5 Nutrients to Eat for Better Sleep—and How to Incorporate Them Into Your Diet

A composite image of a woman sleeping in illustrated clouds in a night sky

A composite image of a woman sleeping in illustrated clouds in a night sky

Marysia Machulska

Sometimes it can be hard to get enough sleep. In fact, a recent study by the National Sleep Foundation found that a staggering 84% of adults admitted that they felt tired during the week — mainly because they do not sleep well or do not get enough hours of closed eyes. period. Besides feeling more attentive, there is a lot health benefits associated with getting enough rest, including support for a healthy immune system, healthy skin and a healthy heart. However, it may be easier said than done to increase your hours of sleep each night.

Fortunately for us, researchers have identified specific micronutrients and other substances in food that shows promise for the weary and weary among us. “The more interesting studies are in people who have some sort of sleep disorder but not an actual disorder,” says Michael Grandner, Ph.D., director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona at Tucson, who studies the nutritional impact of sleep. . “They show that you can normalize something or at least make sleep better. It’s hard to draw firm conclusions, but they are proof of concept.” Read on for five nutrients that can help you catch more zzzz at night.

1. Melatonin

You may know the form of supplementation for this sleep hormone. However, it is also found in foods and is produced naturally by the pineal gland of the brain. Melatonin is not a sedative that pushes you out like Ambien. Rather, it is one of the key hormones that regulates your circadian rhythm – a kind of internal timer that, among other things, tells you when it’s time to turn off and wake up. Marie-Pierre St-Onge, Ph.D., associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University and director of Columbia’s Irving Medical Center Sleep Center of Excellence, explains that melatonin levels are highest during the night, falling in the morning (daylight suppresses its secretion) and then start rising in the evening, a few hours before sleep starts.

Your body makes melatonin from an amino acid called tryptophan, which is found in foods (turkey is a notorious), but plenty of diet-tomatoes, oats, milk-containing melatonin that are just to function. “I have come to the realization that all whole foods can have a level of melatonin. It is inherent in the fruits, vegetables and animal products we eat,” says St-Onge. “What we do not know is how much food actually contains.” (Supplemental doses typically start with 0.5 mg.) This is because research has found that amounts of melatonin can vary widely, even among the same type of food, depending on factors such as. How a plant is grown, and even when a cow is milked. (Funny fact: Melatonin concentrations in milk have been shown to be highest when cows are milked at night.) However, there are signs that plant sources tend to have higher concentrations of melatonin than in animals – and it has been shown that that people who eat the most fruits and vegetables have greater amounts of melatonin in their body than those who consume the least. Grandner says this may be part of the reason for it those who stick to the Mediterranean diet sleep better than people who follow a more Western way of eating, who are higher in refined carbohydrates and saturated fats and lower in products, although he notes that this hypothesis has not been tested well.

While healthy adults usually produce enough melatonin alone, dietary sources can give you an extra boost in the sleep department. For example, there is good research that suggests that melatonin (most trials focus on supplements) benefits shift workers and people with jet lag, although studies of those with insomnia (chronic problems falling asleep or staying asleep) have been mixed . “It doesn’t seem to be an effective treatment for insomnia, because for most of these people, their bodies know that it’s night, they just can not slow down their minds,” Grandner says. “But there are quite a few data out there that show that melatonin can improve sleep

health of people who just have disruptive sleep-that it can help them fall asleep faster and make sleep less fragmented. “For example, a meta-analysis of 17 studies published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews found that taking melatonin on average helped participants with difficulty sleeping nod off faster, increased overall sleep time by as much as 25 minutes and significantly improved sleep efficiency (a smart expression of the time you are zonked out, minus any. throws and turns).

The hormone – which also has powerful antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties – may be particularly useful for older adults according to clinical trials. Grandner says this is because as you get older, your circadian rhythms change and your body’s melatonin levels naturally drop – a big reason why this group often has more sleep problems.

Food sources of melatonin:

  • Egg

  • Lean meat

  • Fish

  • Milk

  • Grapes, strawberries and pie cherries

  • Tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms

  • Nuts (especially pistachios and walnuts)

  • Corn

  • Barley, rice and oats

2. Omega-3 fatty acids

Numerous studies have noted a link between the consumption of this healthy fat – found in fatty fish (such as salmon), walnuts, avocados and flaxseeds – and improved sleep quality and duration. And because your body cannot produce omega-3 alone, diet (either food or a supplement) is your only delivery system for it.

Results of a randomized controlled trial published this year in the journal Nutrients found that participants who received omega-3-containing supplements nodded faster and slept longer than those who received placebo. This study examined two types of omega-3s — DHA and EPA — found mainly in animal food sources, but there is evidence that a variety of plants called ALA are also beneficial. And in one University of Oxford study, children who received 600 mg of DHA daily for 16 weeks had almost one hour more sleep and had seven fewer nocturnal awakenings on average than they did before the trial. (By comparison, 3 ounces of salmon has about 1,000 mg of DHA.)

