Natural Sleep Aids

It’s no surprise to hear that an estimated 50-70 million adults in the U.S. have chronic sleep and wakefulness disorders, with insomnia being the most common. While there is still much-needed research to be done on sleep disorders and cures, most people are looking to their doctors for medications before researching any lifestyle behaviors and holistic remedies that could be just as helpful. Nutrition can play a huge role in promoting a better night’s sleep.

Come nighttime, it feels like the stars in the sky are sucking the chaos right out of your long day. Phew! Humans are creatures of habit, and even though so much routine is involved in our day, everything can still feel like total madness. At night, it’s time to really wind (or wine?) down and be intimate with a special ritual that you can create on your own. Here’s how to set yourself up for a serene sleep, nightly:

High-fiber complex carbs like whole grains and legumes

Have you been experimenting with the keto diet and having trouble sleeping? It may be due to the very low amount of insulin being created by the body—insulin is a hormone that helps neural pathways get tryptophan, an amino acid that acts as a sedative, to the brain. Past research has suggested a high-glycemic carbohydrate diet to get the best results for shortening sleep onset, assuming that would create the greatest rise in insulin. While this is a good short-term fix, it can lead to other issues such as pre-diabetes and hyperlipidemia if done consistently. We recommend starting slow. If you have been avoiding any carbohydrates at night, add in whole grains, legumes and high fiber fruits to your dinner or bedtime snack to initiate the release of insulin.

Potassium-rich fruits like bananas and kiwis

A study out of University of Wisconsin found growing evidence that potassium channels play a critical role in generating sleep. “Without potassium channels, you don’t get slow waves, the oscillations shown by groups of neurons across the brain that are the hallmark of deep sleep,” says Chiara Cirelli, SMPH psychiatry professor and senior author on the latest study. The daily recommended intake for potassium is very high, and if you’re exercising a lot and not paying attention to dietary intake, you could be fairly low in potassium. We recommend a post-workout smoothie of banana, kiwi, Greek yogurt and leafy greens. All are very high in potassium and can help you recover and sleep more soundly. Another benefit of bananas? Bananas contain tryptophan and magnesium, which are found to help support sound sleep with a sedative-like effect.

Calcium-rich Greek yogurt and cottage cheese

Dairy is a natural source of sleep-inducing tryptophan, and calcium also acts a booster to this amino acid. While not many people drink a warm glass of milk before bed, we recommend making “dessert time” include these high-protein dairy sources. Top your Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with fresh berries before bed for a healthy high-protein dessert with the added benefit of helping you sleep.

Trail mix with the right ingredients.

A handful of trail mix can be a great thing to grab before bedtime or even a red-eye flight. Why? Nuts and seeds help boost serotonin levels, and serotonin is one of the most important brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, for regulating the sleep/wake cycle. Nuts are also a great source of tryptophan. Add Montmorency tart cherries too! They contain melatonin and anthocyanins that may help with sleep.

All poultry—not just turkey

Probably the most widely recommended food for sleep is turkey, due to its high amount of tryptophan, but turkey is not the only meat that contains this amino acid—all poultry does. Try having a slice of turkey or chicken at dinner or just before bed to induce sleep.

Herbal chamomile tea

Just before bed, sip on some herbal chamomile tea. The herbal tea has calming effects, and a nice warm drink to sip on before bed can also help you feel calm enough to drift off after a long day.

As you see, there are many different minerals and amino acids that can help induce sleep and improve sleep quality. So before you go ahead and grab medication or supplements, try adding these foods and drinks to your daily routine for the healthiest, most natural way to help with insomnia and other sleeping disorders.

Dress it down

Keep your coziest pajamas in a drawer away from all of your other wardrobe elements. Ditch the oversized tees (okay, maybe not all of them) and keep clean, fresh PJs that you can’t wait to slip into. By having something that you’re comfortable in, you won’t be tossing and turning trying to get your position just right so you can fall asleep. Another tip? Toss a lavender sachet into your PJ drawer or under your pillow; the smell is known to naturally help you feel more relaxed.

Set the mood

Light some soothing incense or sage, and let a table lamp illuminate your bedroom as you settle in for the night. The relaxing fragrance and mood will not only calm you down, they will also set you up for some peaceful REM. Bonus: The dim lighting will get your melatonin going.

Take care of your tummy

If your last bite was hours ago, you might be hungry before falling asleep, and you will definitely feel less energetic when you wake up in the morning. Sip on sleepy teas like chamomile, and munch on healthy carb and calcium combinations. Try some wild rice cooked in milk and water, cereal with milk, or some cheese and crackers. Start with a coffee-mug size serving, and that should do the trick. Almonds will also help naturally boost your melatonin flow.

Try evening essentials

Essential oils are fabulous for a nighttime ritual. Dab lavender essential oil on your wrists and the nape of your neck, or add a few drops to a spray bottle of water for some lovely room or linen spray. In addition to lavender, try vanilla, frankincense and ylang ylang.

Gabriella is a registered dietitian living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She currently works in corporate wellness as a dietitian and overall wellness coach. She also runs a food blog called Macrobalanced, where she shows people that healthy and balanced eating can be interesting and tasty! She enjoys all things fitness from lifting heavy weights in the gym to hitting the barre. Nothing is off limits as long as sweat is involved. When she is not cooking or sweating, she is playing with her dog Maui, a lively German Shepherd. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.