Eating carbohydrates stimulates your body to produce insulin, which will clear many of the amino acids which compete with tryptophan from your bloodstream. Tryptophan acts as a sleep inducer, and having more of it reach your brain is shown to promote faster and deeper sleep.
Cherries have been touted as a wonder food for insomniacs, and there’s substantial research backing that up. For example, a team of scientists at Louisiana State University found that insomniacs who drank a glass of unsweetened cherry juice twice a day for two weeks got an average of 84 minutes more sleep per night.
Cherries are rich in two natural sleep inducing chemicals, hormone melatonin (a natural part of your body’s day/night cycle) and amino acid tryptophan.
Much cold-water fish and algae, and even seaweed, contain naturally high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3 has long been linked to brain health and is recommended by many dementia support groups for that purpose. New research suggests that omega 3 might also have beneficial short-term effects. A team from the University of Oxford found children taking supplements went to sleep faster and had fewer overall disturbances.
Aside from cherries, many other fruits contain high melatonin levels, which are naturally produced in your body in dark periods—pineapples, bananas, and oranges, as well as walnuts and almonds. One recent study found that eating pineapple can more than double your levels of melatonin.
Herbal Teas have long been marketed as a stress-relieving, relaxing drink, and many swear by them as a bedtime remedy. Chamomile and Valerian teas are particularly noted for their sleep-inducing properties, and valerian, in particular, has been shown to act as a natural sedative. Unfortunately, there is little firm medical evidence on the effectiveness of these teas, aside from noting that valerian is a sedative. It may well be that some of the effects are psychological. Nonetheless, many find them, at the very least, relaxing and stress-reducing, which will certainly help you drop off!
Food and Drink to Avoid Before Bedtime
Although many find that a few glasses of wine help them drop off in the evening, alcohol will often reduce both the quality and quantity of your sleep. Alcohol is a biphasic drug, meaning that it has some stimulant effects before acting more like a depressant. This is why many people will hit a point of feeling absolutely knackered after a night out.
Going to sleep may become easier; however, alcohol interferes with your brain’s ability to get critical REM sleep, which helps with memory and creative thinking. Also, drinks like red wine contain a chemical named tyramine, which, when metabolised, acts as a brain stimulant, a recipe for disturbed sleep and bad dreams!
It might go without saying, but many people don’t realise that their late-night coffee will make it more difficult to sleep. Many people don’t realise that caffeine is very slow to break down in your body; 25% of the caffeine you consume will still be in your body 10 hours later. So long after you stop feeling energised by a coffee, you’ll still find it more difficult to go to sleep, so try and cut out cups later in the day.
Having a spicy meal soon before bedtime is like giving your stomach a workout it really doesn’t need. Even if you can eat the hottest curries without discomfort, your stomach will still be in overdrive trying to break down capsaicin, the main active ingredient of chilies, and lead to longer periods of wakefulness before you drop off.