There’s nothing a good night’s sleep can’t fix—but what if you can’t get eight solid hours? What you eat and do during the day has a huge impact on your shuteye. The right sleep recipe, one that takes into account routine, environment, diet, and stress management, will help you get better rest.
Nuts—Nutrient-packed nuts offer a small helping of protein to keep you full through the night without stressing your digestion, and they’ve each got their own special powers. Walnuts are high in tryptophan and natural melatonin, essential sleep starters. Almonds are full of magnesium, a gentle muscle relaxer and sleep promoter. Heated almond milk with cardamom is a great alternative to the ubiquitous warm milk before bed.
Cherries—These red gems contain natural melatonin. If you can’t find the real thing, studies show drinking tart cherry juice helps relieve insomnia.
Bananas—Rich in soothing minerals such as potassium and magnesium, bananas have tons of health benefits, from sounder sleep to better brain health. Eat them plain or mix them up in a smoothie with almond butter.
Salmon—Salmon and other cold-water fish are high in Omega-3s, essential fatty acids that improve mood and reduce anxiety—both conducive to better sleep. Omega-3s also give your brain the building blocks it needs for vital overnight repair. If fish for dinner isn’t appealing, try a fish or krill oil supplement.
Sweet potatoes—If deep, restful sleep is what you seek, opt for complex carbs. Sweet potatoes drizzled with coconut oil are the perfect bedtime treat.
Caffeine—If there’s one thing coffee’s good at, it’s keeping you awake—so why would you drink it at night? Caffeine—including black tea, soda, and, yes, even chocolate—stimulates stress hormones such as cortisol, which keeps you awake in a crisis. If your circulating cortisol levels are chronically high, you won’t sleep well. Avoid caffeine after lunchtime, and your body will quickly get back to its natural cortisol cycles.
Spices—Hot, spicy food stimulates your nervous system and can cause heartburn. If you don’t want your Srirachastockpile to go to waste, have it early in the day.
Protein—Because protein takes more time and effort to digest, eating it right before bed keeps your digestive system—especially your liver—busy all night long, when it has other important jobs to do. Too much protein can lead to fitful sleep. Instead, choose easy-to-digest complex carbs for your evening snack and have a protein-rich breakfast to keep your hormones and blood sugar balanced throughout the day. You’ll reap the rewards of extra energy and improved sleep.
Fat—Like protein, fat taxes your digestion. Since it boosts acid production, it can also cause heartburn. If you’re craving a satisfying snack before bed, try warm coconut milk, or a sweet potato with coconut oil.
Alcohol—Though it may seem like alcohol helps you get to sleep, it keeps you from reaching the deeper phases, where the real magic happens. If you drink before bed, your body never gets a chance to do vital repairs.
Lights out—Serotonin and melatonin are two sides of the same coin. Daylight stimulates serotonin production, which keeps you awake, and when it’s dark, your body makes sleep-inducing melatonin. Blackout curtains or a sleep mask will help regulate your natural hormone cycles for better sleep.
Quiet—Even if it feels like you can sleep through anything, your body is hard-wired to respond to noise. With every minor (or major) disturbance, your nervous system gets stirred up, affecting your sleep quality.
Exercise—If you have trouble sleeping, best get moving early in the day as some people find exercise overly stimulating before bed. Regardless, to slow yourself down at night, the key is to get your heart rate up by day.
Screen time—We know, Netflix marathons are hard to resist. But screens—TV, laptop, and smartphone alike—are too stimulating for your sleep-deprived brain. Remember, bright lights signal your body to produce chemicals that make you feel awake. Powering down your devices and dimming the lights an hour or two before bed helps your body prep for sleep. Curl up with a good book or your journal instead. Knitting —or any other calming hobby—is a great way to unwind.
Relax—Like caffeine, stress cues up your fight or flight response, dumping cortisol and other chemicals into your system so you’ll be awake and ready for the perceived threat. Deep breathing exercises and calming visualizations will go a long way to bringing your body back to baseline.
If diet and lifestyle don’t do the trick, try some natural sleep aids. Gentle chamomile will help a mild case, but if your insomnia is severe, opt for passionflower or valerian. 5-HTP taken before bed can help your body make melatonin. Sweet dreams!
Darcy Smith, RNCP