3 Nutrients to Eat for Sleeping Better, According to Science
Your body makes melatonin from an amino acid called tryptophan found in foods (turkey is an infamous one), but plenty of dietary staples—tomatoes, oats, milk—contain straight-up melatonin. "I've come to the realization that all whole foods may additionally have some level of melatonin. It's intrinsic to the fruits, vegetables and animal products we consume," says St-Onge. "What we don't know is how much foods actually contain." (Supplement dosages typically start at 0.5 mg.) That's because research has discovered that amounts of melatonin can differ greatly even among the same type of food, depending on factors such as how a plant is grown and even when a cow is milked. (Fun fact: Milk melatonin concentrations have been found to be highest when cows are milked at night.) However, there's some evidence that plant sources tend to have higher concentrations of melatonin than animal ones—and it's been shown that people who eat the most fruits and vegetables have increased amounts of melatonin in their bodies than those consuming the least. Grandner says this may additionally be part of the reason why those adhering to Mediterranean diets sleep better than people who follow a more Western-style way of eating that's higher in refined carbs and saturated fat and lower in produce, though he notes that this hypothesis has not been well-tested.
While healthy adults usually produce enough melatonin on their own, dietary sources can give you an extra boost in the sleep department. For example, there's good research that suggests taking melatonin (most trials focus on supplements) benefits shift workers and people with jet lag, although studies on those with insomnia (chronic trouble falling to sleep or staying asleep) have been mixed. "It doesn't seem to be an effective treatment for insomnia, because for most of these people, their body knows it's nighttime, they just can't slow their minds down," says Grandner. "But there is quite a lot of data out there that shows melatonin can improve sleep
health in 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 posted in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews found that, on average, ingesting melatonin helped participants with trouble sleeping nod off faster, increased total sleep time by as much as 25 minutes, and significantly increased sleep efficiency (a fancy term for the amount of time you are zonked out, minus any tossing and turning).
The hormone—which additionally has powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune-bolstering properties—maybe particularly helpful for older adults, in accordance to clinical trials. Grandner says that's because as you age, changes occur in your circadian rhythms, and levels of melatonin in the body naturally decline—a big reason why this group often has more sleep issues.
Food sources of melatonin:
Grapes, strawberries and tart cherries
Tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms
Nuts (especially pistachios and walnuts)
Barley, rice and oats
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Numerous studies have noted an association between the consumption of this healthy fat—found in fatty fish (like salmon), walnuts, avocados and flaxseeds—and improved sleep quality and duration. And because your body can't produce omega-3s on its own, diet (either food or a supplement) is your only delivery system for it.
Results of a randomized controlled trial posted this year in the journal Nutrients found that participants given supplements containing omega-3s nodded off faster and slept longer than those who got a placebo. This study looked at two types of omega-3s—DHA and EPA— that are mainly found in animal sources of food, but there's evidence that a variety in plants called ALA is also beneficial. And in a University of Oxford study, children given 600 mg of DHA daily for 16 weeks got nearly an hour more sleep and had seven fewer nighttime awakenings, on average, than they did before the trial. (For comparison, 3 ounces of salmon has about 1,000 mg of DHA.)
While some studies use supplements with doses higher than what you may additionally get via fish or nuts, research does show that people with the most omega-3s in their diets have healthier sleep patterns than those who eat the least.
What makes omega-3s such good bedfellows? "We know that they help with circadian timing. And they minimize inflammation the body, which has been linked to better sleep," says Michael Breus, Ph.D, fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Fatty fish may additionally 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:
Seafood (especially salmon, tuna and sardine)
3. Vitamin D
"Vitamin D is one of the circadian pacemakers—it keeps your sleep-wake cycles aligned and working nicely," says Breus. Yet around 40% of American adults are deficient. (Less than 12 ng/mL—nanograms per milliliter—is considered a deficiency; 12 to 20 ng/mL is an inadequacy.) A meta-analysis of studies with more than 9,300 participants, posted 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's and daytime drowsiness. And a trial that measured the sleep patterns of more than 3,000 older men, posted in the journal Sleep, showed that participants with low vitamin D had poorer quality and quantity of rest than those with adequate levels. The researchers note that the findings "suggest a potential role for vitamin D in maintaining healthy sleep." There's evidence that lack of vitamin D may up the risk for sleep apnea, as well. You can get vitamin D from some foods, including fatty fish, such as salmon, and fortified cereal and dairy products. But there's a reason it's called the "sunshine vitamin": between 50% and 90% of your vitamin D comes from UV exposure. Around 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, sans sunglasses—your eyes can additionally 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 get your levels checked. It's a simple blood test your doctor can order. If yours are low, you may want to consider taking a supplement as an insurance policy.
Food sources of vitamin D:
Trout and salmon
Vitamin-D-fortified foods like cereal and plant-based milks
Originally published: Yahoo