10 Top Foods to Eat (And Avoid) For Insomnia
Good quality sleep is an important part of living a healthy, happy lifestyle, but it’s something that not everyone is able to enjoy. It is thought that one in four American workers suffer from insomnia in some shape or form, and there are a number of consequences.
Not only does a lack of sleep raise stress levels and increase the likelihood of developing certain illnesses, it is costing companies around $63 billion a year in lost productivity.
Remedies range from sleeping pills and potions, to fancy mattresses and blackout blinds, but what if there was a more simple solution?
What if the answer lies right under our nose, in the food on our plate?
Most people are fully aware that a balanced diet is important for maintaining good health. But have you ever thought about how your food choices can affect the quality of your sleep?
With the help of our friends from around the web, in this article we’ve collected a list of the most sleep friendly foods (and ones that you should probably avoid).
Top 10 Insomnia-Friendly Foods
Walnuts are packed full of heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, and deliver a good punch of muscle building plant-based protein. You’ll be happy to hear that they’re also great for a bit of quality shut eye.
In addition to the tryptophan, studies have shown that walnuts contain the antioxidant hormone melatonin. Melatonin is produced in the body by the pineal gland, and although the actual mechanism isn’t all that well understood, it is commonly linked to improved sleep quality and regularity.
Bananas are one of the more well known sleep aiding foods. Aside from tasting great and being full of fibre, bananas are a good source of potassium and magnesium, which both act as muscle relaxants. When your muscles are relaxed, you are able to let go of stress more easily and drift into a deeper sleep.
Bananas also contain Vitamin B6, an important micronutrient that aids in the body’s production of serotonin, a precursor to the other sleep hormone melatonin.
Want some solid proof that bananas work?
In 2014 the Daily Mail released the story of Aaron Battersby, a three year old boy who had unfortunately been suffering from insomnia for most of his life. After trying various solutions (including melatonin supplements) his mother finally found the answer – half a banana before bed. With the help of the humble fruit, Aaron now sleeps soundly!
3. Salad Leaves
Everyone knows that a freshly prepared salad is one of the best food choices you can make for good health. Romaine, chard, rocket and the like are all free from cholesterol, low in fat, and packed full of health promoting micronutrients. Those green leaves may also be one of the best choices you can make for your sleep.
Writer Diana Herrington explains:
The white fluid that you see when you break or cut lettuce leaves is called lactucarium. This has relaxing and sleep inducing properties similar to opium but without the strong side effects. Simply eat a few leaves or drink some lettuce juice.
Lettuce leaves are also rich in protein, and can have an alkalizing effect on the body, bringing down inflammation and reducing the risk of certain diseases.
4. Tart Cherry Juice
Tart Cherry Juice is all the rage lately, with claims it can boost your sports performance and even reduce your risk of chronic disease. Research also suggests that the beverage may help with insomnia. A 2010 study showed that “when compared to placebo, the study beverage produced significant reductions in insomnia severity”.
Cherries, particularly (the tart variety), are a natural source of tryptophan and melatonin, which as mentioned above, are both involved with regulating sleep. They also contain proanthocyanidins, pigments that reduce inflammation and decrease the breakdown of tryptophan, allowing it to work for longer in the body.
The juice may also spike blood sugar levels slightly. This prompts the body to increase the production of insulin, which encourages the body towards a more sleepy state.
5. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes a key ingredient in the diet of the Okinawans, who are some of the healthiest and longest living people on the planet. They are rich in Vitamin A, helping to improve ocular health and boost the immune system.
Aside from being a health promoting superfood, sweet potatoes can also help to combat sleep deprivation. They are another great source of potassium, the micronutrient that encourages muscles to relax. Sweet potatoes also contain B6, and a dose of sleep inducing complex carbohydrates. Enjoy them baked or mashed, along with a big serving of salad for that extra sleep boost!
Kale is currently all the rage, and rightly so. The cruciferous veg is packed full of protein and health promoting micronutrients, most notably calcium. As well as promoting strong bones, calcium helps the brain to convert tryptophan to melatonin, essential for a good night’s sleep.
7. Herbal Tea
Herbal teas are another useful remedy for insomnia. They can help you to distress and develop a sense of calm. Jo Lewin, Nutritional Therapist explains:
Herbal teas, such as chamomile, passion flower tea and valerian, have a mild sedative effect.
Chamomile in particular is one of the most popular. As well as being a relaxant, it also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help with any joint aches and back pain, which may encourage you to a more restful state.
