Trying to get a restful night’s sleep can often be challenging; stress, long work hours, erratic eating patterns, health issues and a lack of routine can all contribute to poor sleep. However, what we eat during the day and before bedtime can have one of the most positive effects.
These are my five top sleep aids that work for me.
Oats are probably one of the first ports of call when you’re struggling to sleep! They’re high in both the amino acid tryptophan and vitamin B6.
There’s a really good reason for this; the most important hormone in the body for sleep is melatonin. It’s naturally produced in the hours of darkness, which is another good reason for having a dark room for sleeping. However, melatonin is produced from the amino acid tryptophan, therefore foods containing high levels of tryptophan, such as oats, are key for good sleep. Even better, oats contain vitamin B6 which is needed to produce tryptophan, so it’s a win-win situation!
Added to that, if you eat a bowl of oats with some milk (as you normally would), milk is also high in tryptophan. So, why not think about swapping what you might eat for breakfast and having it as a snack, an hour before bedtime? Incidentally, a high protein-based breakfast such as eggs is a great breakfast choice, so the swap will work well.
If you’re struggling to get a restful night, then having a few almonds as a snack before bedtime might just do the trick! Interestingly, we think of almonds as nuts but technically they’re the seed of the fruit of a beautiful almond tree!
As with oats, almonds are high in tryptophan. However, they’re also packed with omega-3 fats which are needed for hormone balancing. This is important as melatonin is part of our whole-body hormone system, and all hormones need to be in balance.
Almonds also have a great mineral profile; they’re high in magnesium which is known as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’. In fact, many people find their sleep improves by taking a magnesium supplement before bedtime. However, with almonds containing around 20% of your daily recommended magnesium needs, eating the ‘real thing’ is a great option! Eat around six almonds about half an hour before bedtime.
This suggestion may surprise you! However, tart cherries, properly called Montmorency cherries, are high in melatonin and also tryptophan. In a particular research study, older adults were given tart cherry juice twice day for two weeks. Results showed that time asleep increased by around 90 minutes, which is a significant improvement.
Of course, it’s not just older people who struggle to get some rest as night. The beneficial effects of tart cherries on sleep have been vigorously studied in a number of different age groups, and positive results have been reported.
Cherries also contain high levels of anthocyanins, packed with antioxidants which help stop the ageing process. It’s the combination of these and melatonin that provide the beneficial effects on sleep. The most palatable way to have tart cherries is in juice form.
Delicious and nutritious -that’s bananas! Plus they’ll help you to get some shut-eye! Their amazing nutrient profile contains magnesium and potassium – both muscle-relaxing minerals – plus they’re high in tryptophan and vitamin B6, which together help to make melatonin.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep then a snack of a warm milk drink (high in calcium, another relaxing mineral) and a banana, an hour before bedtime, could provide the answer.
There’s a wealth of herbal teas in the supermarkets, many claiming to help you to sleep. Whilst there’s not too much ‘hard’ evidence in terms of research, anecdotal reports on camomile are extremely positive. Many teas also contain hops which appear to have a relaxing effect.
Camomile seems to calm and relax the nervous system - a key to achieving restful sleep. Camomile tea is caffeine-free and caffeine should be avoided for at least four hours before bedtime if you’re struggling to get some rest. Drinking a cup of camomile, without any sugar, an hour before bedtime can really help the body to wind down, before climbing into bed.
It’s all about perseverance until you find what works for you.