Are you part of the 40 percent of Americans adults who toss and turn for hours every night? While an occasional sleepless night shouldn’t worry you, missing out on zzz’s long term is more problematic. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to vehicle crashes, occupational errors, and a reduced quality of life. Not only that, but suffering from insomnia puts you at risk of developing chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and even cancer.
While psychological factors definitely contribute to the problem, in many cases diet and exercise can go a long way in helping you get a good night’s sleep. As you probably know, a diet high in fat, caffeine and other stimulants can significantly harm your chances of getting the rest you need. That’s because they mess with our ability to properly regulate our sleep cycle.
What You Should Know About Sleep Regulation
The brain is the orchestrator of our circadian rhythm, which is the human body’s internal clock that tells us when it’s time to wake up and when it’s time to say goodnight. Our circadian rhythm is regulated by many variables, some of which are triggered right from the moment we open our eyes in the morning. We drift off to sleep when our brain inhibits the firing of neurotransmitters that keep us alert and sharp during the day.
Why Food and Sleep Are Interconnected
After we eat food, our blood sugar rises, which prompts the release of insulin in our bodies. When our brains detect the presence of insulin, they then permit an amino acid found in food called tryptophan molecules to enter our brains more easily. This gives rise to serotonin synthesis, which is a neurotransmitter important in brain functions related to sleep and mood. In short, the neurotransmitters involved in satiation are the same ones who are responsible for making us drift to sleep.
If you’ve been wondering what kind of foods you can eat to get rid of insomnia once and for all, take a look at these 10 foods and their benefits:
Cherries are not only nature’s candy, they’re a great snack to eat if you suffer from insomnia. Packed with naturally occurring melatonin these sweet summer fruits add to our endogenous melatonin production and help us fall asleep. They also contain carotenoids and anthocyanins, which are phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic effects on our bodies. Cherries are also a great source of vitamin C, potassium, iron, copper and fiber which all contribute to maintaining a healthy weight and ward off heart disease. Once the cherry season is over, don’t fret; cherry juice and dried cherries have been found to have the same sleep-promoting beneficial effect as fresh cherries.
Pistachios are not only a delight to snack on, they’re packed with vitamins, minerals and they have the highest concentration of melatonin out of all nuts. That means that on top of reducing our bad cholesterol they can also help us regulate our sleep cycle. They’re also rich in copper, iron, calcium, vitamin E and fiber so don’t ever feel bad for indulging! This nut may be one of the smallest but it is mighty!
Although pistachios have the highest concentration of melatonin, walnuts and other nuts also contain a fair amount, so feel free to munch on your favorite type of nut for a bedtime snack, like these Pistachio Rose Bliss Balls or try them for dinner with this Pistachio Pesto Pasta or this Pistachio Almond-Crusted Tofu. You’ll fall asleep in no time.
Along with cherries and strawberries, grapes are one of the only fruits to actually contain melatonin in their natural state. That’s great news because a big bowl of frozen grapes is one of our favorite snacks.
Did you know that grapes are also rich in polyphenols, which is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to prevent prostate and colon cancer? Consuming grapes has also been linked with a decreased risk of getting heart disease. That’s all thanks to quercetin, a flavonoid found in the fruit, that reduces blood pressure and damage caused by cholesterol through its anti-inflammatory activity.
If you need even more reasons to get your snacking on, grapes are a great source of vitamin A, C, potassium, iron, folate and fiber. This 3-Ingredient Grape Chia Jelly is a great way to include grapes in your snacking routine or you can try adding grapes to lunch and dinner with recipes like this White Pizza With Fennel and Roasted Grapes or this Crunchy Fresh Broccoli Quinoa Salad, which includes sliced red grapes.
Tomatoes are one of our favorite summer crops and not without reason. They’re packed with vitamin A, C, folic acid, and lycopene (an antioxidant well-known for its anti-cancer benefits). As if there wasn’t already enough great things to say about tomatoes, it turns out that they contain melatonin which as you know is an essential hormone that our bodies need to regulate our sleep cycles. Choline, a nutrient that helps with cognitive functions and promotes REM sleep is also found in tomatoes.
Besides their status as a superfood, tomatoes are incredibly delicious and versatile which is more than enough reason to enjoy them. Don’t believe us? Check out these 26 Succulent Recipes Using Summer Tomatoes or try recipes like this White Wine Tomato Pasta Sauce, this Roasted Tomato Herb Quiche, or this Heirloom Tomato Tart.
