Stressful, busy days and the constant bombardment of technology can make it difficult to shut off the outside world and get to bed. Instead of reaching for that Ambien or Tylenol PM pill to knock yourself out, try one of these easy and more natural ways to help you fall asleep. Nutritionist Kelly Aronica shares some tips on how to ease yourself into a gentle and peaceful slumber that won’t leave you feeling groggy or sluggish the next day (a side effect of many sleeping pills). Plus what to avoid if you’re having trouble sleeping.
Aronica says that there's definitely a connection between carbs and the release of serotonin (your body’s feel-good hormone) in the brain, so a snack within an hour of bedtime that is mostly carbohydrates with a little protein can boost serotonin levels. Why?
To maximize the release of serotonin (which helps you sleep), you need two things. Tryptophan, the amino acid that is the raw material for serotonin found in protein sources, is one. But if you eat a high-protein meal, all the various amino acid levels go up, and they all fight for entry across the blood-brain barrier, and tryptophan levels actually go down in the brain. When you eat carbohydrates (the second thing you need), the body releases insulin whose job it is to put excess glucose, amino acids, and fatty acids to work or into storage. So when there's insulin in the blood, it empties out of all amino acids except for tryptophan, clearing the way for tryptophan to enter the brain.
So what's the bottom line? Try eating a light meal with a little protein and a little carbohydrate within an hour of bed. (It takes about an hour for serotonin levels to go up after a meal.) Try toast with peanut butter, half an egg salad sandwich, or some of the ideas below.
A good snack to have before bedtime because it combines carbohydrates with protein.
A great food because it’s about half carbohydrates and half protein.
Eat this with some pita for a perfect mix of both protein (from the chickpeas) and carbohydrates.
Has tryptophan, and there's also the soothing aspect of sipping a warm beverage.
Contain tryptophan, melatonin, seratonin, and magnesium, which can act as a muscle relaxant. Try them with some peanut butter and toast.
While it’s a well-known source of tryptophan, almost any type of poultry has similar amounts of it. Try eating half a turkey or chicken sandwich.
Contain both tryptophan and carbohydrates, so eating a few as a small snack before bed could help you sleep.
Have both tryptophan and magnesium, so you could also try adding these to your oatmeal.
Contain melatonin, which helps regulate sleep. These are the sour ones used in pies, not so much the sweet Bing cherries that you can eat plain. (Photo courtesy of Istock/chas53)