There aren’t many things that rank above fresh vegetables picked from your own summer garden. Maybe it’s all the blood, sweat and tears we’ve poured into it since spring, or maybe it’s the pride of successfully nurturing a seed or delicate sprout all the way to bearing fruit. Every handful or basket load of veggies carried from garden to house is a triumph — truly the taste of victory. For me, compared to those found in the local supermarket, the taste of the backyard garden tomato is always the garden grand champion of summer. Just slice, add a little fresh mozzarella, a leaf of fresh basil, and … heaven.
It turns out those same wonderful, fresh tomatoes also can have a very positive impact on quality of sleep.
In fact, there are a number of foods that are known to be helpful agents in our quest for a full and nourishing night of sleep. Some naturally support your circadian rhythm when eaten before bedtime, and others simply add sleep-supportive nutrients to your system.
Whether you are simply bolstering an already healthy sleep regimen, or seeking solutions to improve on interrupted nights of sleep, here are six proven “Sleep Foods” to consider having on hand, and to include in the weekly grocery harvest:
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes are naturally rich in lycopene. Research studies indicate that having a low level of lycopene in your body is a contributor to “short sleep”— defined as sleeping five or fewer hours in the night—and is also connected to difficulty falling asleep. Lycopene has been shown to have many positive health benefits, and is a powerful antioxidant. It is responsible for giving a tomato its red color. By the way, some other red vegetables are also high in lycopene – like red peppers.
- Cherries: Cherries, and even more so tart ones, are a natural source of melatonin. Melatonin is the natural ingredient that causes drowsiness and lowers body temperature. By eating cherries, or drinking cherry juice at bedtime, you can elevate the level of melatonin in your body at the time your circadian system is naturally calling for melatonin production to bring on sleep. You can find cherry juice at most natural food stores.
- Bananas: Bananas are a terrific source of magnesium and potassium, which help to relax and replenish overworked muscles. Long distance runners know the benefits of bananas very well. Bananas also have some tryptophan, which converts to melatonin in your system, making you feel sleepy. Since they come in their own neat packaging, a banana can be a perfect bedside table addition.
- Hard-boiled Eggs: Having some healthful protein in your diet can help balance out some of the high, simple sugar carbohydrates you may have had with dinner, helping you to stay asleep longer. A simple and delicious hard-boiled egg is a great example of a protein-rich food. Last year, we joined the backyard chicken craze, and it has been a wonderful experience to have friendly, free-roaming chickens that are quite happy to deliver fresh eggs every day in exchange for lovely accommodations and nice meals. These super fresh eggs make extremely tasty hard boiled eggs.
- Almonds: Among numerous health benefits, almonds also happen to contain magnesium. Similar to bananas in this regard, the magnesium helps to relax muscles, reduce stress and welcome sleep. Almonds are also protein-rich, and help to maintain stable blood sugar levels.
- Peanut Butter: It turns out there is a good reason we fondly view peanut butter as being so comforting. That’s because it is naturally comforting! Peanut butter contains tryptophan that converts to melatonin in your body, making you feel drowsy. It doesn’t have as much tryptophan as turkey possesses (ahhh, think the post-Thanksgiving dinner nap), but it has enough to help. Add a whole wheat cracker, and you’ve got a perfect sleep food.
It seems that you will benefit from an extra nutrient boost if you go organic when seeking out these foods. From everything I have seen on the topic, most organically managed fruits, vegetables and eggs tends to be richer in nutrients than non-organic. Of course, that is in addition to the clean, non-toxic and sustainability advantages of buying organic.
This post / article began with a reference to the delight of summer tomatoes and joy of summer gardening. This is the time of year of when we naturally tend to be more thoughtful about what we eat, are more active outdoors, and have greater appreciation for simple, fresh produce. As we transition to fall and then winter, I hope to hold onto that fresh, healthful eating mindset. That sentiment, combined with the knowledge of these six “Sleep Foods”, is the start of a great recipe for enhanced health through better sleep.