If you’ve never fawned over a restful night’s sleep before, lucky you! I mean, with the perfect amount of light and white sheets so crispy, you’d never have to stay wake, right? Unfortunately, for some, a welcoming bed and inviting bedroom aren’t all they need to fall asleep.
According to the CDC, up to 1 in 3 adults are not getting enough sleep. The reasons for this range from being overtly attached to our electronic devices, to increasingly hectic work schedules, to exhaustion and many other factors. Considering the toll a lack of sleep takes on our physical and mental health, finding a remedy is critical for our overall health.
Sleep and our Internal Environment
Another factor that goes into sleep is our internal body environment, especially our hormone and blood sugar production. It usually takes changing a combination of these over a period of time to really feel the effects.
It is the circadian rhythms of humans (the body’s clock) that support all the physiological functions of the body. In fact, our wake-sleep cycle is a circadian rhythm that follows a 24-hour day and night pattern and is controlled by light and darkness. The brain is the control center for your circadian rhythm. More specifically, it is the pineal gland. The pineal gland is often called the third eye and can be found in the area between the eyes. The pineal gland produces melatonin, which is the hormone responsible for your circadian rhythm.
Melatonin is not just a potent antioxidant; it is also responsible for the timing and release of other powerful hormones such as growth hormone and female reproductive hormones (responsible for fertility, monthly cycle, and menopause). Sadly, though, melatonin production decreases with age, making falling asleep and staying asleep more difficult. This can result in a number of other health problems, including unpleasant menopausal symptoms.
Although melatonin is produced all day and night, it is mostly produced within the first three hours of sleep. So how can we increase the production of this hormone? Of course, there are melatonin supplements we can take but there are also ways to increase this naturally.
Here are ways to increase melatonin through food intake.
Eat Tryptophan-High Foods
To produce adequate amounts of melatonin, you need lots of tryptophan in your diet. Tryptophan is actually the precursor to melatonin, and so snacking up with foods high in tryptophan just before bedtime will help increase melatonin production. Some great choices include pumpkin seeds, almonds or slices of turkey. You just need a handful, so don’t overdo it.
Tryptophan comes from the proteins we eat and is an all-important amino acid. Interestingly, you must get it from food because the body cannot produce it. The foods that are high in tryptophan include eggs, red meat like lamb and beef, fish, white meat like turkey and chicken, nuts/seeds and beans. A nibble on any of these foods is all you need.
Eat Melatonin-High Foods
Generally, melatonin supplements have become popular for helping with sleep irregularities such as shift-work disorder and insomnia. The goal is to provide some relief for a host of health problems, including depression, migraines and nicotine withdrawal.
However, here are melatonin-rich foods with sleep-inducing elements that can induce sleep naturally.
Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, collard greens, Swiss chard, and turnip greens are rich in calcium, potassium and magnesium. These three minerals play important roles in improving sleep. Calcium helps the body in producing melatonin, while potassium and magnesium are minerals that help over-stressed muscles to relax.
Have you heard of that old adage that says a glass of warm milk will help you sleep? Well, to induce sleep, dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt are rich in melatonin-boosting calcium. And did you know that being calcium-deficient can make falling asleep more difficult?
For long, soothing herbal tea such as chamomile and peppermint, which are naturally caffeine-free, have been used to improve sleep because of their sleep-inducing properties. For thousands of years, chamomile has been used for insomnia, and peppermint helps to reduce stress and induce sleep. Also, an herbal tea like green tea contains theanine, which is an amino acid, has been used in alleviating stress and promoting relaxation. The trick is to go for decaf green tea so that the caffeine in it does not keep you awake.
Cherries, particularly the tart varieties, are one of the very few melatonin-rich foods. Melatonin is the sleep hormone that regulates the body’s internal clock. According to a small study, participants who took eight ounces of tart cherry juice in the morning and before bedtime for 2 weeks experienced better sleep patterns.
Fish contain high amounts of tryptophan, which is an amino acid responsible for increasing serotonin levels needed to produce melatonin. And melatonin is that hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles. Additionally, most fish (cod, salmon, tuna, cod, snapper, halibut, and trout) give vitamin B6, a vitamin also required in melatonin production.
According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, findings indicated that participants who ate tryptophan-rich foods had a reduction in sleepiness and showed alertness early in the morning.
Bananas are rich in not just potassium, but are also good sources of magnesium, minerals that help to relax stressed muscles. Also, a deficiency in magnesium has been linked to restless leg syndrome, which can affect a person’s ability to have a restful night’s sleep. Tryptophan, an amino acid that is associated with quality of sleep is also found in bananas.
The main ingredient in hummus is chickpeas (garbanzo beans), which are rich in tryptophan, vitamin B6 and folate. Vitamin B6 helps in regulating the body’s clock while folate helps regulating sleep patterns, particularly in older people.
Magnesium and calcium can be found in nuts– two minerals that help facilitate sleep. Nuts also contain unsaturated fats that help in improving serotonin levels in the body. The protein in nuts can also help in stabilizing blood sugar levels, thus promoting sleep.
Steer Clear of Foods Capable of Suppressing Melatonin Production
Of course, melatonin-rich foods and tryptophan can help in improving sleep; it is also smart to avoid foods that will decrease the production of melatonin. Caffeine and alcohol are some of such foods.
Caffeine is a well-known stimulant that when drunk in the evening, delays melatonin production. Caffeine also interrupts the production of cortisol, which is an essential hormone that affects sleep. It is best to avoid caffeine after 3pm. And if you experience serious sleep problem, you may want to avoid it entirely.
Melatonin production can suffer reduction due to alcohol intake because alcohol is a suppressant that affects the quality of sleep. Additionally, it affects cortisol levels which again, can make falling asleep difficult. An occasional glass of wine may not hurt, but too much definitely can. So, it’s advisable to pay attention to your sleep pattern after a glass or two of alcohol, and see how well or bad your body accepts it.