Restful shuteye at night can sometimes become elusive as we get older. Not only does it become more challenging to fall asleep, it’s also harder to stay asleep like we were able to in our younger years. Your sleep rhythms can change ― perhaps that’s why you’ve noticed you’re adhering to the “early to bed, early to rise” adage. Other sleep and health conditions, including insomnia, also make it difficult to get well-rested and get enough deep sleep. It’s commonly thought that older folks don’t need much sleep, but according to the National Sleep Foundation, your sleep needs don’t change drastically as you go from adult to older adult.
Here are a few things you can add to your diet that might help you sleep a little better.
1. Tart cherry juice
The sound of this drink may make you wince, but one study found that older adults with insomnia who drank this potent drink morning and night, for two weeks straight, were able to sleep around 90 minutes longer. Tart cherries are believed to be an excellent source of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate our sleep. Another small study found that just drinking the juice for a week increased subjects’ melatonin levels and their sleep efficiency.
2. Protein-rich foods
If you’ve already jumped on the high-protein bandwagon, there’s good news. No, we’re not talking about a whittled-down waist. A recent study found that middle-aged adults who are overweight, can improve their sleep quality by going on a lower-calorie, higher-protein diet. The protein came from sources like beef, soy, pork, legumes and dairy.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends pairing a protein with a carb as a bedtime snack if you need one, to better release the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan. Try a combination like cheese and crackers or peanut butter and toast.
Tryptophan helps your body produce serotonin, which you might know as a feel-good hormone that can help with your mood. But it also helps you sleep. Nuts, like walnuts and almonds, are good sources of tryptophan. Some studies have even found that walnuts can directly increase melatonin levels. Almonds are also rich in magnesium, a deficiency that has been linked to insomnia.
4. Fatty fish
In a study conducted by the University of Oxford, researchers found that in children with sleep disturbances, supplementing their diet with omega-3 helped them get nearly an extra hour of sleep. Other research has suggested that omega-3s can help reduce inflammation and may assist with sleep apnea.
You can get plenty of omega-3s in your diet through eating oily fish like salmon and tuna.
5. Passionflower tea
If you’re a tea or coffee drinker, you probably know that it’s best to avoid caffeine six or more hours before your bedtime to make sure it doesn’t disturb your ability to sleep. But having a warm drink before bedtime can be soothing and help promote relaxation for some people. Passionflower tea is a great option if you’re having trouble sleeping. The herb is touted for its calming effect and one small study found that a low dose of it, taken in tea, can help improve sleep quality for people who have mild sleeping problems. It’s important to note that as with any herbal supplement, passionflower can have interactions with other medications, and you should discuss this with your health care provider before using it, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.