About 40 per cent of adult Canadians suffer from some type of sleep disorder while another 20 per cent report being unsatisfied with the quality of the sleep they’re getting, researchers at the Université Laval have reported.
And according to Nasdaq, global sleep aid markets were valued at US$58.1 billion in 2014 and are expected to grow to US$80.8 billion by 2020.
But sometimes instead of using and relying upon over-the-counter sleeping aids, including certain foods in your diet can help get you that good night’s rest you seek.
“Everything we eat – those are the building blocks for how our body functions and for our energy, our growth and for fighting disease and certainly for sleep,” Tristaca Curley, registered dietitian and founder of Fueling with Food in Kelowna, B.C., says.
“When we eat certain types of foods, we create chemicals known as neurotransmitters, and those are basically little signals that travel throughout our body and signal certain activities – so in this case it’s going to help us sleep. So things like serotonin and melatonin, those are the types of transmitters involved with regulating sleep, and there are certainly ways that we eat that will impact how much of those neurotransmitters our bodies produce.”
Studies over the years have been able to pinpoint some foods that impact the way we sleep – for better and for worse.
For example, a 2010 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that tart cherry juice can help reduce the severity of insomnia. Researchers believe the high melatonin content is responsible for the natural sleep aid in tart cherries.
Curley says knowing what foods can hurt and help your rest is a good place to start if you’re looking to improve your slumber.
So which foods should you be munching on in the quest for better rest?
Foods high in vitamin B6
“Foods that are high in B6 will help our bodies produce more melatonin,” Curley says. “So most of the protein sources you think of with vitamin B6.”
So think foods like fish, beans and bananas, Curley points out.
Foods that contain tryptophan
It’s true, those holiday turkey dinners will get you sleepy, Curley says, and it’s because of an amino acid called tryptophan.
Curley says dairy is another good source of the amino acid – for example, milk and cheese.
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However, in order for tryptophan’s ability to help with sleep, Curley says it’s better to pair it with a little bit of carbohydrates.
So don’t just have turkey, have mashed potatoes with it as well. Having some cheese? Don’t forget to pair it with some crackers.
Eat all the magnesium
“Magnesium tends to have a big impact as well,” Curley says. “So we tend to have longer sleeps that are less interrupted – so we have less wakefulness happen throughout the night.”
Great sources of magnesium include nuts and seeds, bananas (again), spinach, dark chocolate and whole grains.
In fact, insomnia is known to be one of the main symptoms of a magnesium deficiency, Medical News Today reports. And a high magnesium and low aluminum diet has been associated with deeper, less interrupted sleep.
While many people try to limit their intake of “high GI” foods, keeping these foods – like rice, potatoes, pasta and bread – in your diet can actually help with sleep – you just have to know when to eat them.
(GI rates refer to the glycemic index. Foods can have low, medium and high levels and it refers to the rate in which how quickly the foods raise glucose levels in the blood, Diabetes Canada explains.)
“We know that if we eat these foods around three to four hours before we got to sleep, that they actually help us fall asleep quicker,” Curley says.