Most of us fall asleep soon after laying our heads on our pillows, but many people have trouble going to sleep at a reasonable hour every night.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, an average adult needs a minimum of 7-9 hours of daily sleep to remain physically and mentally functional in all spheres of his/her life.
This may not seem like a tall order on paper, but in reality, most people sleep an average of only about six hours. In fact, more than 50 million Americans don’t get enough sleep.(1)
Sleeping troubles are often disregarded as a minor hiccup in your daily routine rather than a serious grouse. While that may be true if you only encounter them once in a while, generalized neglect for adequate sleep can take a serious toll on your body and mind.
After braving through a long, hard day, you owe yourself some quality sleep to help your system reboot and prepare for the next day.
What Causes a Troubled Sleep?
Below are a number of factors that can be held responsible for sleep disturbances.
If you have trouble sleeping, you may have one or a combination of the below causes of troubled sleep: Your body might have problems reconciling with changes in your sleeping pattern or environment.
- Psychological distress stemming from depression, anxiety, or personal and work-related stress can also contribute to this problem.
- Excessive intake of coffee or other sources of caffeine during the day can keep you up at night.
- The initial drowsiness induced by alcohol consumption is rather short-lived and is not to be equated with sound and quality sleep. People who drink alcohol shortly before bedtime might fall asleep quicker than usual but tend to wake up later in the night. Alcohol is also known to worsen insomnia symptoms in the long run.
- Chronic reliance on sleeping pills to improve sleep quality and duration is likely to produce light, broken sleep patterns.
- Narcotic use is also associated with a lack of sound sleep.
- Nothing good comes out of smoking, and the same holds true for your sleep pattern as well. The main component of cigarettes is nicotine, which is a known stimulant that prevents sound sleep by triggering brain activity.
- Disrupted sleep can also be traced back to certain medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure and prostate enlargement.(19)
- You may encounter trouble getting sound sleep on account of certain painful ailments, such as arthritis, chronic low back pain, and neuropathy.
- Jet lag, delays in your sleep-wake routine, and erratic work shift can also give rise to circadian rhythm sleep disorders, which disrupt your biological clock and result in insufficient sleep.
- Side effects of some medications can cause sleep problems.
- A lack of sleep is the most obvious by-product of restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.
- Your sleep troubles might be rooted in certain neurological disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and delirium.
- Noise and light distractions can also contribute to a hostile sleeping environment.
- Waking up in the middle of the night to make trips to the bathroom can also make it difficult for you to catch up on uninterrupted and restorative sleep.
What are the Repercussions of Inadequate Sleep?
There are nights when no matter how tired you are, you just can’t manage to doze off. Everyone’s familiar with the crankiness, fatigue, and lack of focus that result thereafter.
While occasional sleepless nights have become quite the norm given the frenzied lifestyles prevalent today, it can get quite harrowing if this becomes a consistent pattern.
A chronic inability to fall asleep or stay asleep such that you wake up refreshed and restored the next morning tends to make your brain foggy and dull. Such debilitating mental effects can have overarching repercussions for your overall quality of life.
Waking up groggy and irritable after a night of denied sleep sets the tone for the rest of the day and translates to temper issues and an overall lack of focus. After such a despondent start, you will find it especially hard to make decisions and give your best at work.
Moreover, your brain will not be at its attentive best and is likely to shut down at any point during the day. Insufficient sleep also gives rise to memory issues and poor balance. This compromised cognitive function is particularly dangerous because it increases your risk of injury and accidents at home, at work, and on the road.
People who don’t get enough shut-eye on a regular basis also experience low sex drive and mood fluctuations and find it harder to invest emotionally in their personal relationships. A lack of restorative sleep during the night also means that you are more likely to fall asleep at odd hours during the day.
Overlooking the issue will not make it go away, but will only make it worse. In the long term, this continued lack of sleep can make one prone to gastrointestinal issues, depressive episodes,(20) heart disease, obesity,(21) high blood pressure, and diabetes.(22)
Sleep Hygiene Tips
Adopting certain changes to your sleeping environment and overall lifestyle can improve your sleep quality. Some nifty sleep hygiene tips that can help you snooze better at night include the following:
- Set your room temperature at a balanced degree, which is neither too warm during winters nor too cold during summers. A general suggestion for optimal sleep is between 60°F-67°F.
- Keep your sleeping space free of any clutter and other stimulants such as a LED TV.
- Try not to engage in any triggering discussion or rigorous physical activity right before bedtime. However, one can benefit from a mild exercise such as a short walk in the park, which will help digest your dinner, alleviate stress, and release feel-good endorphins in your body.
- Stick to a designated place for sleeping and a consistent sleeping schedule.
- Calming yourself by listening to soothing music might help induce better sleep.
- Maintain a gap of at least 3 hours between dinner and bedtime to give your body time to digest the food before you call it a day. A light, nutritionally balanced dinner is always preferred over a heavy, greasy one.
- Refrain from smoking or drinking coffee and sweetened beverages shortly before retiring for bed.
