When we think about the main things that keep us healthy, like nutrition, sleep and exercise, it's easy to envision them as parallel highways, with what we do in one lane having little effect on another.
But as scientists continue learning about the complex biological processes that keep us running, it's becoming clear that these roads to health are far more intertwined than we may realize.
Nutrition and sleep are both hot areas of research right now, and recent studies have found that what we eat affects how we sleep, and that in turn, how we sleep can affect what we eat. Clear links between certain foods and nutrients and sleep quality exist, and knowing which foods to include in your diet may help you get better rest.
Eat These Superfoods for Better Sleep
First, let's take a look at at some of the important research regarding sleep and nutrition, and then we'll cover the top superfoods that support healthy rest.
A recent, large-scale Pennsylvania University study found that people whose diets were low in nutrients like alpha carotene, selenium, lauric acid and calcium were more likely to have difficulty falling asleep. Diets low in vitamin D, butanoic acid, lauric acid, and lycopene were associated with difficulty staying asleep.
Researchers also linked diets low in calories, carbohydrates, vitamin C, potassium, and plain water with sleep troubles.
Other research has established that melatonin is how our bodies regulate sleep, and that food sources of melatonin and its precursors can have some effect on rest. Other minerals like magnesium and zinc have also been found important for healthy rest.
We've compiled some of the most nutrient-dense superfoods -- all rich sources of nutrients scientifically proven to offer more restful sleep. See what you should add to your diet for sweeter dreams.
In the Pennsylvania University study mentioned above, they found that consumption of the nutrient alpha-carotene was most closely associated with better sleep. Diets low in this nutrient were linked with trouble falling asleep. Gram for gram, carrots are the most potent sources of alpha carotene, behind canned pumpkin.
Canned carrots, carrot juice, raw baby carrots, frozen carrots and raw regular carrots are all excellent sources of this powerful carotenoid. Carrots also pack several other sleep promoting nutrients like potassium and vitamin B6, as well as vitamin A and biotin.
Montmorency Tart Cherry Juice
One study reviewed by the Natural Medicine Journal found that Montmorency tart cherry juice increased melatonin levels in participants, resulting in longer sleep duration and improved sleep efficiency. Dosing used in the trials was 30ml (about 1 oz, or 1/8 cup) twice a day: once 30 minutes after waking and then again 30 minutes before bedtime.
Although tart cherry juice has relatively low levels of melatonin compared to most supplements, other studies have found sleep benefits as well. Some researchers believe that the juice's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects might also play a role in its sleep benefits.
Walnuts are a good source of melatonin, the hormone our "internal clocks" use to regulate sleeping. Researchers at the University of Texas found that rats fed walnuts indeed showed an increase in melatonin levels, which means they likely have the same effect in people, too.
The recommended serving size for raw walnuts is about 30 grams, or 14 halves. A true superfood, walnuts also pack heart-healthy omega 3's, unique vitamin E, manganese, and biotin.
Yogurt's Greek cousin has been stealing the spotlight recently, and it's not without just cause. Greek yogurt is a good source of protein, calcium and vitamin B12, which are essential to restful sleep. Fortified kinds can also be good sources of vitamin D, potassium and other nutrients.
Yogurt makes a good afternoon or bedtime snack, and you can even combine it with other sleep superfoods like nuts, seeds, fruits, and cocoa for a truly sleep-savvy indulgence.
In addition to being a beloved cold weather snack, pumpkin seeds actually double as a sleep superfood! Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, pack 600 mg of tryptophan per 100 g as well as good amount of zinc, both of which are important precursors to serotonin, and thus melatonin.
Pumpkin seeds are also rich in vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, protein and iron. To get the biggest zinc benefits, eat the whole roasted seeds including the kernel and shell. The recommended serving size is about 1/4 cup.
Delicious, savory mushrooms boost your sleep with high levels of vitamin D, selenium and potassium. One-half cup of cooked mushrooms provides around 1/3 of your daily selenium intake, as well as high amounts of vitamins B2 and B3.
Button (aka Portobello/Crimini) mushrooms have also been found to regulate inflammation and to provide protective benefits for your immune and cardiovascular systems. Oyster and shiitake mushrooms also show high levels of immunity boosting beta-glucans.
Orange and red tomatoes are one of the best sources of lycopene, a mineral important for sleep. Lycopene, a potent antioxidant, has also been associated with heart and bone health.
Tomatoes are also good sources of potassium, vitamin C, biotin, vitamin K, and manganese. Lycopene is most concentrated and most available in canned and cooked tomatoes, so pile on the marinara and sip some tomato juice!
Salmon & Cod Fish
Fish is the sleep superfood of the protein world, with salmon and cod being two excellent sources of rest-boosting nutrients. Both offer several heart, eye, joint and brain benefits, and may also help with healthy cholesterol and blood pressure
One 4-ounce serving of wild salmon packs over 236% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin B12, over 127 percent of vitamin D, 78 percent of selenium, and over half the RDI for vitamin B3 and omega-3 fats.
One 4-ounce serving of Pacific cod contains more than 100 percent of the RDI of vitamin b12 and 57 percent of selenium, as well as good amounts of choline, vitamins B3 and B6, potassium, and omega-3s.
Virgin Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has been making big waves for a while now for its purported heart-healthy properties. This superfood also contains high amounts of dodecanoic acid (aka lauric acid), which has been linked with more restful sleep as opposed to fats like butter, which were linked with impaired sleep.
About 50 percent of virgin coconut oil is lauric acid, and it also contains antioxidant phenolic compounds. Coconut powder and coconut milk are also good sources of lauric acid.
Kale seems to be showing up everywhere lately, and let's just say that's a good thing for sleep! Touted as one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, kale is literally packed with vitamins and minerals that support sleep and health in general.
One cup of cooked kale contains 10 percent RDI of vitamin B6, plus good amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium. In addition to these sleep-supporting nutrients, kale also packs massive amounts vitamins K, A, and C, and even small amounts of iron, omega-3s and alpha carotene.
Bonus: Pure, Plain Water
While water doesn't count as a food, per say, pure water is still important for sleep. People that did not consume an adequate amount of plain water were more likely to have sleep difficulties in the Penn. State study mentioned earlier.
It's best to balance your water intake earlier in the day though so your bladder doesn't wake you at night, though.
To get the most out of these sleep-boosting foods, try combining several for healthy meals. Here are a few super-meal ideas for more restful sleep:
- Greek yogurt with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and fruit.
- Marinara sauce or cacciatore with tomatoes, carrots and mushrooms.
- Salmon roasted in coconut oil with sautéed kale.
- Carrot cardamom rice pudding with walnuts and seeds.
- Chicken soup with tomatoes, mushrooms and kale.
- Incorporate these superfoods into a balanced diet, along with regular exercise and good sleep hygiene, and you can achieve restful sleep naturally and get healthier in the process!
This article originally appeared on the Amerisleep blog.
Rosie Osmun is the Creative Content Manager at Amerisleep, a progressive memory foam mattress brand focused on eco-friendly sleep solutions. Rosie writes more posts on the Amerisleep blog about the science of sleep, eco-friendly living, leading a healthy lifestyle and more.
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