The key to a good sleep is the secretion of adequate melatonin which occurs during darkness. Melatonin is a natural hormone that is made by the pineal gland (a small endocrine gland in the brain), which helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythms (or sleep-wake cycles), along with temperature regulation and reducing inflammation in the body. During the day the pineal gland is inactive, however as darkness descends the pineal gland is switched on to produce melatonin, which is released into the blood, making you feel less alert. Melatonin can occur naturally in some foods such as tart cherries, bananas, grapes, rice, cereals, some herbs, plums and olive oil, which may also help with sleep.
Tart Cherry Juice contains natural melatonin and high levels of phytochemicals that raise the melatonin in your body (2). Tart cherry juice taken twice daily has shown to reduce insomnia and the time to fall to sleep, in older adults with insomnia (1). Melatonin can be prescribed as a medicine is to treat sleep disorders, but it should only be taken under the guidance of your doctor, as it can affect some neurological diseases in the body, and worsen some medical conditions.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which acts as a precursor to melatonin. Serotonin is considered a natural mood stabilizer that helps with sleeping, eating and digesting. Serotonin is derived from the amino acid tryptophan. Consuming some foods high in tryptophan before bedtime may increase the uptake into the brain and enhance alertness in the morning, most likely due to a better sleep (3). Foods high in tryptophan are nuts, seeds, tofu, cheese, red meat, chicken, salmon, turkey, rice, oats, beans, lentils and eggs. Maybe include some of these foods in your bedtime snack.
Ensure you get a healthy dose of sunshine to help maintain adequate vitamin D levels in your blood. People who are deficient in vitamin D may suffer from insomnia and sleep disturbances more than people with adequate vitamin D status. There is plenty of research around sleep disorders and vitamin D deficiency (4 - 6), but the mechanistic action of why this helps with sleep is not clear. A daily dose of sunshine may improve the quality of your night-time sleep.
If you have low magnesium status, this may enhance inflammatory or oxidative stress in the body which can lead to disrupted sleep and therefore sleep deprivation (7, 8). Magnesium helps regulate neurotransmitters and melatonin which help you become more calm and relaxed. Foods high in magnesium are spinach, seeds (hemp, flax and chia), lima beans, brown rice, fish, nuts, dark chocolate, low fat yoghurt, avocados and bananas.
There are plenty of foods that may help your body produce more melatonin, however other tips are to have a consistent bedtime routine, no screen time before bed, a cool dark room and a comfortable bed. Avoid stimulants before bed such as caffeine, sugar and heavy meals that take too long to digest. That’s all for today. Please sign up for our newsletter for more top tips and our free sports nutrition course.
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1. Pigeon, W. R., Carr, M., Gorman, C., & Perlis, M. L. (2010). Effects of a tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. Journal of medicinal food, 13(3), 579-583.
2. Howatson, G., Bell, P. G., Tallent, J., Middleton, B., McHugh, M. P., & Ellis, J. (2012). Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. European journal of nutrition, 51(8), 909-916.
3. Markus, C. R., Jonkman, L. M., Lammers, J. H., Deutz, N. E., Messer, M. H., & Rigtering, N. (2005). Evening intake of α-lactalbumin increases plasma tryptophan availability and improves morning alertness and brain measures of attention–. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 81(5), 1026-1033.
4. Huang, W., Shah, S., Long, Q., Crankshaw, A. K., & Tangpricha, V. (2013). Improvement of pain, sleep, and quality of life in chronic pain patients with vitamin D supplementation. The Clinical journal of pain, 29(4), 341-347.
5. Gominak, S. C., & Stumpf, W. E. (2012). The world epidemic of sleep disorders is linked to vitamin D deficiency. Medical hypotheses, 79(2), 132-135.
6. McCarty, D. E., Reddy, A., Keigley, Q., Kim, P. Y., & Marino, A. A. (2012). Vitamin D, race, and excessive daytime sleepiness. Journal of clinical sleep medicine: JCSM: official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 8(6), 693.
7. Nielsen, F. H., Johnson, L. K., & Zeng, H. (2010). Magnesium supplementation improves indicators of low magnesium status and inflammatory stress in adults older than 51 years with poor quality sleep. Magnesium Research, 23(4), 158-168.
8. Abbasi, B., Kimiagar, M., Sadeghniiat, K., Shirazi, M. M., Hedayati, M., & Rashidkhani, B. (2012). The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of research in medical sciences: the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 17(12), 1161.