Trouble Sleeping? Eat This!

yogurt almonds and bananas
A bowl of walnuts and a bunch of bananas on a table

In today’s fast-paced world it is not uncommon for people to have erratic sleep cycles, whether from difficulty falling asleep, or actually staying asleep. Either of these scenarios can be frustrating and tiring, especially if they persist. There are plenty of suggestions for foods to avoid (such as caffeine), which are valid. However, there are also some foods that can assist in the sleep cycle, potentially aiding in a peaceful night’s sleep.

Put simply, the brain’s neurotransmitters need serotonin to make melatonin, which is the sleep trigger. Consuming foods that are rich in particular nutrients can help this process. Here is a quick breakdown of the nutrients that are necessary for a healthy sleep cycle:

  • Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin, a necessary component for sleep. Tryptophan is found in foods containing protein such as poultry, eggs, meats and nuts.
  • Melatonin is made from serotonin. Melatonin is also found naturally in some foods and has been shown in some studies to improve sleep. Foods that contain melatonin include cherries, walnuts, bananas and oatmeal.
  • Calcium regulates melatonin, making it essential for good sleep. Foods rich in calcium include kale, broccoli, collard greens, dairy products, tofu and some nuts such as almonds.
  • Potassium and magnesium induce muscle relaxation. If you are low in either of these vital nutrients you may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Potassium-rich foods include bananas (which also contain tryptophan), potatoes, avocados, squash, legumes (especially white beans), salmon and mushrooms. Magnesium-rich foods include whole grains, dark leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans.

The next time you are concerned about your sleep cycle try adding some of the above mentioned foods to your diet — your brain will thank you!

--By Dawn Jae, Bastyr dietetic intern, and Amy Frasieur, MS, RD, core faculty in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University

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