If you find yourself consistently grappling with sleep issues without much avail, don’t give up just yet.
What if you were told that certain foods can greatly increase your odds of a successful night’s slumber? Your ability to fall and stay asleep rests on two vital neurotransmitters, namely, melatonin and serotonin. While the former is a hormone responsible for regulating your body’s sleep-wake cycle,(2) the latter is a chemical that works as a natural mood stabilizer.(3)
Thus, you may be able to eat your way to improved sleep by making better dietary choices that supply your body with these essential sleep-inducing components.
Apart from foods enriched with melatonin and serotonin, it is also advisable to include foods that contain tryptophan and vitamin B6, which facilitate the production of these hormones in the body.
Aim to get these foods in your diet throughout the day instead of trying to eat everything at dinner. Keep your dinner small as eating too much late at night could interfere with your sleep.
Foods that Can Help You Sleep Better
Here are 10 foods that help promote quality sleep.
1. A Handful of Cherries
Cherries contain a good amount of melatonin, the chemical that helps control the body’s internal clock. According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Botany, eating a handful of cherries, especially tart cherries, a few hours before going to bed could help you sleep better.(4)
If fresh cherries are not available, you can opt for tart cherry juice or even dried or frozen tart cherries. According to researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and University of Rochester, people with chronic insomnia may find relief by drinking a cup of tart cherry juice twice daily until their condition improves.(5)
2. A Glass of Milk with Honey
Drinking a glass of milk before bedtime could also help you fall asleep. Milk contains the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to the brain chemical serotonin. Tryptophan and serotonin play a role in helping you sleep.
Plus, milk is a good source of calcium, which may help regulate melatonin production.(23) Along with milk, you can eat other dairy products such as yogurt and cheese. These may be more tolerable for those with lactose intolerance.
3. Go for Jasmine Rice
According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who ate jasmine rice, which has a high glycemic index, for dinner fell asleep faster compared with those who ate other types of rice with a low glycemic index.(8)
The high glycemic index of jasmine rice makes the body digest it at a faster speed compared with whole grains such as brown rice. High-glycemic foods boost the production of tryptophan and serotonin in the blood, thus encouraging sleep.
Therefore, eat jasmine rice or other high-glycemic index grains to significantly cut the time it takes you to fall asleep. Keep in mind that portion size should be kept in moderation and as part of a balanced meal.
4. Consume Walnuts
Regular intake of these brain-shaped nuts increases the blood levels of the sleep-friendly hormone melatonin, leading to improved sleep quality.
Snacking on walnuts close to bedtime, or throughout the day, is perhaps one of the most delicious ways to help you drift off with ease.(9)
The recommended serving size for walnuts is about 30 grams, which translates to 14 halves.
5. Include Tuna in Your Diet
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation; melatonin is a hormone that promotes sleep. A low level of vitamin B6 is associated with insomnia, so it’s good to include B6-rich foods such as tuna in your diet. Vitamin B6 is also important for the immune system.
6. Chow Down on Almonds
Almonds are a good source of magnesium,(12) which promotes both sleep and muscle relaxation. A study conducted on elderly people and subsequently published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences lends support to this beneficial attribute of magnesium.
According to this study, supplementing the diet of the subjects with almonds appeared to improve subjective and objective measures of insomnia in elderly people. To conclude, magnesium was proposed as a useful instrument in managing sleep disorders in the elderly.(13)
These nutty delights are also replete with tryptophan, which helps the body synthesize sleep-promoting hormones: melatonin and serotonin.
Plus, almonds supply enough protein to help stabilize your blood sugar level while sleeping. Try eating just a handful of dry roasted almonds or a tablespoon of almond butter at least 1 hour before going to bed to fall asleep faster.
7. Serve Yourself with Fortified Cereals
To promote sleep, eat foods that contain “good” or complex carbohydrates, such as fortified cereal. Foods rich in complex carbohydrates can help boost tryptophan in the bloodstream.
Tryptophan-fortified cereal has been shown to positively affect sleep in the elderly.(14)
Fortified cereals are a great source of vitamin B6 that is essential in producing melatonin. For a good night’s sleep, eat a small bowl of fortified cereal that is low in sugar for breakfast and/or dinner. Adding in milk for breakfast and/or dinner will also give nutritional benefits to encourage a good night sleep.
8. Hard-Boiled Eggs
If you have trouble staying asleep at night, it may be due to a lack of protein-based foods before bedtime. Eating hard-boiled eggs hours before bed may help you fall and stay asleep through the night. An average large egg provides about 6 grams of protein.
Two slices of brown bread, some cheese, a hard-boiled egg, and a glass of milk are an example of a dinner menu for those who are having trouble sleeping soundly at night.
Combining protein-rich foods with complex carbohydrates can provide the body with the building block amino acid tryptophan and make the tryptophan more accessible to the brain.(15)
9. Partake Kiwifruit
Kiwifruit is a source of antioxidants and serotonin, making it a gold-standard fruit for promoting better sleep. In fact, a daily intake of kiwifruit has been associated with marked improvements in sleep quality and efficiency of sleep.