Chickpeas are a one of the more surprising sleep aids. They’re a great source of tryptophan, as well as containing a healthy dose of Vitamin B6, the same sleep promoting micronutrient found in bananas. As if that’s not enough, they also contain calcium, which as mentioned above, helps the brain convert tryptophan to melatonin. Enjoy your chickpeas in a nice Indian dish, or blended up into some tasty hummus.
9. Wild Game
Wild game meats such as elk and deer are packed full of protein, needed to repair muscle tissue and stimulate growth. They are also lower in fat that other red meats, and often higher in health promoting micronutrients.
Game meats commonly contain high levels of tryptophan, that same amino acid that keeps popping up, needed for the syntheses of important sleep hormones.
Grapefruit is packed full of Vitamin C, needed to maintain a healthy immune system. It’s also a great source of sleep-friendly B-Vitamins and dietary fibre.
In addition, as explained over at Health.com, grapefruit is a potent source of lycopene, a pigment that has been linked to healthier sleeping patterns.
The Foods to Avoid For Insomnia
1. Fast food
We’re all aware that we should probably avoid or limit fast foods if we want to maintain a decent standard of health. Burgers, fries, pizzas and kebabs are often packed full of disease promoting saturated fats and salt, whilst being void of any nutritional value.
The high fat content of many of these convenience foods stimulates the production of stomach acid. Sometimes this can overflow into the oesophagus, leading to heartburn, which can keep you awake for some time.
The high salt content often of these foods dehydrates the body, which can lead to interrupted sleep.
As if that wasn’t enough, fast foods are often difficult to digest, which can inhibit the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Give them a miss when you can, and opt for some of the healthier options above instead!
Alcohol is the common drug that people turn to after a busy day at work, but although it may seem like a good way to relax and de-stress, it’s probably doing you more harm than good.
The guys over at Drink Aware explain:
Even a couple of drinks can interfere with the normal sleep process. When you drink alcohol close to bedtime, you can go straight into deep sleep, missing out on the usual first stage of sleep, called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
By all means have an occasional beverage if it’s something you enjoy, but it may be worth swapping out your usual glass of wine (or two) in the evening to something more sleep friendly (like chamomile tea).
3. Coffee & Tea
Caffeine is the other common remedy to an exhausting day at the office. Unfortunately, too much caffeine can significantly reduce the quality of your sleep. The subsequent sleep deprivation will only make you feel groggier, which might make you want to drink more coffee…
If you’re not careful, you can end up in a vicious cycle of insomnia and a dependence on the drug.
Caffeine has a half-life of around five hours (meaning it takes five hours for half of the caffeine to dissipate) so it may be wise to avoid drinking any coffee or other caffeinated drinks after lunch, and opt for water or herbal teas instead.
4. Energy Drinks
Energy drinks are packed full of caffeine, which as mentioned above, will do nothing good for your sleep quality. To add another hit on top of the caffeine, many of the drinks also contain the amino acid taurine, which increases alertness and can cause symptoms of insomnia (although some report that it can actually improve sleep quality)
Longe City forum member Strelok experimented with the amino acid, stating:
I have had taurine give me insomnia, or otherwise reduce my quality of sleep. Other times it has seemed to improve my quality of sleep. I quit taking it though for this reason, and never really figured out why it had this effect with me.
Regardless, it’s probably worth giving those energy drinks a miss. Many of them are high in sugar and full of artificial ingredients. Again, opt for plain old water or herbal teas when you can.
5. A Large Evening Meal
It can be tempting to eat a big meal for dinner, especially if you have been exercising or had a busy day in the office. But as wellness advocate Joy Bauer explains:
Eating a huge dinner, or even a large before-bedtime snack, may make you feel drowsy, but the sleep won’t necessarily take. When you lie down and try to sleep, there’s a good chance you’ll feel uncomfortably full, which can keep you awake.
Instead of saving up for the evening, try to make sure you’re getting enough health promoting food in throughout the day, and go for a lighter evening meal whenever possible.
6. Pork and Cheese
Both pork and cheese are high in fat and can sometimes be difficult for the body to digest. This can make it harder for the body to utilise serotonin, hampering your ability to sleep deeply.
According to health writer Melanie Haiken, they also contain the amino acid tyramine, which the body converts into noradrenalin. Noradrenalin is a stress hormone that raises the blood pressure and helps put the body into the ‘fight or flight mode’ – useful if there’s an approaching wild predator, but not so great if you’re trying to get forty winks…
Have you tried any of these 10 Top Foods for your insomnia? If so share with us on social media!