By Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND
The health benefits of a good night’s rest are endless. Sleep supports a healthy immune system, happy mood, trim waistline, a sharp brain, glowing skin, healthy hair, happy hormones and long-term it helps lower your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and premature death.
Forty percent of Americans are said to be getting less than 7 hours of sleep on average a night, this is a frightening fact considering that studies show less than 7 hours per night increases the risk of premature death particularly for men and many other serious health conditions. 25% of Americans are using sleeping drugs (hypnotics) to help them get some shut eye.
It is also well known that sleep supports weight loss and a healthy waistline. People who are sleeping less than the recommended 7-9 hours per night will have hormone changes that are tied to an increased appetite, eating larger portions, increased cravings and pleasure signals for high-calorie foods, combined with a reduced ability to stop these impulses, a very dangerous combination for weight control.
In studies people who were sleep deprived (less than 7 hours) had increased levels of ghrelin (a hunger hormone) and reduced leptin levels (satiety hormone).
Sleep deprivation causes a list of overwhelming symptoms such as irritability, headaches, fatigue, depressed mood, slow thoughts, increased appetite and cravings, infections, poor decision making processes, depression, premature death, cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Here is a list of foods that have shown to improve sleep:
1. Cherries: Particularly tart cherries. They contain melatonin which enhances sleep onset, depth and length of sleep.
2. Walnuts: Walnuts naturally contain the antioxidant hormone melatonin which supports sleep and they also contain the amino acid tryptophan which is a precursor for melatonin.
3. Dark Green Leafy Vegetables: Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards, arugula (rocket) and watercress contain excellent levels of calcium and magnesium, these minerals support relaxation of the nervous system and the muscles. Calcium also helps the brain use the amino acid tryptophan to manufacture the sleep-inducing substance melatonin.
4. Bananas: Bananas are an excellent source of magnesium, potassium and Vitamin B6, which are needed for relaxation and to make melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone). My little 4 year old often asks for a small banana when she is having trouble sleeping, funny thing our instinct.
5. Herbal Teas: Teas such as chamomile, passionflower, skullcap. They contain sedative properties that enhance the sleep cycle.
6. Honey: This natural sweetener in your tea can give you a slight elevation of blood sugar that allows tryptophan to enter the brain effectively to enhance sleep.
7. Almonds: They contain vitamin B6, magnesium and protein which supports melatonin production and healthy blood glucose levels to promote sleep.
8. Oatmeal: Carbohydrate-rich foods have a sedative effect although you want something slow release as high GI foods may help you to sleep initially but they can create wakefulness later in the night due to dramatic sugar slumps after the initial spike.
9. Hummus: Chickpeas are a great source of tryptophan and B6. Vitamin B6 supports healthy sleep hormone cycles.
10. Pineapple: Pineapple was shown in research to enhance and raise serum levels of melatonin levels in males. Oranges also showed promise along with bananas of course.
Having a small snack an hour or two before bed can enhance sleep, while it is really important to remember not to eat heavy large meals or snacks before bed as this will have the opposite effect and will create a restless night. Here is a list of other ways to get more sleep!