What to Eat For Better Sleep
Feb 28, 2021
“The minute anyone’s getting anxious I say, ‘You must eat and you must sleep.’ They’re the two vital elements for a healthy life.” – Francesca Annis
One of the biggest questions we get in our client assessments is how to optimize your sleep and wind down from a stressful day and what key foods, nutrients, and supplements help to prepare the body and mind for relaxation.
Our first piece of advice is to get on a regular sleep schedule every day and give your body the minimum number of hours needed for rest. Most humans thrive on 6-8 hours per night. If you get too little sleep, you got into “sleep debt” which is like being overdrawn at the bank. Now, why is this so disturbing?
Various research studies have shown that chronic sleep debt may raise the risk of heart disease, obesity, stroke, and diabetes. Even more concerning, researchers have found that disturbed sleep can alter the expression of your genes. Now, when it comes to sleep debt, the amount of sleep you need will increase if you’ve been depriving yourself.
Brain health, cognition, attention span, memory, motor skills are also all affected by chronic sleep deficit. Now, the good news is that there are specific foods, nutrients, and natural supplements that may improve both relaxation and sleep:
Tart cherry juice is a natural source of sleep-inducing melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone secreted at night by the pineal gland in the center of our brain to help regulate our circadian rhythms. There’s also a phytonutrient in cherries with anti-inflammatory effects on par with drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen.
Raw almond butter is good for your heart because of the high magnesium content in raw almonds and it also contains tryptophan and melatonin to help your body relax.
Bananas contain melatonin and serotonin to make you sleepy, as well as magnesium (see a theme developing here?) which is a natural muscle relaxant and helps to calm the central nervous system.
5htp aka 5-Hydroxytryptophan is a compound made naturally in the body. 5-HTP is a by-product of the amino acid L-tryptophan. Our bodies don’t make L-tryptophan naturally—we absorb this essential amino acid from the foods we eat.
So, how exactly does 5-HTP work? 5-HTP helps the body to produce more serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating mood and sleep-wake cycles. Healthy levels of serotonin contribute to a positive mood and outlook and also promote restful sleep.
Serotonin also plays an important role in many other of the body’s functions, including digestion, appetite, and pain perception. Serotonin influences sleep and sleep-wake cycles in many ways and scientists continue to make discoveries about how this important neurochemical affects our sleeping and waking lives. One important way serotonin affects sleep and bio-rhythmic time is through its relationship with the “sleep hormone” melatonin.
Melatonin is made from serotonin in the presence of darkness. (Remember, melatonin production in the body is triggered by darkness and suppressed by exposure to natural and artificial light.) Healthy serotonin levels are essential for maintaining healthy melatonin levels—and both serotonin and melatonin are critical to sleep and a well-functioning bio clock. With its ability to increase serotonin, 5-HTP supports a neurochemical process that can enable high-quality sleep and keep the body’s bio clock in sync.
GABA aka gamma-aminobutyric acid was discovered in 1950 and is recognized as the dominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. We like to call it the "chill" neurotransmitter as GABA's main benefits are calm, relaxation, and stress reduction. Think of it this way, GABA is the opposite of your excitatory neurotransmitters (ie. adrenaline). Excitatory neurotransmitters in excess can lead to anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness.
Taking a GABA supplement can be beneficial in helping you get not only more sleep per night but a deeper, more regenerative sleep cycle. The deep sleep stage of our sleep cycle is also known as delta sleep. This is a vitally important stage because it’s where much of the highest-quality sleep occurs. It’s especially important because this is when the body decreases both cortisol (the stress hormone) and inflammation.
Magnesium is also known as the “master mineral” as it participates in an astonishing number of chemical processes in the body. It’s found in high concentrations in cacao, pumpkin seeds, avocados, cashews, tofu, lentils, beans, bananas, and dark leafy green vegetables. Magnesium helps to reduce stress, promote calm in the nervous system, improve blood flow to the heart (and other organs), and assist with deeper sleep. Another big benefit is magnesium helps strengthen bones, as it assures the strength and firmness of bones and makes teeth harder. Adequate magnesium intake is essential for the absorption and metabolism of calcium.
Kava Kava is a small shrub grown in Pacific islands, mainly Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, and Hawaii. Islanders have used kava plants for centuries in social rituals, religious ceremonies, and medicinal purposes. The root and stump of the plant are ground down and made into a natural beverage. When consumed, the effect of the active ingredients in the kava plant is psychological and physiological relaxation.
The active ingredients in kava root, kavalactones, affect the brain’s limbic system. Within the limbic system is the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for regulating feelings of fear and anxiety. The kavalactones in kava have been shown to bind to the receptors in the amygdala and this is thought to be the reason why kava calms the mind and generates feelings of an improved sense of wellbeing – perfect for getting to sleep.
Chamomile is a herb that has been used for centuries, dating back to ancient Egypt, to treat many issues. More recently, in 2009, there was a study funded by the Center for Natural and Complementary Medicine that reviewed the effectiveness of chamomile tea in patients who were diagnosed with anxiety. Long story short, this herb was found to reduce stress and anxiety.
But what about sleep? Well, if you’re anxious or stress do you think you’re going to sleep well? Probably not! This is why it’s recommended that you drink a glass of this tea before bedtime to help relax your body.
Passionflower is a climbing shrub native to the tropical parts of the United States that produce a beautiful, delicate flower that develops into a large, fleshy fruit. Traditional herbalists enjoy several passionflower benefits, using it, for example, as a sleep aid, especially when patients complained of restlessness and interrupted sleep due to exhaustion.
Recent clinical trials using passionflower show it is also one of the most valuable and effective herbal anxiety remedies in addition to its usefulness in improving sleep and treating insomnia.
We also want to share our top lifestyle practices and biohacking strategies for improving your sleep hygiene:
- Stop using electronic devices at least 1 hour before bedtime
- Install blackout shades in your bedroom
- Use blue light blocking glasses when using electronic devices at night
- Use organic lavender essential oil in an aromatherapy diffuser
- Unplug all your Wi-Fi enabled devices in your home
- Sleep with a grounding blanket that mimics the same energy current as standing on the bare earth
With the right foods and conscious supplement usage, combined with some of our top sleep hacks, you’ll be set for some seriously sound snoozin’ in no time!