Did you know that red bell peppers have the most nutrition out of all peppers? That’s because they’ve spent the most time on the vine. As such, they have 11 times more beta-carotene and 1.5 times more vitamin C than their green counterpart does. They’re also a great source of vitamin A, potassium, folic acid, and fiber. Not only that but they contain a good dose of tryptophan, an amino acid used by our body in the production of serotonin which is in turn transformed into melatonin, the sleep hormone. Besides aiding in melatonin production, red bell peppers even have melatonin of their own to add to the mix. Talk about a double-whammy!
Although sweet bell peppers can help you catch some much-needed sleep, hot peppers have the opposite effect and will keep you awake so stay away from spicy food at dinnertime. Try bell peppers in these Quinoa Stuffed Peppers With Jalapeño Cream Sauce, this Garlicky Bell Pepper Sauce, or these Curried Potatoes and Bell Peppers.
Whether you love them or hate them or you’re somewhere in between, you should know that mushrooms are a great addition to your diet if you’re having trouble sleeping at night. They contain tryptophan, the building block of serotonin, as well as melatonin which help your body regulate your sleep cycle. Mushrooms are also a good source of vitamin D, selenium and antioxidants so you should definitely include fungi in your diet anyways.
If you’re wondering how to make mushrooms more appetizing or you’re simply looking for creative recipes ideas, check out 20 of Our Meatiest, Beefiest, and Most Savory Mushroom Recipes. Or try this Mushroom Butter Masala, these Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms, or this Spicy Mushroom Stir-Fry.
Chickpeas are a cornerstone in vegan cuisine and not only because they form the base of the best dip known to humanity (hummus!). We kid but chickpeas are a powerhouse of nutrition and they’re damn tasty. They’re low in fat, full of protein and fiber, thus contributing to reducing bad cholesterol and preventing diabetes. The almighty legume is also on our side when it comes to catching zzz’s as they’re an important source of magnesium and vitamin B6 which can help us mellow out. The fact that beans and legumes contain naturally occurring melatonin is another reason why chickpeas are the perfect addition to an insomniac’s diet.
Cereal may be a typical breakfast food but it turns out that eating a bowl of heart-healthy whole grains does more than give us energy for the day: it can help us fall asleep at night, too.
Cereal made from corn, rice, barley, wheat, and oats all contain melatonin and tryptophan. Studies have found that having a breakfast rich in tryptophan combined with daylight exposure increases melatonin secretion at night, which is what you need to fall asleep.
It’s also good to note that cereal composed of whole grains are considered complex carbs which contribute to a healthy digestion and optimal brain function. That alone is a good reason for enjoying a bowl any time of day! Enjoy this Popped Amaranth Cereal or try any of These 15 Vegan Cereal Brands That Are Nutritious and Delicious.
This delicately perfumed rice goes great with curries and stir-fries but that’s only one of the reasons why we love it so much. Jasmine rice is a good source of vitamin E, b-vitamins, potassium and is naturally low in fat making it a nutritious food. Although rice is often demonized for being a high glycemic index food, it has many benefits and one of them is its effect on sleep.
Studies have found that consuming rice four hours before bed and having a diet with a generally high-glycemic index is linked with good quality sleep. This is likely due to the spike in blood sugar which means tryptophan gets to the brain quicker, thus precipitating the conversion of serotonin into melatonin and making us sleepy.
Eat a portion of jasmine rice with dinner or make this delicious Syrian Rose Flavored Rice Pudding. Eat it a few hours before bed and you’ll reap all of its sleep-inducing benefits.
Maca powder is called a super food for a reason. The Peruvian Maca root is famous for its positive effects on fertility, memory, anxiety, and depression but it turns out it also has significant beneficial properties in regards to sleep. It all comes down to the hexadecanoic acid (a type of fatty acid), calcium and potassium it contains. These components have all been linked with improved sleep, likely because of their role in aiding melatonin production. Maca is also prized for its antioxidant, anti-aging, and antiviral activity.
Include this super food in this delicious Raw and Healthy Vegan Chocolate Smoothie or make these Maca Blueberry Pops for a snack. If you feel like something sweet, try this Maca Almond Butter Chickpea Cookie Dough.
Want more information on foods that promote sleep and good health? Or recipes using all your favorite tryptophan-rich foods? Here are a few articles to get you started:
- Foods That Help Produce Melatonin: Oats, Bananas, and More!
- 5 Plant-Based Foods That Will Help You Get Sound Sleep
- Foods You Should Eat When You Can’t Sleep
- Go Beyond Hummus! 28 Super Creative Chickpea Recipes
- Think Rice is Boring? Try These 25 Exciting Recipes That Will Change Your Mind
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Lead image source: Popped Amaranth Cereal