's yeast and whole grains.

Move tea time later in the day: Though some teas contain caffeine, there are a few sleep superstars when it comes to tea. The next time you feel ramped up at night, instead of calm and relaxed, try a cup of lemon balm, sage, chamomile or Valerian tea (or, take a trip to your local tea store and get a variety of these teas).

As an added benefit, chamomile tea has been found to improve a range of ailments, from colds to menstrual cramps according to researchers in England. Drinking the tea also was associated with an increase in urinary levels of glycine, an amino acid that has been shown to relieve muscle spasms and act as a mild sedative. Meanwhile, scientists in Japan and the United Kingdom have reported that can improve blood glucose levels and reduce complications from diabetes. Opt for the fresh herbs and a tea infuser for a more potent blend. Steep for five to 10 minutes and add a dash of milk if desired. Consume 30 minutes to one hour before bedtime.

Go nuts for melatonin: Raw nuts such as almonds and walnuts are an excellent choice for healthful, filling snacks. And like seeds, certain nuts will not only help balance your blood sugar levels but are also high in both melatonin and tryptophan. Research from the University of Texas Health Science Center found walnuts are a (surprising) source of melatonin. Melatonin not only improves our sleep but it also offers antioxidant protection. So walnuts just might be your secret weapon against sleeplessness nights, as well as cancer, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular illness and type 2 diabetes.

The right type of juice: If you have seen the rows of tart cherry juice popping up in your local grocery store, there's a good reason why. In one study published in Natural Medicine Journal, participants drank 30 millilitres of Montmorency cherry juice one half-hour after waking and one half-hour before their evening meal (boosting exogenous melatonin intake by 85 micrograms daily). The results? Significant increases in time in bed, total sleep time and sleep efficiency with the cherry juice supplementation. I recommend drinking ½ - 1 cup an hour before bedtime for best results.

The seeds of relaxation: The body uses the amino acid tryptophan to produce serotonin and melatonin, both hormones that are essential for sleep. Serotonin is required to transmit nerve impulses from the brain and regulate mood in general. If you have trouble staying asleep or wake frequently throughout the night, you are likely low in these two hormones. The good news is that certain seeds rank really high in tryptophan, which will not only help you sleep but relax you overall.

For example, 100 grams of sesame seeds boasts over 1,000 micrograms of tryptophan. The same amount of chia seeds have over 700 mgs of tryptophan, while pumpkin seeds have almost 600 mg. Pumpkin seeds also contain zinc, which can assist the brain in converting tryptophan into serotonin. In fact, pumpkin seed powder is the new 'warm glass of milk' when it comes to sleep remedies (this is available at most health food stores). For a powerful evening snack mix ¼ cup of pumpkin seeds (or powder) with 1-2 tablespoons chia seeds and ¾ cup of unsweetened Greek yogurt.

Pack in some protein before bed: Carbohydrate-rich snacks such as breads, cereals, muffins, cookies and other baked goods prompt a short-term spike in blood sugar, followed by a sugar crash later on. When blood sugar drops, adrenalin, glucagon, cortisol and growth hormone are released to regulate blood glucose levels. These hormones can stimulate the brain, causing you to awaken and possibly stay awake. Try to avoid eating for at least two hours before going to bed. A high protein snack such as Greek yogurt or a protein smoothie with a few nuts and berries will provide a source of tryptophan while the sugars from the fruit may help the tryptophan reach your brain and take effect more readily.

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