Getting sufficient and uninterrupted sleep is essential for your overall health. Not only does it lower your risk of developing chronic illnesses, it also boosts your immune system while keeping your brain and digestive system in good functioning order.
But how many of us actually get those recommended seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep every night? The Philips’ 2019 sleep study revealed that Singaporeans only get an average of 6.3 hours of sleep on weekdays and 6.7 hours on weekends.
The good news is, there are some foods that contain natural substances that can help you get better sleep. Here are 10 to add to your diet.
Your mum’s suggestion to have a glass of milk before bed holds some truth after all. Most dairy products (such as cheese and milk) contain tryptophan, an amino acid that boosts the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, as well as calcium, which helps the brain use tryptophan to produce melatonin. Plus, studies have shown that, when paired with exercise during the day, milk is able to improve the quality of our sleep.
Bananas are not only a great source of fibre, nutrients and energy, they can also promote sleep. Apart from tryptophan, they also contain magnesium, which helps to maintain healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep, in our body so that we can get a deep, restorative sleep.
Trying having a glass of warm milk with a banana if you find yourself tossing and turning in bed.
Arguably the best nut to snack on, walnuts are packed with nutrients (more than 19 vitamins and minerals, in fact), especially magnesium, copper, manganese and phosphorus.
They also can help to improve sleep quality, thanks to the melatonin and (heart-healthy) fatty acids they contain. ALA is an omega-3 fatty acid that the body converts to DHA, which increases the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that regulates sleep and mood.
So eating some walnuts before going to bed may help you drift off to sleep more easily. They’re calorie-dense, though, so keep the portion size to about just a handful of walnuts.
5) White rice
The main difference between white rice and brown rice is that white rice is lower in fibre, nutrients and antioxidants because it has had its germ and bran removed.
Being high in carbs and low in fibre means it is high in glycemic index (GI), which indicates how quickly a food raises your blood sugar. Eating high-GI foods such as white rice a few hours before going to bed may improve the quality of your sleep.
Nevertheless, because of its lack of fibre and nutrients, it’s best to eat a refined carb such as white rice in moderation. An alternative is oatmeal, which is also high in carbs and contains melatonin.
Kiwi is a nutritious low-calorie fruit that contains a significant amount of vitamins C and K. It improves digestive health and reduces inflammation and cholesterol, thanks to the amount of fibre and antioxidants it contains. It also contains serotonin, which helps to promote sleep. Plus, the vitamin C and carotenoid antioxidants it contains help to fight inflammation, which can help improve sleep quality too.
Have one or two kiwis before hitting the sack and you might just fall into sleep faster and sounder.
7) Passionflower tea
Passionflower tea is an herbal tea that has traditionally been used to treat many health ailments. Being rich in flavonoid antioxidants, it can help to reduce inflammation (which can lead to chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer), cut down the risk of heart disease and boost immunity. Passionflower tea also helps to reduce anxiety with an antioxidant called apigenin, which creates a calming effect by increasing the production of GABA, the brain chemical that inhibits other brain chemicals that cause stress. Because of these calming properties, passionflower tea can help make you feel sleepy when it’s time for bed.
8) Chamomile tea
Chamomile tea is another herbal tea that offers a host of health benefits. It is full of flavones, a type of antioxidant that reduces inflammation, boosts immunity, reduces anxiety and depression, and improves sleep quality. Like passionflower tea, chamomile tea contains sleep-promoting apigenin that also reduces insomnia.
Studies found that consuming chamomile tea twice daily can lead to less waking up at night time, as well as a reduced risk of depression, which is associated with sleep problems.
Almonds are a great source of numerous antioxidants, fibre and nutrients, including phosphorus, manganese and riboflavin. They have also been associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, thanks to the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat it contains.
Almonds can also raise the quality of your sleep, because it contains the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin and magnesium.
Magnesium is used to treat insomnia because it increases the amount of GABA, which as mentioned earlier, encourages sleep and relaxation, and reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which can interrupt sleep.
10) Fatty fish
Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and trout contain a high level of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty acids not only ward against heart diseases and improve brain function, particular types of fatty acids — EPA and DHA — can also reduce inflammation. Eating fatty fish before bed can also help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply. This is because both omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D have been proven to increase the production of serotonin, the brain chemical that promotes sleep.
11) Tart cherry juice
Tart cherry juice is high in key nutrients such as vitamins A and C, and manganese. It also has antioxidants such as flavonols and anthocyanins that protect cells from inflammation.
Plus, fruits high in melatonin such as tart cherries, grapes and pomegranate can help to improve sleep quality, and tart cherry juice can promote sleepiness and relieve insomnia. So have a glass of tart cherry juice if you’re struggling to fall or stay asleep at night.
Written by Joyce Chua. Images from Shutterstock.