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A Complete Guide to Food for Sleep

I can tell how well you’ll sleep tonight if I know what you’re having for dinner.

Science says so. And they have proof.

Sleep is the essential magic pill we all need to build a life of happiness and success. There’s no denying after thousands of research studies, that sleep has a ton of benefits to contribute to our health and well-being. 

Apart from the many strategies to promote quality sleep, several studies have confirmed that the food you eat plays a major contribution to your sleep. 

You’ve probably heard about skipping coffee before bedtime, but did you know why?

In this guide, you will learn how you can include certain ingredients in your dinner meal for a peaceful sleep, and the mystery behind avoiding certain foods before bedtime.

But first, you must know how to choose your food wisely, and that depends on how it can help in sleeping.

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Understand What Makes You Sleepy

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone released by a pea-sized gland located just above the middle of the brain, called the pineal gland. A bunch of cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) regulates your Circadian system and controls the release of Melatonin hormone as well, by making the pineal gland active only during night-time. The pineal gland is activated usually at around 9 PM and starts to release melatonin into your bloodstream.

The increased release of Melatonin starts to make you feel less alert and sleepy so you are able to maintain your body’s regular sleep cycle.

Melatonin is only affected by bright light exposure which makes it fall back to its lowest levels during the daytime. This is also why doctors recommend against spending time in front of bright screens and in bright environments before bedtime.

Foods that boost Melatonin levels: [Source]

Plants & Vegetables: Mushrooms, Tomatoes, Pepper, Purslane, Ginger, Cauliflower, Radish, Broccoli, Garlic, Cucumber, Turnip, Carrot, Onion, Cabbage, Celery
Fruits: Tart Cherries, Grapes, Cherry, Strawberry, Apple, Banana, Pineapple
Grains & Cereal: Rice, Corn, Wheat, Barley, Oats
Beans & Legumes: Lentils, Lupin Beans, Kidney Beans, Soy Beans
Seeds: Mustard, Fenugreek, Chinese Wolfberry, Green Cardamom, Coriander, Fennel, Sunflower, Flax
Nuts: Pistachio, Walnuts, Almonds
Flowers & Herbs: Chinese Skullcap, St John’s Wort, Chan Tui, Cat’s Claw (Gou Teng), Di ding, Shiya Tea Leaf, Chinese goldthread, Sang Ye, Black Pepper
Animal Foods: Salmon, Pork, Chicken, Beef, Solid Eggs
Dairy: Milk, Toned Milk, Yoghurt

GABA

GABA or Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid is a naturally produced amino acid in the brain which functions as a neurotransmitter. GABA’s main role is to inhibit the activity of neurons in our brains and central nervous system towards the end of the day. This helps our mind and body to switch off the state of wakefulness by reducing stress, increasing relaxation, and calmness slowly inducing sleep.

Foods that Boost GABA levels: [Source]

Plants & Vegetables: Mushrooms, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kale, Radish, Turnips, Tomato, Spinach, Sweet Potato, Wild Celery, Poke Root, Chestnut
Grains & Cereal: Rice, Oat, Wheat, Barley, Buckwheat
Beans & Legumes:
Pea, Soya Beans, Adzuki Beans, Lupin Beans
Flowers & Herbs: Maypop, Valerian, St. John’s Wort, Mouse-ear Hawkweed

Adenosine

Adenosine is an organic chemical that is produced as a by-product of energy consumption.
All living beings have an organic compound called ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) in their cells, which captures chemical energy from the food that we eat and transforms into required energy forms (fuel) to be used by our bodies. Once ATP is used up, it decomposes into Adenosine. It also acts as a neurotransmitter by inhibiting neural activity and making you feel drowsy. 

Adenosine keeps on building up in your body throughout the day, therefore making you feel tired and in need of sleep with increasing waking hours.

The level of adenosine decreases during sleep making you feel energetic when you wake up after a good night’s sleep. There are certain foods that act as adenosine blocker, neutralizing adenosine’s effect and preventing you from falling asleep.

