Learning & Resource Center Articles
Nutrients to Ensure a Restful Night
By: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM
One important way we can help ensure a restful night is by making wise decisions during the day when it comes to our diet. Eating foods and drinking teas with nutrients beneficial to our sleep cycle can be quite simple. Even minor changes in diet can lead to major changes in the quality and duration of sleep.
There are two adages from the days of ancient China that demonstrate the supreme importance of maintaining a proper diet with adequate amounts of food.
Eating is even more important than the Emperor.
He that takes medicine and neglects diet, wastes the skills of the physician.
With this in mind, before heading to the bedroom for some shut-eye, let's first head to the kitchen. A good way to start is to look for foods that contain protein. No matter what the source of protein is, chances are good that it contains tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid the body utilizes to create vitamin B6. In turn, vitamin B6 triggers the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is a precursor to melatonin.
Melatonin is a very important hormone when it comes to regulating sleeping and waking cycles. It has the ability to balance our circadian rhythms, which are our natural response to being awake when it's light and being sleepy when it's dark outside.
To simplify things, rather than remembering the lengthy chain reaction that occurs when you eat foods with tryptophan, just think protein for a good night's rest. Foods with high amounts of tryptophan include turkey, lamb, beef, chicken, pork, nuts, seeds, tofu, cheese, tuna, and crab.
For those who want non-dairy or vegetarian options high in Vitamin B6 some foods include bananas, hazelnuts, spinach, sweet potatoes, and garlic
If you prefer to drink your way to a better night's sleep, teas are also an easy, nutritious option. During the day it's fine to sip tea that is room temperature or cold, but in the evening, when it's closer to bedtime, a cup served warm is best. The heat provides comfort that helps the stomach and the whole body relax.
Herbs known for their ability to help bring on relaxation and a peaceful sleep include chamomile, valerian, lavender, kava, peppermint, and lemon balm.
Not only is including a small, warm cup of tea in your bedtime ritual helpful for sleep, but drinking 1-3 cups during the day can also provide nighttime benefits. Just make sure to have half a cup if you prefer some tea right before going to bed. You'll still get the benefits but avoid waking up in the middle night to use the bathroom.
Having a caffeinated beverage is fine, if a moderate amount is consumed in the morning. This is because the effects of caffeine may stay in the system for up to eight hours, so best to drink it only as part of a morning ritual.
If you would like to explore dietary recommendations that target your specific sleep issues in greater depth, consult a practitioner of acupuncture and Oriental medicine to learn more about chewing and sipping your way to a peaceful night's rest.
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About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.