News on what is healthy and what’s not, recommended daily allowances, and weight-loss strategies seem to change as quickly as fashion trends. This volatility might cause some people to throw their spoons up in surrender, but instead, it’s better to think of it as baby steps towards the greater good—our overall health.
What we eat not only impacts our waistline, it impacts our minds, too. And as the brain is like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain of sleep, our diet can determine how easily we catch our Zzz’s. It is not news that food affects alertness and energy levels. There is a lot of new research verifying certain foods and nutrients can help you achieve a better sleep quality.
Have you ever been given warm milk and honey as a child to woo you to sleep? Milk is high in tryptophan (that same amino acid faulted at Thanksgiving for post-prandial grogginess). It’s not just milk and turkey that contain tryptophan, though. Most poultry, chocolate, tuna, cheese, oats, nuts, and bananas are sources as well. It is proven instrumental in producing serotonin, a hormone that creates melatonin. And since the body cannot produce it on its own, most people eat foods containing it to help invoke sleepiness.
Like eating foods with tryptophan, drinking chamomile tea is a common remedy for sleeplessness. Though technically not a tea but a tincture, it is proven to affect neurotransmitters in the brain and provides a soothing and calming sedative effect. Passionfruit and lemon balm tinctures are also suitable for inducing sleep as they contain Harman alkaloids and terpenes, respectively. These are natural chemicals that can encourage somnolence.
Lettuce is also soporific—you know that milky substance secreted by some varieties when you cut it? That bitter sap is full of magnesium, chromium, and folate. This combination produces a calming effect and was historically used as a substitute for opium and laudanum as herbal sleep medications. In fact, in ancient Rome and Egypt, a lettuce salad was served after a meal to bring on sleep, a practice adopted by the French.
Aside from those, GABA is another amino acid that promotes relaxation. The Journal of Clinical Neurology found supplements caused subjects to fall asleep faster and more deeply in a small study. That said, there is still a lot of research to be done. It might be a better bet is to integrate GABA-rich foods into your diet, like cruciferous vegetables, legumes, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes…yummy things that shouldn’t be too difficult to incorporate into your menus.
In addition to the sleep-inducing effects of amino acids, minerals like Zinc and Magnesium have been found in preliminary research to help you nod off. These can be found as isolated mineral supplements in just about any drugstore and in foods such as shellfish, nuts, grains, legumes, and yogurt. If you go the supplement route, though, be sure to consult with your doctor before adding to your regimen.
However, you don’t have to worry about prescriptions or consultations with the classics. Curl up with some warm milk or a cup of chamomile tea at night, and that can get you a long way in the land of Nod. Sweet dreams!