These Small Changes Can Help You Sleep Better
A lack of sleep can have serious health effects. The good news: Small diet and lifestyle tweaks can help you catch all the zzz’s you truly need.
1. Go bananas.
Eat like a monkey for a good night's sleep. Bananas are full of carbs to help activate sleep-inducing tryptophan, plus magnesium to relax your muscles. Add a smear of nut butter to seal the sleep deal. It also contains tryptophan, and its healthy fats boost serotonin.
2. Make mine a melatonin.
Poor melatonin. People pop it like it's a sleeping pill, and then call it malarkey when it doesn't work. But melatonin isn't supposed to knock you out the way pharmaceutical sleeping aids do. It can be a lifesaver for certain sleep issues, however, so listen up if you are a shift worker, irregular sleeper, or time-zone traveler. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone we produce mostly at night that helps the body know when to shut down and when to wake up. Getting more of it can help when your sleep pattern is irregular, when falling asleep takes you more than a half-hour, and when you struggle to get out of bed in the morning.
Taking a melatonin supplement at night is one way to go, or you can try eating or drinking foods high in melatonin. Studies show that drinking 8 ounces of melatonin-rich tart cherry juice twice a day reduces insomnia.
Ingesting melatonin is not the only way to boost your levels. Your body converts tryptophan (of turkey fame) into the feel-good hormone serotonin, which not only helps you sleep, but then converts to melatonin and improves sleep quality.
3. The cup of warm, sweet milk mom gave you at night was more than just mommy magic.
Science shows that warm drinks cause a slight rise in body temperature, which leads to better blood flow and relaxed muscles. Add honey to lower orexin, a neurotransmitter that makes you alert.
4. Take two kiwis & call us in the morning.
Participants in a small study who ate two of the fuzzy-skinned fruits one hour before bedtime for four weeks slept significantly better and longer. More research is needed, but this is one where you can't go wrong: Kiwi is packed with antioxidants and potassium—and two fruits have twice the vitamin C of an orange.
35% Percent of American adults don't get the recommended seven hours of sleep. For those between ages 35 and 54, the story is even worse: Nearly 40 percent are sleep-deprived.
60° - 67°F: That's where to set your thermostat for the best sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
6,000: The number of car crashes attributed to drowsy driving each year. Even scarier: One out of 25 adults surveyed reported nodding off while driving within the past month.
The facts about beauty sleep. Getting enough sleep helps your skin in countless ways. While you sleep, blood flow and collagen repair damage that leads to wrinkles. Sleep-deprived teens wind up with more pimples. And people with psoriasis may notice more pain and itching when they don't get enough quality sleep.
Want to lose weight? Sleep on it! Forget diet fads. If you want to lose weight, start by getting enough sleep. People who catch enough zzz's have healthier body weights. Some researchers even believe that one of the big reasons for our nation's obesity epidemic is that we're sleeping less.
It makes sense: Think about the last time you were seriously sleep-deprived. You wanted to eat everything in sight, right? That is partially because a sleep deficit dulls your ability to make good decisions. (When you feel lousy, you reach for that fourth cookie.) But it's not just about wanting to self-comfort. One study showed that subjects hooked up to an MRI after sleep deprivation had increased brain activity in response to food images.
There may be a physiological reason we munch our way through the cookie jar. Some studies show that consistent sleep deprivation lowers leptin, the hormone that helps limit appetite. And it's a double whammy, because at the same time, ghrelin — the hormone responsible for increasing appetite — spikes when we're sleep-deprived.
The Question We're All Asking
Q: I've heard you should never eat before bedtime. True?
A: NOPE. A bedtime snack might actually help you sleep. Go for a combo of carbs and protein, and keep it light (under 250 calories), recommends Dr. Lisa Shives, sleep medicine specialist at UC San Diego Health's Sleep Medicine Center. While a big snack might activate your digestive process and keep you awake, a little warm oatmeal made with milk, yogurt drizzled with honey, or a couple of crackers with cheese all make great snoozy snacks.
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2020 issue of Allrecipes Magazine.