Foods that help with insomnia

October 9, 2015

Insomnia is one of the most widespread health complaints today; sleepless, restless nights are common to more than one-third of the adult population worldwide. As these tips will suggest, a variety of diet and lifestyle factors may improve sleep habits, diminishing insomnia and its impact.

Foods that help with insomnia

1. What is insomnia?

Insomnia is waking earlier than planned or having difficulty falling asleep or remaining asleep, and is not a disease itself, but rather a symptom of an underlying health or emotional problem. Daytime fatigue and irritability are consequences of sleep deprivation.

For many of us, insomnia is only a temporary annoyance, but chronic sleep debt may mortgage health, since sufficient rest is vital for physical and mental well-being.

2. What causes it

Like a nagging cough or a fever, insomnia stems from an underlying condition. Stress, anxiety and depression are the leading causes of temporary sleeplessness. Brief bouts of insomnia commonly result from an erratic sleep schedule, short-term illness (such as bronchitis cough), pain or en­vi­r­onmental factors, such as noise. Medications and serious chronic health conditions can disrupt sleep as well.

Also as you age, sleep patterns change. Additional insomnia triggers include vigorous nighttime exercise, pregnancy, heartburn, alcohol and too much caffeine.

3. How food may help

When eaten along with starchy foods, the amino acid tryptophan, found in many high-protein foods, may promote drowsiness by fuelling the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that fosters relaxation and feelings of well-being (or calm). Vitamin B6 and the mineral magnesium help convert tryptophan to serotonin. Vitamin B6 assists in the production of additional brain chemicals that regulate sleep and mood, including melatonin and dopamine. Bananas and potatoes are good sources of vitamin B6 and magnesium. Mild calcium deficiencies may be associated with sleep disturbances as well.

Complex carbohydrates may promote restful sleep because they enhance the brain's absorption of sleep-inducing tryptophan. Com­plex carbohydrates may also ease heartburn-related insomnia. Eat­ing too much or too close to bedtime frequently causes heartburn, an underlying cause of sleep disturbances for many Canadians. Eating plenty of bland carbohydrates may prevent heartburn. Low levels of thiamin (vitamin B1) are thought to interfere with a good night's sleep.

Eating foods rich in B vitamins may help fight the blues, a common cause of insomnia. B vitamins foster the production of the brain's neurotransmitters, essential for restful sleep and a peaceful mood. A deficiency of folate and vitamin B12 is sometimes found in people who are depressed. Folate is abundant in lentils and asparagus, and vitamin B12 can be found in seafood and lean poultry. Niacin, present in poultry and fish, is thought to be useful for relieving depression-related insomnia as well, though clinical evidence is lacking.

Evidence is emerging that omega-3 fatty acids, such as those present in fatty fish, flaxseed and walnuts, play a key role in optimal mental activity, which may influence mood and insomnia. Some findings suggest depression may be related to inadequate intake of these healthful fats.

Easing the symptoms of menopause may relieve insomnia, as declining hormone levels are frequently connected to sleep disturbances. Studies suggest that consuming foods high in phytoestrogens, plant-like estrogen compounds, helps relieve the severity of menopause symptoms, including hot flashes. Findings from population studies indicate that women who regularly consume isoflavones (phytoestrogens in soy foods) tend to suffer far less from unpleasant menopause symptoms.

4. Home remedy

  • A glass of warm milk with honey is a traditional home remedy for insomnia.
  • Milk is a good source of tryptophan and calcium, while carbohydrate-rich honey may enhance the bioavailability of tryptophan.

5. Foods to eat

Beans, potatoes, whole grains, dairy products, poultry.

Following these simple guidelines will help you choose the right foods to help you drift off into dreamland.

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