This lockdown has caused many people, myself included, to unintentionally throw their sleep schedule to the wind. In my experience it’s because I don’t have anything to do or anywhere to be the next day. We have all fallen victim to tossing and turning throughout the night, and have suffered the consequences the next day. A good bedtime routine is essential to a good night of sleep, and in this article I will highlight the aspect of plant-based food choices we can make to help improve our quality of sleep. A bad night of sleep, in duration and quality, can be attributed to poor food choices (St. Onge et al., 2018). At the bottom of this post you will find two recipes that combine some of the foods that you will read about.
Tryptophan The old adage that the reason we all get sleepy on Thanksgiving is because of the tryptophan in turkey has some truth to it; tryptophan is positively associated with improved sleep quality. Research by Friedman (2018) supports that eating foods high in tryptophan improved sleep efficiency and sleep duration, specifically foods high in protein. This is because tryptophan increases the production of serotonin, which can bring feelings of relaxation (Medical West Hospital, 2020). We need carbs to elevate serotonin levels, so a nighttime meal or snack that incorporates carbs and protein will yield the best results.
Lentils are a great source of tryptophan, and when paired with rice it's a great carb & protein meal to get your body ready for sleep.
Bananas are also high in tryptophan. Eating them with peanut butter is a great sleep-inducing after dinner snack!
Another well known sleep aid is melatonin, which we usually see in supplement form. However eating foods high in melatonin can be exponentially more delicious. According to Meng et al. (2017), eating melatonin-rich foods can assist in falling asleep. This is due to the shift of the light-dark cycle in which the desire to sleep is enhanced (Dawson & Encel, 1993). Melatonin is a hormone released in the pineal gland, and it unfortunately decreases as we get older. Because of this, it is imperative that we make sure we are ingesting adequate amounts of melatonin.
Both oatmeal & walnuts are good sources of melatonin, making this dish a perfect bedtime snack, or breakfast-for-dinner!
Cherries are very high in melatonin. It's cherry season right now and it doesn't last long so eat them up while you can!
Generally speaking, fats have had a bad rap throughout the years. Trans and saturated fats are those that should be avoided. On the other hand, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are good for us and an incredibly important part of our diets. Holistic psychologist Ellen Vora suggests that a good night’s sleep is dependent on blood sugar levels. If your blood sugar crashes while you are sleeping, your body responds by releasing stress hormones (Vora). This can cause you to toss and turn. Eating fats before bed is an excellent way to stabilize blood sugar and ensure a quality night’s sleep.
Coconut oil is such an important fat to add to our diets. Tru mixing some into herbal tea before bed. Perhaps with some lemon & honey
Avocado sprinkled with salt and pepper would be a delicious snack, or you could add it to a side salad at dinner.
Magnesium interacts with a principal neurotransmitter that supports sleep (Rabin, 2018) making it an important part of our nighttime routine. Despite its importance, 68% of Americans don’t meet the recommended daily intake (Schwalfenberg & Genuis, 2017), which supports Kohn’s (2019) research that foods high in magnesium are under-consumed by most adults. Unfortunately dietary deficiencies of magnesium can cause sleeplessness (Eby & Eby, 2006). Magnesium comes in supplement form, such as Natural Calm powder which I like to drink with water before bed, however Kohn (2019) suggests that magnesium food sources are better given that they contain other health benefits as well.
Trail mix with pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, peanuts and dark chocolate would be a great magnesium-rich after dinner snack
Black beans with brown rice and sautéed spinach is a delicious dinner full of magnesium.
A couple recipes that combine some of the ingredients spotlighted in this post:
Best Sleep of Your Life Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites
From Liz Moody
1/2 cup unsalted creamy almond butter (you can use any nut or seed butter, but it will alter the flavor)
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup almond flour
4 Tbsp. collagen powder or unflavored protein powder
Pinch of salt
4 Tbsp. maple syrup
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate
Stir all ingredients together until just combined. Roll into 10 balls.
Place on a plate with parchment paper. Place in the freezer until frozen, then transfer to a container.
Store in freezer and enjoy on before bed each night.
Stress Busting Tonic for Better Sleep From Ellen Varo Serves 1
Ingredients 1 cup freshly brewed warm chamomile tea 2/3 cup cherries (thaw if frozen) 1 Tbsp. almond butter 3 brazil nuts 1 Tbsp. coconut oil 1 scoop collagen powder or unflavored protein powder 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Preparation Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
Dawson, D. & Encel, N. (1993). Melatonin and sleep in humans. Journal of Pineal Research.
Eby, G.A. & Eby, K.L. (2006). Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment. Medical Hypotheses, 67(2), 362-370.
Friedman, M. (2018). Analysis, nutrition, and health benefits of tryptophan. International Journal of Tryptophan Research, 11.
Kohn, J. (2019, Oct. 25). What is magnesium. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/magnesium
Medical West Hospital (2020). The truth about turkey & tryptophan. Medical West. https://www.medicalwesthospital.org/the-truth-about-turkey--tryptophan.php
Meng, X., Ya, L., Li, S., Zhou, Y., Gan, R.Y., Xu, D.P., & Li, H.B. (2017). Dietary sources and bioactivities of melatonin. Nutrients, 9(4).
Moody, L. (2020). The Actually Delicious 10-Day Detox. Liz Moody.
Rabin, R.C. (2018, Jan. 5). Does magnesium help you sleep? The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/05/well/mind/does-magnesium-help-you-sleep.html
Schwalfenberg, G.K. & Genuis, S.J. (2017). The importance of magnesium in clinical healthcare. Scientifica.
St. Onge, M.P., Crawford, A., & Aggarwal, B. (2108) Plant-based diets: Reducing cardiovascular risk by improving sleep quality? Current Sleep Medicine Reports, 4, 74-78.
Vora, E. (2019). The stress busting tonic this expert drinks nightly for better sleep. Mind Body Green. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/stress-busting-smoothie-this-holistic-psychiatrist-drinks-for-better-sleep