Can't sleep? Eat this...
Author: Leigh van den Berg
If you’ve ever drunk a double espresso after dinner, chances are you’ll know that what we consume can affect the quality of our sleep. But what about foods that do just the opposite? To help you rest easy, we got a little expert advice on what to put on your plate in a bid to improve your pillow time.
Say yes to protein
“Protein is a natural sleep aid that also works to replenish your body during the night,” says clinical psychologist and sleep specialist Dr Michael Breus. “One study found participants who ate meals that were high in protein and low in saturated fats fell asleep much faster than those who didn’t, with an average of 17 minutes to fall asleep, compared to 29 minutes for the others.”
While you’re upping your protein ante, be sure to include lots of fish. According to the American Sleep Association, fish’s vitamin B6 content makes it a must for improved sleep quality. “B6 is what makes melatonin, which is normally triggered by being in the dark. By eating fish for dinner, you can give that melatonin a head start before turning out the lights,” he says.
Increase your fibre intake
Would you swap rice puffs and bran cereal in exchange for a better night’s sleep? “Fibre has been linked to deeper, more restorative rest”, says Breus. “People with a high fibre intake have been associated with spending more time in REM sleep, the sleep cycle best associated with dreams”.
While you’re digging into those fibre flakes, perhaps consider topping them with high-fibre fruit – in particular – kiwi. Researchers at Taiwan’s Taipei Medical University have discovered a link between kiwi consumption and improved shut-eye. They found that those who ate two kiwifruits an hour before bed for a month took less time to turn off and improved the quality of their sleep. The researchers didn’t isolate just what exactly in kiwi fruit was improving their subject’s sleep. However, the fruit does contain several sleep-promoting compounds, including melatonin, serotonin, magnesium and potassium.
Speaking of magnesium and potassium, these are the minerals you’ll want more of. “Potassium promotes healthy circulation and digestion, while also helping to relax muscles - which all contribute to better sleep.
As far as magnesium goes, it helps maintain healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep, says Breus. “Studies have also shown deficient magnesium levels are linked to insomnia. Since magnesium isn’t produced inside the body, it’s critical we add foods to our diet that provide it”. These foods include spinach and avocadoes as well as – wait for it – bananas, the fruit that’s turning out to be a bit of a bedtime hero. Potassium and magnesium content aside, bananas also contain tryptophan, a natural sedative.
Clearly, what you eat can impact your sleep, but the same goes for beverages. While chamomile tea’s got a reputation as a snooze-inducer, Medical News Today says you’d probably be better off with a glass of warm milk. It contains four sleep-promoting compounds – tryptophan, calcium, vitamin D and melatonin. To make it even more dream-inducing, consider adding a teaspoon of honey. “Glucose in honey [is high in] levels of orexin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that makes you more alert. Honey will put that alertness in reverse,” says Stevenson.
So, if you’re on a quest for rest, let food be your finding.