November 17, 2018
We’re all familiar with the popular association between the Thanksgiving turkey and the Thanksgiving afternoon nap, and there's actually a scientific reason behind it. In fact, researchers are continuing to discover new reasons why sleep might be aided and improved by certain foods—some of them familiar and some of them unexpected. So as you prepare to sit down to a turkey feast next week, also consider adding the following foods to your diet if you want to get the most from your post-noshing napping.
Among meats, turkey contains one of the highest concentrations of the amino acid tryptophan, which is converted into serotonin (a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation) and then melatonin (the hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle). All of which means that the time-honored connection between your Thanksgiving turkey dinner and your post-meal drowsiness has a basis in biochemistry.
2. Milk and dairy products:
Another famous recommendation—a cup of warm milk before bed—also owes its efficacy to tryptophan. In addition, milk and other dairy products are high in calcium, and some studies have suggested that calcium deficiency can make it more difficult to fall asleep. (Melatonin can also be found in milk, although the specific concentration varies depending on the time of day that the milk was produced.) Of course, the very act of sipping a warm beverage can itself be a relaxing part of a healthy pre-sleep routine.
It used to be thought that melatonin, the sleep-regulating hormone mentioned above, was only produced by the pineal glands of animals, but we now know it also turns up in many plant-based foods. One of the best sources is nuts, which are also rich in protein that can help you feel full and prevent night-time hunger pains. Almonds and walnuts are particularly good choices, as they are also good sources of tryptophan and magnesium, a mineral that helps to relax muscles and support sleep. If you choose to snack on nuts before bed, a 1 oz. portion (about a handful) is ideal.
Kiwis are another good source of melatonin. A study conducted at the Taipei Medical University in Taiwan found that adults who consumed two kiwis per day for four weeks experienced a 42% improvement in how quickly they fell asleep. They also slept longer in general, and experienced less waking during the night. Kiwifruit is also high in antioxidants, serotonin, and folate, and a good source of vitamins C and E.
5. Cherries and tart cherry juice
We may also have melatonin to thank for tart cherries’ potential to help us nod off. A 2010 study revealed that drinking 8 oz. of tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks improved self-reported symptoms of insomnia in adults who suffered from the disorder (compared to adults who drank other types of juice).
6. Herbal teas
Like warm milk, sipping a cup of tea before bedtime can be a relaxing and enjoyable practice. In addition, there is evidence that various herbal teas contain compounds that can help you fall and stay asleep. For instance, it is thought that the apigenin found in chamomile tea may bind to brain receptors to induce sleepiness. Valerian tea, another herbal tincture that is associated with sleep, contains compounds that bind to GABA type A receptors, decreasing excitement in the central nervous system. And of course there’s lavender, one of the most well-known sleep-inducing botanicals, which—in addition to its other uses—can be steeped to produce a delicious cuppa. (If you are interested in trying one or more of these varieties of tea, Wink & Rise offers a couple wonderful options!)
Bananas are a great source of magnesium and potassium, minerals important for muscle relaxation. (Other foods that provide magnesium and potassium include figs and sweet potatoes.) Many adults are deficient in magnesium, and this deficiency has been linked to restless leg syndrome. Bananas also provide vitamin B6 and carbohydrates which, as explained below, can ease the processing of tryptophan into serotonin and melatonin to promote sleep.
8. Rice and other foods with a high glycemic index:
A food’s glycemic index is a measure of how quickly the sugars it contains enter the blood stream. There is some evidence that high glycemic index foods, such as rice, can help tryptophan to enter the brain more quickly by causing the body to convert other proteins into muscle instead of crossing into the brain (providing more opportunities for the tryptophan to cross over). Once in the brain, tryptophan is metabolized into serotonin and melatonin, both of which are important for falling asleep.
9. Fiber rich foods:
Foods high in fiber, such as whole grains (which are also rich in magnesium), have been associated with greater amounts of slow-wave restorative sleep, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. It’s thought that this may be because the fiber helps even out any blood sugar surges that may disrupt sleep.
While not much research exists linking honey with better sleep, the association between the two is widespread in popular culture. Seth Roberts has suggested that the effect may have to do with honey’s ratio of high-glycemic-index glucose, which enters the blood stream rapidly, and lower-glycemic-index fructose, which enters the blood stream more slowly. Together, he suggests, this combination is ideal to fuel the brain through the night hours without waking. Honey is a lovely addition to sleep-promoting beverages, such as herbal teas and warm milk, and is even the basis for the newly popular “moon milk” beverages you may have seen on Instagram. Most advocates of honey at bedtime recommend raw honey over the processed variety.
Fish is high in vitamin B6, which is used in the body’s production of melatonin. Fatty varieties, such as salmon, tuna, and sardines, are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and a good source of vitamin D, which helps the body regulate of serotonin.
Among animal-derived foods, eggs have one of the highest concentrations of dietary melatonin. They are also great sources of vitamins B1 and B12, vitamin D, and magnesium, all of which can have a positive effect on sleep duration and quality.
So there you have it--a veritable menu of foods that may help improve your sleep and have you snoozing peacefully beyond Thanksgiving. Speaking of which, we hope you have a lovely one. (And if you're the type to finish your holiday shopping before Thanksgiving, make sure to check out our offers on Women Led Wednesday, this November 21!).
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