Nourish your brain to get ready for sleep—the time when you do the most productive work of your day
By Kari Wray, StayWell health coach
Getting a good night’s sleep—of seven to eight hours—on a regular basis can help you feel rested and ready to go. Yet, when stress levels are high and the to-do list is long, getting quality sleep may seem like an elusive goal.
Here’s a wake-up call: Your body works hard during sleep, restoring and replenishing. Your brain rewires cells to create connections for learning and concentration, and even performs some housekeeping—clearing out toxins that build up while you’re awake. Beyond your brain, sleep affects your heart, lungs, immune system, metabolism, and mood. It’s no wonder that poor sleep increases your risk for health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.
Trying to get more shut-eye? Look at your diet
A good night’s sleep begins with a nutritious breakfast, followed by an equally healthy lunch and dinner plus several small snacks, if needed—all comprised of pro-sleep foods and that stay within your daily calorie needs. Front-loading your calories (i.e., eating your biggest meals earlier in the day) provides energy to keep you going all day long, as well as having weight loss and body mass index (BMI) benefits.
Avoid eating a late dinner. It may raise your body temperature and interfere with the release of melatonin—a hormone your body clock uses to control its daily sleep and wake cycle—along with increasing blood sugar and insulin. Together, these physical changes can wreak havoc with your sleep. Eat at least three hours before bedtime to sleep better.
7 sleep superfoods
Eat these foods throughout the day for a better night’s sleep.
Greek yogurt is a good source of protein, calcium, and vitamin B12, which are all essential nutrients to sleeping soundly.
Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel are great sources of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids—both of which can help improve sleep quality. Not a fish fan? Try other vitamin D–rich foods like egg yolks, or fortified dairy or juice. Studies show that consuming vitamin D with a large meal or fat source can increase absorption. And consuming it early in the day can maximize melatonin production while also boosting daytime mood and energy.
Bananas contain tryptophan, which the body converts to melatonin and serotonin—the brain’s calming hormone.
Including more fiber in your diet may help you spend more time in restorative sleep—the phases of deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep during which your body and mind undergo the most renewal. Choose fiber-filled foods like broccoli and other vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains.
Orange and red tomatoes
They’re filled with lycopene, which is an important mineral for sleep. It’s most concentrated and available in canned or cooked tomatoes.
Almonds or walnuts
Go nuts with a handful or two (one-quarter cup is a serving size) for a healthy dose of melatonin and magnesium—a stress-reducing, sleep-promoting essential mineral.
It’s loaded with calcium, which helps the brain use tryptophan to make melatonin.
Nighttime snacks to help you snooze
If you’re craving a small snack before bedtime, stay away from snooze-busting red meat, fried or spicy foods, sugar, coffee, and alcohol. Instead, enjoy these better-for-you options—with snooze-supporting ingredients—at least one hour before you turn in:
- Peanut butter on whole wheat toast with sliced banana
- Celery with hummus
- Popcorn (three cups for serving size) sprinkled with parmesan cheese instead of butter
- Tart cherry juice
- Chamomile tea