The CDC calls insufficient sleep a public health epidemic, those who suffer from insomnia know it more as an awful vexing nuisance that hampers quality of life and taxes productivity. Not only that, it is linked to everything from car crashes and occupational errors to chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as cancer and increased mortality. Oh, elusive sleep!
An estimated 50 to 70 million U.S. adults have a sleep disorder, and about 4 percent of American adults use a prescription sleep aid, not to mention over-the-counter medications. But both families of sleep aids have their host of problems and side effects, from allergic reactions to “complex sleep-related behavior,” in which a person taking sleep-inducing sedatives might get up at night, eat, make phone calls, have sex, and even get in the car and go for a drive, all while not really quite awake. To sleep, perchance to get up and sleep-call an ex – ay, there's the rub.
In the meantime, there has been ample research looking into foods that can help you sleep better. While they may not conk you out as forcefully as a sleeping pill, they can definitely have an effect. So in an effort to steer clear of pharmaceuticals and avoid a potentially embarrassing “complex sleep-related behavior," here are some of the foods that experts say can inspire some Zs.
1. Tart cherry juice
Research out of Louisiana State University found that adults with insomnia who drank 8 ounces of tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks had an average of 84 more minutes of sleep time nightly compared to two-week periods in which they drank no juice or a placebo. It is thought that cherry juice’s natural supply of the sleep-wake cycle hormone melatonin and the sleep-friendly amino acid tryptophan are behind the magic. Study co-author Frank L. Greenway, says, “Proanthocyanidins, or the ruby red pigments in tart cherry juice, contain an enzyme that reduces inflammation and decreases the breakdown of tryptophan, letting it go to work longer in your body."
A study from Taiwan’s Taipei Medical University found that eating two kiwi fruits around an hour before bedtime had surprising results. Psychology Today reports that study participants fell asleep more quickly, with a decrease in falling-asleep time of 35.4 percent. They also slept 28.9 percent more soundly and slept better, with a 42.4 percent improvement on a standardized sleep quality questionnaire. Overall, total sleep time for the study subjects increased by 13.4 percent.
A University of Oxford study found that higher blood levels of omega-3 DHA (the fatty acids found in algae and seafood) were linked to better sleep. In a randomized, placebo-controlled study, the researchers examined if 16 weeks of taking 600 mg of algae supplement would improve the sleep of 362 children. Indeed, they found the children experienced better sleep, including less bedtime resistance, parasomnias and total sleep disturbance.
University of Texas researchers found that walnuts are a great source of melatonin and that eating them can lead to higher blood levels of this internal-clock controlling hormone, resulting in improved sleep.
A study published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine found that if the body is suffering from low levels of magnesium, sleep problems often ensue. The National Institutes of Health lists almonds as the number one source of magnesium; adding almonds to your diet is good all around, but may be especially good for boosting some shut-eye.
6. Chamomile tea
Here's one from grandma's natural remedy playbook. According to the National Institutes of Health, chamomile tea is a traditional remedy to treat insomnia and induce calm. Widely regarded as a mild tranquilizer and sleep-inducer, studies confirm its calming effect. One Japanese study found that chamomile extract helped rats fall asleep as effectively as rats that got a dose of the tranquilizer, benzodiazepine! Use two or three tea bags for best effect, and make sure to cover the cup while steeping.
7. Peanut butter sandwich
Researchers say that a spike of insulin can change our circadian rhythms and can induce sleep. A good dose of carbs and sugars can make people feel sluggish and so eating carbs at dinner can help slow your body down and prepare it for sleep. The National Sleep Foundation suggests a mix of protein and carbohydrates to induce slumber – peanut butter, or better yet, almond butter, on whole grain toast may be all you need to bring out your inner Morpheus.
This updated article was originally published in 2015.