Foods that block Adenosine: [ Source1, Source2 ]

Caffeine – Coffee, Decaf Coffee, Espresso, Energy Drinks, Sodas, Frozen Yoghurt
Theanine – Black Tea, Green Tea
Cocoa – Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Cereals, Chocolate Ice-cream, Chocolate Yoghurt

Tryptophan [Source]

Tryptophan or L-tryptophan is an amino acid found in small amounts in all protein foods. When ingested, our body uses Tryptophan and converts it into a B vitamin called Niacin. Niacin promotes the creation of serotonin, which gets converted to melatonin. This is how tryptophan is connected with the promotion of sleep.
However, any protein source contains many different types of amino acids along with very few amounts of tryptophan to cause any immediate effect on your body and make you sleep.
The trick is to include carbohydrates along with proteins in your diet. Carbohydrates release insulin in our body which neutralizes all other amino acids except tryptophan from the protein, which then enters our brain smoothly without any competition and boosts our serotonin levels, which makes us sleepy when converted into melatonin. [Source]

Food Sources Of Tryptophan: 

Animal Foods: Chicken, Turkey, Shrimp, Salmon, Halibut, Tuna, Sardines, Cod
Dairy: Milk, Cheese, Low-fat Yogurt
Nuts & Seeds: Flax, Sesame, Pumpkin, Sunflower, Cashews, Peanuts, Almonds, Walnuts
Beans & Legumes: Kidney Beans, Lima Beans, Black Beans, Split Peas, Chickpeas
Fruits: Apples, Bananas, Peaches, Avocado
Plants & Vegetables: Spinach, Broccoli, Turnip Greens, Asparagus, Onions, Seaweed
Grains & Cereals: Wheat, Rice, Barley, Corn, Oats

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral essential to our health and well-being. It is one of the seven macro-minerals that the human body needs in large quantities but does not produce on its own.

Research studies have shown that Magnesium promotes better sleep by increasing levels of the GABA neurotransmitter.

GABA’s main role is to inhibit the activity of neurons in our brains and the central nervous system to make us sleepy. Magnesium is often referred to as the sleep mineral and we can only receive magnesium naturally from our diet.

Food Sources of Magnesium:

Plants & Vegetables: Dark leafy greens (baby spinach, kale, collard greens)
Fruits: Banana, Avocados
Nuts & Seeds: almonds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, cashews, pine nuts, flaxseed, pecans
Animal Foods: Fish (salmon, halibut, tuna, mackerel)
Beans & Legumes: Soybeans
Grains & Cereals: Wheat germ
Dairy: Low-fat yogurt

Calcium

Calcium is another of the seven macro-minerals that the human body needs in large quantities. We all know about calcium’s role in bone health but it is directly related to your sleep cycle as well.

Calcium in our brain uses the amino acid tryptophan to produce melatonin which helps us fall asleep.

A lack of calcium can make you wake up in the middle of the night and keep you awake with difficulty in returning to sleep. Our body does not produce calcium and we can receive calcium naturally from our diet. [Source]

Food Sources of Calcium: [Source1, Source2]

Nuts & Seeds: Poppy Seeds, Chia Seeds, Flaxseeds, Sesame seeds, Almonds, Peanuts, Hazel Nuts, Brazil Nuts, Pistachio, Walnuts
Beans & Legumes: Winged Beans, Soybeans, Kidney Beans, Lupin Beans, Mung Beans, Chickpeas, Baked beans
Fortified Foods: Tofu (Fortified with calcium), Almond milk, rice milk or soy milk, Orange juice, and other fruit juices, Enriched bread, and grains, Fortified cereals, Fortified Oatmeal
Dairy: Low-fat milk, Cheeses, Yogurt, Parmesan
Animal Food: Fish (Sardines, Salmon, Shrimp)
Fruits: Oranges, Kiwi, Cherries, Lemon, Limes, Apricots, Strawberries, Zucchini
Plants & Vegetables: Dark leafy greens, Green snap peas, Okra, Broccoli, Kale

Conclusion

Here’s a final list of all foods that are considered best for sleep and foods that you should definitely avoid before bed.

Best Foods for Sleep:

Plants & Vegetables: Broccoli, Turnip, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Tomatoes, Radish, Onion, Kale, Spinach
Mushrooms
Fruits:
Bananas, Cherries, Strawberries, Apples, Avocados
Grains & Cereal: Barley, Corn, Oat, Rice, Wheat
Beans & Legumes: Soy Beans, Lupin Beans, Kidney Beans, Chickpeas
Seeds & Nuts: Almonds, Flax seeds, Walnuts, Pistachios, Sunflower Seeds, Peanuts, Sesame seeds, Cashews, Brazil Nuts
Animal Foods: Salmon, Chicken, Sardines, Shrimp, Halibut, Tuna
Dairy: Low-fat Yogurt, Low-fat Milk, Cheese

Foods to Avoid:

Caffeine – Coffee, Decaf Coffee, Espresso, Energy Drinks, Sodas, Frozen Yoghurt
Theanine – Black Tea, Green Tea
Cocoa – Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Cereals, Chocolate Ice-cream, Chocolate Yoghurt


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