Funny enough, the idea for this blog post came to me at 3am when I was lying wide awake. I’m fairly certain everyone at some point in time has had the same problem, and unfortunately many people suffer from sleep issues on a regular basis. Luckily, there are many nutrition based remedies that may provide you some relief and well deserved zzz’s.
Melatonin is the neuro-hormone responsible for regulating day-night cycles and circadian rhythm…aka SLEEP. Melatonin naturally decreases as we age. Melatonin is available in an oral supplement form, but many foods increase production of melatonin.
These foods include pineapples, bananas, oranges, oats, sweet corn, rice, tomatoes, and barley. Tart cherry juice has also been shown to naturally boost melatonin.
Melatonin is produced from the neurotransmitter serotonin. The amino acid precursor to serotonin is tryptophan. Most people are familiar with the fact that turkey is high in tryptophan, but other rich sources include chicken, potatoes, bananas, turnip and collard greens, pumpkin, hummus, walnuts and sunflower seeds.
In addition to specific foods that are high in tryptophan, many foods are rich in nutrients that aid in the conversion of tryptophan to melatonin.
Calcium aids in the conversion of tryptophan to melatonin. See my last post about calcium-rich foods here.
Magnesium helps calcium get absorbed and also aids in fatigue and stress reduction. Magnesium also helps relax muscles and nerves, so if it’s restless leg syndrome that’s keeping you up at night, magnesium may be your solution. Foods rich in magnesium include dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, legumes, chocolate, and rice.
You can also take a magnesium supplement. When using a magnesium supplement avoid forms including carbonate, oxide or gluconate as they are poorly absorbed. Look for magnesium citrate-malate or glycinate. Also start slow as too much magnesium in supplement form can cause diarrhea.
Another important neurotransmitter for sleep regulation is GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid). GABA is responsible for calming and relieving anxiety. GABA is available in a supplemental form, but can also be made by the body from glutamic acid/glutamate, which is found in many foods.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea. It is involved in the formation of GABA. Brew up a mug of decaffeinated green tea to reap the relaxing and anti-anxiety benefits of l-theanine.
Taurine is another amino acid that increases GABA and reduces production of stress hormones that add to anxiety. Taurine is found in seafood, red meat and eggs. Taurine is also depleted by stress and intense exercise. Since food sources are limited, many people may benefit from a supplement.
Many herbs can have an profound impact on sleep as well. These herbs can be found in store-bought teas or used loose and combined to make your own tea. Most are also available in a liquid tincture form that can be added to foods or beverages. Some may also be found in capsule form.
Herbs that reduce stress and promote sleep that are related to the GABA transmitters are chamomile, passionflower, valerian, and skullcap.
Lemon balm, hops, and kava are also herbs that help relieve anxiety and stress, thus promoting improved sleep.
Everyone is different, so some of these remedies may work better than others or you may need to combine a few different ones. If you are interested in adding supplements to your diet it is best to consult your dietitian or other knowledgeable healthcare professional in order to determine the most appropriate choice and dosage for you.