Making the most of your night’s sleep is essential for health and wellness. The quality and quantity of the sleep we get each night is directly correlated with pretty much our entire overall health, from the immune system to the body’s ability to lower the risk of disease. Lack of sleep has also been a proven factor in increased weight gain, even among individuals who are exercising and cutting down their caloric intake.
If you’re looking to avoid the nighttime sleep aid route, here are a few foods you can incorporate into your evening routine that have had a proven effect on improving the quality of your rest (as highlighted in one of our recent "Get the Skinny" segments).
There are a lot of foods on the market that are touted to help you sleep better, but passionflower has a long history of use as both a sedative as well as an anti-anxiety remedy. Drinking a cup of passionflower tea an hour before going to bed can help you fall asleep faster, as well as improve your sleep quality. It’s rare to find passionflower as the stand-alone tea ingredient – most likely, it will be incorporated as an ingredient in a tea blend. You’ll want to choose a tea with at least 180-200mg of passionflower, so check the label before purchasing. Gaia Sleep and Relax Herbal Tea is one option.
Not necessarily the most obvious sleep aid, eating 2 kiwi one hour before bed has been shown to improve the time it takes to fall asleep, total sleep time, and overall sleep quality. Kiwi contains many compounds, including serotonin, which can benefit sleep patterns.
Carbs + Protein Combination
When it comes to falling asleep, many look to turkey or milk because of the tryptophan they contain. Tryptophan is an amino acid needed to produce serotonin, which is used to make melatonin - a hormone that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles. Tryptophan-rich foods include proteins like turkey, chicken, eggs, and Greek yogurt. But we also need carbohydrates to enhance serotonin levels, so to reap maximum benefits of tryptophan, the best nighttime choice contains a blend of carbs and protein. Whole grain crackers with cheese, protein-rich cereal like Special K Protein with milk, Nature Valley’s Protein Chewy Bars, toast with peanut butter or cheese, or popcorn with a few nuts are all different options.
Cottage Cheese + Berries (or other fresh fruit)
Cottage cheese with fruit is another carbohydrate/protein combo that can boost serotonin. Additionally, cottage cheese contains a lot of casein - a slow-digesting protein that will keep you feeling fuller for longer. Added bonus: it helps prevent the natural breakdown of valuable muscle mass while you sleep.
As a top source of magnesium, potassium, and calcium, spinach may not be the most exciting addition to your diet but it will help your body relax. Magnesium has been shown to assist with falling and staying asleep, as well as with restless leg syndrome and nighttime muscle cramps (both of which can interfere with sleep). It’s also rich in potassium which, along with magnesium, promotes muscle relaxation, and calcium, which helps the body produce melatonin. Make it a goal to have spinach with dinner several nights a week, and note if it helps to improve your sleep.
For more details on this topic, watch Molly’s full “Get the Skinny” segment on WGNO!