Updated: Apr 26
Have you been suffering from a lack of sleep lately?
With the amount of stuff we need to get done in our ever changing constantly busy society perhaps your sleep has taken a hit. Or maybe a lack of sleep has been long term for you and you’re at your wits end.
Sleep is so essential. It helps boost our immune systems, prevents chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, and even prevents obesity.
Plus we just feel amazing after a satisfying good night's sleep. So how do you fall asleep and stay asleep better?
While practicing good sleep hygiene is essential to getting your best sleep, it never hurts to add in some of nature's best foods to help lull you into restful bliss.
Melatonin is the hormone produced by your pineal gland deep within the brain. Its purpose is to modulate your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm.
Luckily, there are some foods that naturally contain this hormone.
Walnuts are one of the best nuts when it comes to overall health. They not only have the healthy omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid , they also have phytosterols which help to reduce LDL-cholesterol . They even help to diversify your gut bacteria .
But did you know that walnuts also contain melatonin?
While melatonin has been used in disorders from alcohol induced liver disease  to a complementary therapy in cancer , most people use it just to get a good night's rest.
And that's where walnuts come in.
Walnuts have about 3.4-4.5ng/g of walnuts so a 1 ounce serving (about 7 walnuts) will give you about 128 ng of melatonin. Furthermore studies show that serum melatonin levels, the amount of melatonin in your blood stream, raise after eating walnuts .
If all the health benefits of walnuts still don't convince you to eat them, then try eating rice.
Rice is a staple food for the majority of the world with approximately 40,000 varieties, but did you know that rice has amazing nutritional properties?
And I'm not referring to your grocery store white rice.
High in nutrients like anythocyanins, powerful antioxidants, magnesium, and molybdenum, red rice gives you a healthy refreshing change from the relatively nutrient poor white rice.
But red rice also contains melatonin.
In fact, red rice contains about 212 ng/g of melatonin .
While other foods like tart cherries, cranberries, and wheat contain melatonin, the sleep hormone isn't the only molecule needed for a good's night rest.
A discussion about melatonin rich foods won't be complete without adding the flavorful pistachio.
Pistachios are not only rich in maganesese, cooper, and vitamin B6, they also contain a lot of melatonin!
In fact, pistachios were shown to have a whopping 660ng/g of melatonin !
This means that a 1 ounce serving of pistachios (28 grams or about 49 pistachios) contains 18,480 ng of melatonin!
While these numbers may seem high, most melatonin supplements are dosed in the terms of grams, not nanograms , which is about one billionth of a gram.
Though the amount of melatonin in foods may not be as high as in a supplement, it can be more bioavailable which means that your body can use the melatonin in foods better than in supplements.
Also eating these melatonin rich foods throughout the day and right before bed can give your body a much needed melatonin boost.
Gamma aminobutyric acid, GABA, is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, a molecule that allows neurons to communicate with one another, that helps to calm down your nervous system.
GABA is also a key player when it comes to sleep since it can be sedating by switching off your state of wakefulness. It is also sleep inducing by not only helping you fall asleep but stay asleep.
And, thank God, there are many foods that naturally contain this important neurotransmitter.
Foods like broccoli, sweet potatoes, chestnuts, tomatoes, and spinach are great sources of dietary GABA, with spinach being especially rich in the neurotransmitter .
Other foods that contain GABA include kale, soy beans, and buckwheat.
Remember Thanksgiving Day after everyone has had their turkey and feels like taking a long nap? More than likely one of your relatives probably said it was because of the tryptophan content int eh turkey that made you so drowsy.
Unfortunately, this isn't true and the real reason you may feel drowsy after a big meal is most likely due to all the carbs and alcohol but that doesn't discount the powerful effects of tryptophan.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that is used to make serotonin, an impressive neurotransmitter in its own right, which is then used to make our good friend, melatonin.
Remember that melatonin helps to regulate our sleep/wake cycle.
So foods that naturally contain tryptophan will help to increase melatonin and get you on your way to restful sleep.
While it's a common misconception that turkey contains higher than average amounts of tryptophan, it is a good source of tryptophan with approximately 410 mg/lb of white meat and 303mg/lb of dark meat .
Other foods that are high in tryptophan include whole milk, canned tuna, and oatmeal.
If you're having trouble getting a god night's rest, try adding more of these foods into your diet to make it easier to drift off into dreamland.
Do you have a specific snack that you like to eat before bed time? Does it help you fall asleep? Let me know in the comments!
I'm Dr. Candace Mathers, a naturopathic physician, helping you repair, restore, and renew your health and life to new heights! I'm a Christian, a mother of two beautiful children (one who has Down Syndrome), and lover of the outdoors. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for fun challenges, community, and tips on getting healthy naturally