It should be no surprise that the foods we eat can affect our sleep. Obviously, stimulating foods that contain caffeine or large amounts of sugar make sleep more difficult. But some foods aid sleep. Foods that contain a precursor to an amino acid that regulates sleep and certain vitamins can powerfully battle insomnia. Before bed, eating a small, carefully selected meal that combines these foods can bring sleep your way.
Tryptophan to Serotonin
Low serotonin levels are linked to sleeplessness. Foods do not contain serotonin, but they do contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which the body converts into serotonin. The tryptophan in turkey is implicated in the famous post-Thanksgiving-meal nap every year. Besides turkey, other foods high in tryptophan include chicken, black eyed-peas, wheat germ, granola, walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, eggs, milk, and some cheeses (particularly cheddar, swiss, and gruyere).
Nutrients in food that contain calcium also manufacture serotonin. Not surprisingly, this list overlaps with the foods that contain tryptophan. But some foods that are surprisingly high in calcium can also be good sleep aids. These include broccoli and most raw vegetables in general, oats, sesame seeds, seaweed and watercress.
The B group of vitamins support nervous system health, which aids sleep and dreaming. Foods that contain a relatively high amount of B vitamins are green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, soy, eggs, fish and dairy products. The old practice of drinking a warm glass of milk before bed actually works because of both the tryptophan and B vitamins in dairy.
Just as sugar and simple carbohydrates provide a jolt because they are quick-burning, complex carbohydrates can help sleep because they require more energy to digest and provide a more steady supply of energy. Foods that contain complex carbohydrates include whole grains, oats, barley, rice and legumes (like beans or lentils). In general, low-glycemic foods will tend to aid sleep unless, like dark chocolate, they contain caffeine or another stimulant.
Try a small bedtime snack that combines a complex carbohydrate with a tryptophan-containing protein source. The carbohydrate binds with a chemical released by the protein that could otherwise be a stimulant. Practical combinations include a banana with 1 tsp. peanut butter, 1/2 c. cereal with some milk, or a slice of whole wheat toast with a slice of cheddar cheese or turkey breast. Keep your snack under 200 calories to make your sleep more restful.