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5 Foods That Help Improve Sleep

Modern lifestyle, 24-hour working days and an obsession with electronics mean we sleep for less than we ever have done.

In fact, statistics suggest that nearly half of us get six hours or less sleep a night – far less than the recommended 8 hours.

What many people still don’t know though is that sleep is an important regulator of health and performance – lower levels increase your risk of illness, decreases brain power and lowers immune function. It also raises hormones that have a negative impact on testosterone levels, muscle mass and virility.

But getting a good night’s sleep is easier said than done. In this article we’ll take a look at the best foods to help you ease into a good night’s rest.

Read on to find out more… 


Sleep and Testosterone

Before we start it’s worthwhile having a look at the link between sleep quality and testosterone.

Both quantity and quality of sleep are important regulators of T. As we’ve already mentioned, restrict sleep and you risk both your cognitive and physical health. Studies have shown that if you get than 4 hours rest per night, your T-levels could plummet by as much as 15% [1].

This means you’ll lose muscle mass, strength and sexual performance. Your risk of a wide range of metabolic-related diseases goes up too. Restricted sleep can also elevate cortisol – the primary stress hormone that has an indirect blunting effect on testosterone.

Whilst modern lifestyle can make it is difficult to ensure a good 8 hours’ rest, there are a number of things you can do to improve sleep quality – these include restricting the use of electronic gadgets before bedtime, turning off all lights and putting up blackout blinds, and making sure you have a cool but comfortable bedroom temperature. You can also make sure that the foods you eat in the run up to bedtime also optimize sleep quality too. 

Whilst the term ‘super food’ might be somewhat marketing language, there’s truth in the fact that some foods are great for promoting good quality rest.

Here is our list of the best foods for sleep…


#1. Tart Cherry Juice

Cherries are vibrant, deep red fruits that are high in potassium and polyphenols.

Studies have shown that not only does this fruit reduce the risk of cancer, inflammation and normalize blood pressure, it can reduce muscle soreness too [2].

The sour, tart varieties of this fruit have been found to provide one of natures sources of melatonin – a hormone that helps to control sleep-wake cycles.

A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition [3] found that the melatonin in tart cherries was critical to sleep quality. 20 volunteers were asked to consume tart cherry juice over a 7-day period. Researchers found that melatonin levels significantly increased and that resulted in increased total sleep time, time in bed and sleep efficiency.

tart-cherries-for-sleep

#2. Kiwi Fruit

This vividly green, vitamin C-packed fruit provides a number of antioxidants that can boost health. It can enhance cell protection and heart health, as well as improving respiratory function. Kiwis contain not only antioxidants but also vitamin B6 – an important regulator of serotonin.

Serotonin is a compound that acts as a mood stabilizer. It is produced by tryptophan – an amino acid found in certain foods – particularly ones that are high in vitamin B6, iron and protein.

Kiwis also contain fruit sugar. Known as fructose, fruit sugar decreases cellular stress and provides the body with a relaxing effect that works well with the increased serotonin levels.

One recent study [4] found that when volunteers ate two kiwi fruits before bedtime, they fell asleep around 45-minutes quicker. By eating two fruits over a 4-week period, participants reduced sleep onset by 35%, intermittent waking by 28.9% and improved other markers of overall sleep quality and efficiency too. 

These are all pretty drastic improvements just for adding one simple but juicy fruit to your pre-bedtime ritual.

kiwi-fruit-serotonin

#3. Honey

This thick, golden food is made when bees forage nectar from flowers.

Not only has honey been found to improve immune function, it has both anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties too. It is used commonly to treat throat irritation, regulate blood sugar and treat ulcers and other gut-related illness.

The sugars you find in honey are a combination of glucose and fructose, and glucose specifically tells your brain to decrease orexin production. Otherwise known as hypocretin, orexin – a neuropeptide – is involved in regulation of appetite, alertness and also arousal. Recent studies have suggested that orexin is an important regulator of the wake part of the sleep-wake cycle and activates alertness as well as hunger hormones [5].

Just be careful not to have too much as the high sugar content can become a stimulant if you take it to excess. Just a tablespoon or two will work wonders.

honey-and-orexin

#4. Almonds

This food contains not only tryptophan but also magnesium. Deficiencies in this mineral have been linked to a number of sleep-related disorders including insomnia and restless leg syndrome.

Magnesium acts as a natural sedative – it promotes muscle relaxation and supplies blood sugar regulating proteins which helps with rest and recovery. It is also vital in the regulation of GABA – a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect on the brain.

Studies have found that magnesium-rich diets can also improve mood and sleep quality. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study [6], sleep efficiency and time, sleep onset and early morning awakening were all improved with magnesium. Additionally, cortisol levels decreased and melatonin levels increased too – a perfect combination.

Magnesium doesn’t only just indirectly boost testosterone by blunting the effects of cortisol; it directly increases T levels in both sedentary and active individuals too [7].

almonds-and-magnesium

#5. Bananas

Technically a berry, this fruit contains a number of nutrients such as vitamin C, fiber and a host of different minerals. Bananas have been shown to normalize blood pressure and improve metabolic, heart and respiratory health so they are an all-round healthy food choice.

Bananas help to improve sleep as they contain magnesium, tryptophan and the artery-dilating mineral potassium. The high carbohydrate content also boosts sleep. A study published in the American Society for Clinical Nutrition [8] for example reported that carbohydrate sources eaten at around 4-hours prior to bed were effective in reducing time spent falling asleep.

Be careful not to eat them too close to bedtime though – the study also found that if eaten an hour before bed, bananas could reduce sleep quality slightly.

bananas-sleep-and-potassium

Summary

Statistics suggest that nearly half of us get six hours or less sleep a night – far less than the recommended 8 hours. Modern lifestyle, 24-hour working days and an obsession with electronics mean we sleep for less than we ever have done.

But in doing so we risk illness, reduced cognitive ability and lower testosterone – this leads to a fall in both mental and physical performance.

There are a number of foods that you can eat that help to improve both sleep quantity and quality. By adding these to your diet you can help to improve your rest and normalize many of the chemical messengers and hormones that help to optimize health. The ones we’ve chosen are all readily available and easy to prepare. Add them to your diet and in no time you’ll be feeling healthier and much fresher.


References

  1. Leproult, R et al, Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy Men. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2011; 305 (21): 2173
  2. Kuehl, KS et al. Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010; 7(19)
  3. Howatson, G et al. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr. 2012; 51(8): 909-16
  4. Lin, HH et al. Effect of kiwifruit consumption on sleep quality in adults with sleep problems. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2011; 20(2): 169-74
  5. Tsujino, N et al. Orexin/Hypocretin: A Neuropeptide at the Interface of Sleep, Energy Homeostasis, and Reward System. 
  6. Abbasi, B et al. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2012; 17(12): 1161–1169
  7. Cinar V et al. Effects of magnesium supplementation on testosterone levels of athletes and sedentary subjects at rest and after exhaustion. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2011; 140: 18–23
  8. Afaghi, A et al. High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007; 85(2): 426-430

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