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Insomnia? REAL Food to the Rescue!


"I'm so tired...I just can't get a good night's sleep!"

 

"All I want is to wake up energized and to feel like I can take on whatever comes my way!"

 

Does this sound like you or someone you know?

Getting a good night's sleep is not just a luxury, but a requirement for good health.  Research shows that not getting enough sleep, or getting poor-quality sleep, increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

 

Which is why it's part of our monthly disease dodging series!

 

There are many nutrients that work together to promote good sleep.  These include magnesium, calcium, potassium, antioxidants, B vitamins and Vitamin D.

You may recognize that each of these are found abundantly in REAL foods, and less so in processed food, so that's rule number one!

 

Additionally, there are three very important substances that affect sleep:

 

Tryptophan:

a natural sedative that must be obtained from our diets.  It is a component of plant and animal proteins and is an ingredient required to make serotonin.  You may hear someone say that tryptophan is the reason you feel sleepy after eating your Thanksgiving turkey.  Yes, turkey does contain tryptophan; however, it is likely the size and heaviness of the entire Thanksgiving meal that causes you to curl up for a little shut-eye.

 

Serotonin:

the precursor to melatonin.  It is used to transmit messages between nerve cells and helps you feel calm and sleepy.  It also helps regulate our sleep/wake cycle and plays a key role in maintaining mood balance.  Low serotonin levels have been linked to difficulty sleeping and depression.

 

Melatonin:

a hormone that helps regulate our sleep/wake cycle and control our internal clock, and there are certain foods that can actually increase blood levels of this hormone.

 

The following is a list of several foods that will help boost tryptophan, serotonin and melatonin, helping the quantity AND quality of sleep!

 

  • Tart Cherries:  tart cherry juice and whole tart cherries have been shown to aid in sleep, since they boost melatonin.
  • Kiwi loaded with vitamins C and E, and folate, this is a fabulous pre-bedtime snack that promotes seratonin.  Studies show eating two kiwi before bed can increase your sleep duration by one hour over the course of a month.  Enjoy kiwi by themselves or try the Green Fruit Salad or Mixed Fruit Salad.
  • More Fruit:  bananas, pineapple and oranges are excellent sources of vitamin B6, which is key to our body's ability to make melatonin.
  • Walnuts (and other nuts): are also a natural melatonin booster.  Try the Dreamy Fruit 'n Nutty Salad...it's a great combo of yogurt, nuts AND fruit!
  • Soybeans:  tempeh, edamame and tofu are great ways to get soy into your routine.  These soy foods are rich in isoflavones, which increase the production of serotonin.  Have you tried our Banana Nut Butter Pudding (there is tofu hidden in this great-tasting pudding!) or Roasted Garlic Parmesan Edamame?
  • Fish: most fish, and especially salmon, halibut and tuna, will provide vitamin B6, which is needed to make melatonin.
  • Dairy:  milk (warm milk, just like grandma used to say), and yogurt are good choices when it comes to pre-bedtime snacks.  Notice we didn't say sugar-loaded ice cream!  Instead, try smoothies with fruit and yogurt! Dairy contains tryptophan, the sleep-promoting amino acid...in combination with the fruit, a winning combination!
  • Whole grains:  choose a little spot of whole grains for your snack one hour before bedtime -- some great ideas are air-popped popcorn (we have several delicious ideas!), oats (Baked Oatmeal Cups or Chunky Monkey Breakfast Cookies), or simply a couple of whole wheat or whole grain crackers with nut butter.
  • Kale we all know yogurt and milk are good calcium-rich foods, but don't leave out green leafy vegetables like kale and collard greens!  They are loaded with healthy amounts of calcium, and research suggests that being calcium deficient actually can make it more difficult to fall asleep.  Try our kale chips - 3 ways!
  • Stress-busting Tea:  enjoying a hot cup of chamomile or passionflower tea can help increase glycine, a chemical that relaxes nerves and muscles, and acts as a mild sedative.

 

 

Try these other tips to help you wake up rested and ready to take on your day!

 

Avoid large meals before bed.  A light snack with sleep-inducing foods is ok, but a big meal will cause a restless night's sleep.  It's best to give your body energy when it needs it most (in the morning and throughout the day vs. when it is winding down to go into sleep mode).
Do you have a cut-off time?  A great habit is to have a caffeine cut-off time several hours before bed.  Caffeine activates your central nervous system and makes it difficult to fall and stay asleep.  See our coaching tip for more about the importance of a caffeine cut-off time!
Avoid or limit alcohol.  You may think alcohol would relax you and help you sleep better, but it actually causes less restful sleep, in part, due to the way it raises your body temperature.
Avoid high-sugar and heavily processed foods.  These foods actually reduce serotonin levels and impair your sleep.  Plus, they can cause you to wake up feeling hungry and craving even more heavily processed and unhealthy foods.  It's a vicious cycle!
Get regular exercise.  Yes -- you will sleep like a baby!
Enjoy a consistent bedtime routine.  So your body really does know when it's time to sleep.
Clear your mind.  Have a pad of paper by your bed to quickly write down anything that's worrying you. Once it's on paper, you can more easily trust that you will deal with it tomorrow.

 

There really is a cycle at play here.

 

A good diet allows us to enjoy better sleep (and, a good night's sleep makes is significantly easier to make good food choices).  On the flip side, the Standard American Diet (SAD) causes less (and restless) sleep.  With less sleep, it is significantly more difficult to make good food choices.

We have heard from many Eat REAL America members and Eat REAL Cookbook owners who said how surprised they were that they feel like they are sleeping better and have more energy throughout the day.  As you can see (probably no surprise), REAL food is the key!  If you struggle with sleep, be mindful about what you eat before bedtime - and throughout the day - and see if it helps!

Then, please share your stories and successes with us!

 

Sources: foods to help sleep, sleep and health, foods effect sleep

 

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