If you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep, foods containing tryptophan should be a first port of call. Tryptophan, an essential amino acid, helps to raise serotonin and melatonin levels in the body, both of which can help induce sleep. While turkey is a famously good source of tryptophan, other (perhaps more bedtime-friendly) sources include dairy products such as yoghurt and milk.
On top of their tryptophan levels, dairy snacks are also a great source of calcium, which helps the brain to use tryptophan to create melatonin. Research has also suggested that a deficiency of calcium in the diet can cause disturbed sleep patterns and a lack of deep (REM) sleep.
While many of us associate oats with breakfast time, they are also the perfect evening snack. Oats are a good natural source of melatonin, which is often taken as a sleep aid due to its ability to help regulate the body's internal clock. They are also another good source of tryptophan, especially when combined with milk.
Furthermore, oats are rich in both calcium and magnesium; two minerals that have been proven to promote good quality sleep. For a warm, soothing snack before bed, try eating a small bowl of porridge to help you drift off, combined with any of the following toppings to help double its effects.
If you suffer from muscle spasms or cramps during the night, it may be that you are deficient in the electrolytes magnesium and potassium, both of which help to relax muscles and keep them functioning properly. Fortunately, bananas are excellent source of both minerals, making them a good bedtime snack, particularly after a heavy exercise session.
As well as being rich in these essential minerals, bananas also contain tryptophan, which can help to promote sleep. Researchers from the University of New England in New South Wales have also found that having a banana before bed can help sufferers of sleep apnea by keeping their throats open and therefore reducing the risk of choking.
For those who have trouble sleeping, you may be familiar with over-the-counter melatonin supplements used to treat insomnia. However, while melatonin can help to regulate sleep, it may be unwise to rely on supplements for long-term use. Fortunately, cherries provide a great natural source of melatonin as well as being excellent for overall health.
A research study published in The Journal of Sleep and Sleep Disorders Research has indicated that consuming tart cherries before bed helped participants sleep faster and easier, making fresh cherries or cherry juice a great natural sleep aid.
Flax seeds are great for increasing levels of sleep-regulating substance serotonin in the body due to their high levels of both tryptophan and omega-3 fatty acids. Furthermore, the omega-3 fatty acids they contain have been proven to help reduce the anxiety, depression and stress which are leading causes of insomnia, and have been shown to be effective against the condition sleep apnea.
Not only that, flax seeds are a good source of magnesium, which is renowned for its ability to reduce stress due to its relaxing effect on the muscles and nervous system. Magnesium has also been shown to help prevent restless leg syndrome and night terrors; both of which can affect sleep.