However, while some studies use supplements with higher doses than what you can get via fish or nuts, research shows that people with the most omega-3s in their diet have a healthier sleep pattern than those who eat the least.

What makes omega-3s such good bedmates? “We know they help with the circadian rhythm. And they reduce inflammation in the body, which has been linked to better sleep,” said Michael Breus, PhD, a fellow at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Oily fish can be a particularly good sleep aid. It offers a trifecta of benefits: in addition to the omega-3s, it also contains vitamin D (more on that below) and tryptophan, which your body converts to melatonin.

Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids:

Vitamin D.

D vitamin is one of the 24-hour pacemakers-it keeps your sleep-wake cycles in line and works fine, “says Breus. Still, about 40% of American adults are deficient. (Less than 12 ng / ml nanograms per milliliter-considered as a deficiency; 12 to 20 ng / ml is an inadequacy.) A meta-analysis of studies with more than 9,300 participants, published in the journal Nutrients, found that low blood serum levels of vitamin D – less than 20 ng / ml – were associated with poor sleep, fewer hours of zzz and daytime drowsiness. And an experiment that measured sleep patterns for more than 3,000 older men, published in the journal Sleep, showed that participants with low vitamin D had a poorer quality and amount of rest than those with adequate levels. The researchers note that the results “suggest a potential role for vitamin D in maintaining a healthy sleep.” There is evidence that vitamin D deficiency can also increase the risk of sleep apnea. You can get vitamin D from some foods, including fatty fish, such as salmon, and fortified cereals and dairy products. But there is a reason why it is called “sunshine vitamin”: between 50% and 90% of your vitamin D comes from UV exposure. About 15 to 20 minutes of direct sunlight on your skin causes your body to produce what you need. So in addition to diet, Breus recommends spending 15 minutes outside daily without sunglasses – your eyes can also synthesize the vitamin – or SPF. (Long enough to get a dose of D without getting burned.) And because deficiencies are so common, it’s not a bad idea to have your levels checked. It is a simple blood test that your doctor can order. If yours is low, you may want to consider taking a supplement as an insurance policy.

Food sources of vitamin D:

4. Magnesium

According to National Institutes of Health, 48% of Americans get too little of this mineral. (Adult RDAs range from 310 to 420 mg.) And it does not bode well for sleep. Initially, magnesium deficiency has been linked to an increase in mood swings, such as depression and anxiety, which have been proven to snooze. “Magnesium calms you down,” Breus explains. “It is an anxiolytic – a substance that prevents and treats anxiety – so it helps you relax and let the natural sleep process take over.” Plus, it’s involved in regulating your circadian rhythms. In a study of older adults (age is a risk factor for low magnesium), those who received 500 mg of the mineral daily dosed for eight weeks, 12 minutes faster, remained asleep 36 minutes longer and had fewer early morning awakenings than usual. Meanwhile, a placebo group had virtually no changes in their sleep. Increasing magnesium levels in those who are deficient is also associated with slower wave sleep — the kind of “recovery and recovery” that is the key to the immune system and repairing muscles and other tissues in the body. Unlike vitamin D, your body does not make magnesium, so you need to eat it.

Food sources of magnesium:

  • Nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, cashews, peanuts and almonds)

  • Spinach

  • Edamame

  • Black beans

  • Potatoes

  • Yogurt

  • Bananas

  • Reinforced breakfast products

5. Iron

This is another micronutrient that Americans tend to lack – especially women. (Adult RDAs range from 8 to 27 mg.) Iron deficiency sensitivity– which occurs when your body does not have enough iron to produce hemoglobin, which is necessary for your blood to transport oxygen – can make you feel tired in itself, no matter how much rest you get. But it has also been linked to sleep problems. (There are several ways your doctor can assess your levels, but a common one is a ferritin blood test that measures the amount of iron stored in your body.)

This essential mineral is involved in certain chemical processes in the brain that are linked to sleep physiology. A review of micronutrient and sleep studies that Grandner worked with found that people with iron deficiency anemia experienced more night wakes and shorter sleep compared to people with adequate levels of iron. It also turned out to throw out their various stages of sleep. At the back, iron-deficient people slept, increasing their intake to normal levels better and longer.

“There’s also a lot of evidence that low iron levels can cause restless legs syndrome — an eerie discomfort in your legs that mostly happens at night,” Grandner says. “It’s a neuromuscular problem that has to do with how your brain transports iron.” In fact, after checking other factors that can affect sleep, a Turkish study found that 68% of those with iron deficiency anemia had trouble sleeping, and another concluded that 24% suffered from restless legs syndrome — a number nine times higher than ordinary population.

Food sources of iron:

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