When discussing good health, we often fixate on diet and exercise.
While both are certainly crucial, there’s a third component which factors into the good health equation equally: Sleep.
With stressful lifestyles, travel-induced jet lag, working in late shifts, busy schedules and an over-consumption of caffeine, sleep deprivation has become increasingly common.
That can either mean sleeping a few hours a night, or getting poor quality of sleep or a hybrid of the two.
While compromised sleep may immediately result in a mix of grogginess, grumpiness, and irritability, chronic sleep deprivation can have far more dangerous health implications.
These may include decreased alertness and a reduced attention span; impaired memory and cognition; increased risk of weight gain and depression; the onset of serious medical issues including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
But you can add the following foods to your diet and observe a change. You will sleep better by increasing the intake of following foods.
BANANAS: Bananas are rich in both magnesium and potassium. While magnesium helps prevent sleep disturbances, magnesium work together to relax muscles. Few other sources of magnesium include dark, leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, figs, almonds and avocado.
MELATONIN-RICH FOODS: Often referred to as ‘Nature’s sleeping pill’, melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone that regulates a person’s sleep cycle.
While melatonin is available in supplement form, certain foods serve to increase the body’s natural melatonin production. These include oranges, rice, tomatoes, flaxseeds, barley and sweet corn.
EGGS: The body converts the amino acid tryptophan into the hormones serotonin and melatonin, both of which have a relaxing and sleep-inducing effect.
Along with eggs, tryptophan is found in many high-protein foods including tofu, chicken breast, lentils and fish.
To reap the benefit of tryptophan’s sleep-enhancing qualities, one should combine protein-rich foods with foods that are high in complex carbohydrates.
YOGURT: Although old wives’ tales suggest that warm milk can contribute to drowsiness at night, the truth is that any dairy product (yogurt and cheese) can help due to their calcium content.
Calcium helps the brain use the tryptophan found in dairy to synthesise sleep-triggering melatonin. Additionally, calcium helps regulate muscle movements and prevent muscle cramping.
Lactose-intolerant individuals can meet their calcium needs through other sources including chia seeds, chickpeas, almonds, leafy greens and sardines.
HERBAL TEAS: While coffee and caffeinated teas should be consumed in limited quantities within the earlier part of the day, sipping on herbal varieties of tea before bedtime can actually help promote restful sleep.
Various studies reveal that drinking tea is associated with an increase of glycine, a chemical that relaxes nerves and muscles and acts like a mild sedative. If heartburn and indigestion are keeping you up, drinking peppermint drinks can help as it calms the muscles and allows digestive gases to pass more easily.
WHOLEMEAL TOAST: Although eating carbohydrates at night has been labelled as a bad habit over the years, eating too little can actually hamper sleep quality.
Carbohydrate rich foods like sweet potatoes and oatmeal cause a spike in blood sugar levels, triggering the body’s production of insulin, to bring it back down after.
This explains why you feel a burst of energy in the first few minutes after eating carbs, then a a feeling of tiredness immediately after.
At night, this sleepiness can be very useful, making toast the perfect midnight snack. Along with producing insulin, carbohydrate rich foods stimulate the release of serotonin in the body.
Serotonin is a ‘feel good’ hormone that helps decrease stress levels.
FOODS RICH IN VITAMIN B3 & B6: Foods like soya beans, fish, poultry, pumpkin seeds and mushrooms contain B vitamins, which help improve adrenal gland functioning.
When the adrenal glands don’t function properly, it can cause insomnia or wakefulness. Besides, Vitamin B3 increases REM sleep, which decreases the number of times you wake up at night, and Vitamin B6 supports serotonin production.
ORANGES: Various studies report that a lack of Vitamin C may cause shorter and nonrestorative sleep as this nutrient acts as a natural tranquiliser.
Oranges are rich in fibre which has been linked to longer, better quality sleep. The quick boost in glucose levels also reduces levels of orexin, a neurotransmitter that induces wakefulness and appetite.
Adopt more of these foods and I am certain you will sleep like a baby!