By: Betty Gold, Ananda Eidelstein & Samantha Cassetty, M.S., RD, RealSimple.com
Shortchanging your sleep makes you feel pretty crummy (as you likely know!), but the impact is even worse than you may think. Poor sleep can weaken your immune system (leaving you more susceptible to viruses), it ups your risk of injury during intense workouts, and it can alter your appetite-regulating hormones, making you feel hungrier while simultaneously intensifying cravings.
Sleep deprivation is no joke, yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we’re a sleep-deprived nation, with up to one-third of Americans failing to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
Did you know you can set yourself up for a better night’s rest by adopting healthy pre-bedtime eating habits and consuming foods (and drinks) that promote and improve sleep? You may have already heard that drinking milk or chamomile tea can help you sleep, and both hold true: milk contains melatonin, the natural sleep-regulating hormone, while chamomile tea is packed with antioxidants that boost relaxation and improve sleep quality.
But these two drinks aren’t your only options. There are several other foods that have a similar positive effect on shut-eye. Here are five more foods that can help you sleep better, according to science and nutritionists.
“Adding magnesium-rich foods to your plate can clearly help to improve sleep, especially in individuals who suffer from middle-of-the-night insomnia, where they wake up and are unable to fall back asleep,” confirms Erin Palinski-Wade, RD. “Research has found that a diet lacking in magnesium may make it more difficult to fall back asleep.” To make sure you’re meeting your magnesium needs each day, add leafy greens–in addition to legumes, nuts and seeds to your plate along with a variety of whole grains.
Digging into that hummus never sounded so good. This legume is a plant-based source of tryptophan, the amino acid also found in turkey that can increase the production of melatonin.
In a study that looked at the sleep differences among followers of several diets–higher in protein, fat or carbs compared to a standard control diet–participants experienced fewer sleep disturbances on the high-carb diet compared to any of the others. (That’s right, carb lovers!) Oats are a healthy whole-grain source of carbohydrates, as well as a good source of magnesium.
If you’re not already paying attention to your gut health, here’s another reason to start: Your microbiome, which is the collection of trillions of bugs in your gut, is connected to your sleep patterns. An increasing amount of research points to the fact that your microbiome is involved in regulating your sleep rhythms and quality, in addition to affecting things like mood and stress levels. In fact, the species of bacteria in your gut likely adhere to a circadian rhythm much like we do!
High stress levels can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep (as you’re likely well aware). “In addition to adding regular exercise to your day and practicing deep breathing to offset stress, eating foods rich in vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce circulating stress hormones in the body,” explains Palinski-Wade. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, clementines, lemons and limes. Strawberries and legumes are also packed with vitamin C.
(Real Simple magazine provides smart, realistic solutions to everyday challenges. Online at www.realsimple.com.)
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