One study found subjects who consumed two kiwifruits an hour before bedtime had significantly higher total sleep time and sleep efficiency compared with the control group.(16) These results suggest that eating two kiwifruits about an hour before bedtime may help improve your sleep quality.
10. A Gentle Cup of Herbal Tea
One of the best ways to improve sleep is to avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages in the evening. However, you can surely enjoy a cup of herbal tea to aid sound sleep.
Decaffeinated green tea, herbal tea, and chamomile tea are the best options for this.
Chamomile tea contains chemicals that relax nerves and muscles and act as a mild sedative. Green tea contains theanine, which helps promote sleep. If you are extremely sensitive to caffeine, drinking green tea may not be best before bedtime. You can read more about the benefits of green tea here.
Research in postpartum women suggests that drinking chamomile tea can have some immediate benefits to aiding sleep. However, the beneficial effect was not seen past 2 weeks in comparison with the control group.(17)
Eating these foods may be what you need to fall asleep faster and improve the quality of your sleep.
- The State of SleepHealth in America. SleepHealth. https://www.sleephealth.org/sleep-health/the-state-of-sleephealth-in-america/.
- Sletten TL, Magee M, Murray JM, et al. Efficacy of melatonin with behavioral sleep-wake scheduling for delayed sleep-wake phase disorder: A double-blind, randomized clinical trial. PLOS ONE. https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1002587. Published June 18, 2018.
- Jenkins TA, Nguyen JCD, Polglaze KE. Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728667/. Published January 20, 2016.
- Kelley DS, Adkins Y, Laugero KD. A Review of the Health Benefits of Cherries. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5872786/. Published March 17, 2018.
- Pigeon WR, Carr M, Gorman C, Perlis ML. Effects of a tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. Journal of Medicinal Food. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20438325. Published June 2010.
- Movahedi AF-, Mirmohammadkhani M, Ramezani H. Effect of a milk-honey mixture on the sleep quality of coronary patients: A clinical trial study. Plum X Metrix. https://clinicalnutritionespen.com/article/S2405-4577(18)30306-1/pdf. Published December 2018.
- Kawada T, Takamori Y, Nakade M, et al. Effects of Drinking Cows’ Milk at Breakfast in Promoting Sleep-Health in Japanese University Athletes. Asian Social Science. http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ijps/article/view/62014.
- Afaghi A, O’Connor H, Chow CM. High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset. Oxford University Press Sign In Register The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/85/2/426/4649589. Published February 1, 2007.
- Zeng Y, Yang J, Du J. Strategies of Functional Foods Promote Sleep in Human Being. Current Signal Transduction Therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4440346/. Published December 2014.
- Richard DM, Dawes MA, Mathias CW. L-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioral Research, and Therapeutic Indications. International Journal of Tryptophan Research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908021/. Published March 23, 2009.
- B Vitamins. ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/b-vitamins. Published 2015.
- Basic Report: 12061, Nuts, almonds. USDA Food Composition Databases. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/12061. Published April 2018.
- Abbasi B, Kimiagar M, Sadeghniiat K. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences: The Official Journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3703169/. Published December 2012.
- Bravo R, Matito S, J. Tryptophan-enriched cereal intake improves nocturnal sleep, melatonin, serotonin, and total antioxidant capacity levels and mood in elderly humans. Age. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705114/. Published May 24, 2012.
- Food and Sleep. National Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/food-and-sleep. Published December 2009.
- Onge M-PS-, Mikic A, Pietrolungo CE. Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Advances in Nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5015038/. Published September 7, 2016.
- Chang SM, Chen CH. Effects of intervention with drinking chamomile tea on sleep quality and depression in sleep-disturbed postnatal women: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Advanced Nursing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26483209. Published February 2016.
- Covassin N, Singh P. Sleep Duration and Cardiovascular Disease Risk: Epidemiologic and Experimental Evidence. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: JCSM. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4791534/. Published January 9, 2016.
- Sigurdardottir L, Valdimarsdottir UA, Mucci L. Insomnia among elderly men and risk of prostate cancer. American Society of Clinical Oncology Journals. http://ascopubs.org/doi/abs/10.1200/jco.2012.30.5_suppl.78. Published September 22, 2016.
- Most EI, Scheltens P, Van EJ. Prevention of depression and sleep disturbances in elderly with memory-problems by activation of the biological clock with light–a randomized clinical trial. Trials. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20178604/. Published February 23, 2010.
- Milia LD, Vandelanotte C, Duncan MJ. The association between short sleep and obesity after controlling for demographic, lifestyle, work and health-related factors. Sleep Medicine. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1389945713000038. Published February 16, 2013.
- Wang Y, Mei H, Jiang Y- R. Relationship between Duration of Sleep and Hypertension in Adults: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: JCSM: Official Publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4543249/. Published September 15, 2015.
- Santana C, Moujir F, Sanchez J, Reiter RJ, Abreu P. Role of extracellular calcium on the regulation of melatonin synthesis in the Syrian hamster pineal gland. Journal of Pineal Research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11703556. Published November 2001.