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7 Foods to Help You Sleep

According to the National Sleep Foundation, as many as 2 in 5 American adults don’t get enough sleep. For many, simple dietary changes may offer the solution to getting more and better quality sleep each night.

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Insomnia – the chronic inability to fall asleep or remain asleep for adequate lengths of time -affects over 50 million Americans. Depending on severity, this disorder can lead to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. It is also associated with poor job performance, work-related injuries and motor vehicle accidents.

The pharmaceutical industry offers many drug therapies that can be effective in delivering relief to the insomniac. However, as with almost all medicinal products, the benefit comes with an array of side effects. In this case those negative effects include: suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, loss of coordination, fever, “sleep driving,” and impaired memory. For many, these drug-induced conditions are sufficient cause to seek a more natural approach to dealing with problem. As with most health concerns, the best place to start for a natural therapy is with food.

The relationship between nutrition and sleep seems to center around nutrients that help the brain and body to relax and settle down, and those necessary for the formation of melatonin – the hormone responsible for controlling the sleep cycle. The key ingredient for calming the brain and relaxing the body is magnesium. Nutrients necessary for the production of melatonin are: L-tryptophan (an essential amino acid), calcium, and vitamin B6.

The following seven foods provide excellent dietary sources for these building blocks of healthy sleep:

  1. Dairy – Milk, yogurt and cheese all provide ample amounts of calcium, magnesium, and L-tryptophan, further proof that moms know best. That glass of warm milk really was the best medicine for a good night’s sleep.
  2. Carbohydrates – Specifically, high-glycemic index carbohydrates in combination with the glass of warm milk. The combination of the sugar and tryptophan puts you on the fast-track to slumber town. So an Oreo with that milk is not such a bad idea. Just make sure you don’t eat the whole row.
  3. Whole Grains – Quinoa, barley, bulgur wheat, whole oats, and brown rice are rich sources of magnesium.
  4. Nuts and Seeds – Pecans, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flax – all are high in magnesium.
  5. Fish – Especially salmon, halibut and tuna. High in B6 for melatonin production.
  6. Green Leafy Vegetables – Kale, spinach, escarole, etc. Rich in calcium and magnesium. Also a good source of folic acid (deficiencies of folic acid have been linked to insomnia).
  7. Tart Cherry Juice – Boasts high melatonin content. In a pilot study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, researchers found significant reductions in severity of insomnia when participants were drinking the cherry juice.

What the preceding information underscores is the value of seeking relief for non-life threatening conditions like insomnia through natural means, such as diet, first. Not only do the above-listed foods help relieve this condition, they contribute to one’s overall health and well-being. In keeping with the natural approach, a safe and effective addition to dietary changes would be to use a high-quality, well-designed melatonin supplement like Fast Asleep., What You Eat Affects How You Sleep, Retrieved December 2, 2013, WebMD, LLC, 2011., Living With Insomnia: Get A Good Night’s Sleep, Elizabeth Shimer Bowers, Retrieved December 2, 2013, WebMD, LLC, 2011., The Truth About Tryptophan, Lisa Zamosky, Retrieved December 3, 2013, WebMD, LLC, 2009., Drink Your Sleep Troubles Away: Tart Cherry Juice Helps Beat Insomnia, S.L. Baker, Retrieved December 3, 2013, [PubMed]., 10 Foods That Help You Sleep, Megan Ware, R.D., L.D., Retrieved December 2, 2013, Demand Media, 2013.

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