Insomnia is a predominant health concern among people today, outside of major disease. In fact, it affects so many individuals that nighttime sleep aids are as common as a bottle of aspirin or pain reliever. But what if, instead of looking at chemical options, we looked to our diets to help us sleep?
Many foods can stimulate the release of melatonin, the hormone that makes us fall asleep naturally. In an optimal world, we would rise with the sun and rest when the sun sets; this is how melatonin is naturally triggered in the body. However, because we live in a high-stress world and most of us adhere to daylight savings time, our sleep cycles can easily get off track. Something as simple as a seasonal change or jet lag can upset melatonin levels for months and even years if the body doesn’t learn to readjust. Then there’s the inevitable problem of lying in bed worrying about money, health, people in your life, or whatever else keeps you tossing and turning.
All of these things take a toll on the body so it’s critical to implement dietary approaches that can help you get to sleep and sleep soundly without drugs.
Herbs such as oregano, basil, thyme, chamomile, mint, spearmint, decaf green tea and lavender help relieve stress in the body that can interfere with sleep. They do not directly get you to sleep but instead will release neurotransmitters in the brain such as GABA, L-trytophan and L-theanine that help you relax.
Root veggies like sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, carrots, beets and parsnips all contain grounding properties that promote relaxation in the body. Ayurveda recognizes these foods for their ability to balance excess energy in the body, so if you suffer insomnia because you feel edgy or have too much energy at night, include root vegetables at dinner. They’re also particularly helpful for stress since they promote relaxation and improve serotonin production in the body. Their fiber, vitamin and antioxidant content also contribute to a healthy brain and body for the long haul, unlike chemical options linked to heart and liver damage.
High-quality protein (complete protein) is a must for good sleep. It contains L-tryptophan, L-theanine, and other amino acids that induce relaxation and act as precursors to serotonin, which then assists with the production of melatonin. These amino acids are found abundantly in organic poultry, pastured eggs, wild fish, and organic grass-fed dairy. Do note that conventional animal products are not a good option. Vegans can choose hemp seeds, quinoa, chia and tempeh for high-quality complete proteins.
Greens help relax and calm the body. They promote satiety, which can keep you away from bedtime sugars and sweets that will keep you awake. They also encourage the release of feel-good hormones in the body necessary for a healthy mood and sleep cycle. Greens are also particularly high in magnesium, a mineral that promotes relaxation, which can further aid in sleep. Try having two cups of cooked or raw greens every night to reap the benefits.
Broccoli is one of the best vegetable sources of calcium and protein, making it a great veggie to eat at night before bed. It’s also high in vitamin B6 which promotes relaxation. If you’d like another vegetable option with similar benefits, bok choy, a type of cabbage, is also high in calcium and vitamin B6, though not as high in protein.
Greek yogurt is packed with sleep health benefits. First, it’s a great source of natural calcium and protein, with higher amounts than most all other options listed here. It’s also high in magnesium, potassium and vitamin B6, which reduce stress and promote healthy blood pressure. Lastly, the natural dairy proteins it contains actually promote relaxation and sleep in the body. If you’re lactose intolerant, homemade Greek yogurt may be beneficial since the probiotics in yogurt actually eat up the lactose for fuel, making it naturally lower in this milk sugar. Always choose organic yogurt or at least choose companies that do not use antibiotics, hormones or GMOs. Also choose plain to avoid added sugars in sweetened varieties; top yours with berries, stevia or raw honey if you need natural sweetness.
Essential oils are another great natural remedy for insomnia and are a popular option for many ills. Lavender is one of the most well known for promoting sleep, but oil of oregano, peppermint, cinnamon and thyme also reduce stress and can help promote a healthier mood before bed.
Aside from the foods listed here, you might also be interested to know that many foods contain properties that actually promote the release of melatonin directly. These include oats, cherries, oranges, pineapples, bananas and tomatoes. So perhaps have a bowl of soaked oats with half a sliced banana and some cherries before bed instead of in the morning; call it breakfast for dinner!
Last but not least, chia seeds are great sleep helpers. They are packed with calcium, magnesium and protein, not to mention vitamin B6 and potassium. All of these nutrients can help you get to sleep quicker, and they reduce stress.
Meditation and yoga
Meditation is another effective way to promote relaxation before bed, as is yoga. Whether you combine the two or try one or the other, you might find these natural options work better than drugs. They help produce feel-good hormones in the body and reduce stress that causes insomnia.
Taking a natural supplement may be necessary for some people even after implementing other natural remedies. Natural supplements include magnesium citrate or oxide, valerian, L-tryptophan, melatonin, Calms Forte (a homeopathic option that is very effective), or using herbal teas such as chamomile, passionflower, or other bedtime teas that contain herbs that induce sleep naturally.
What to avoid:
Always avoid sugary, refined carbs and alcohol at night as they alter brain chemistry and may leave you awake at 3 a.m. You should also be sure to avoid eating spicy foods before bed. Furthermore, turn on the fan or adjust your thermostat since a colder body temperature will help you fall asleep even faster.
It’s important to get at least 8–9 hours of sleep most nights, and do your best to never go below seven hours at the minimum. Unhealthy sleep levels can alter brain health, focus, digestion, and even cause heart disease and diabetes. Have you ever had sleep issues and solved them with a natural option? What worked for you?
—The Alternative Daily