At night

Sunday Tribune - - SUNDAY MAGAZINE - So­phie Medlin | The Con­ver­sa­tion


All cul­tures around the world have tra­di­tions about which foods pro­mote sleep. Foods such as milk, chamomile, kiwi fruit and tart cher­ries have all been said to work won­ders. Given how much the food we eat af­fects us, it is not sur­pris­ing that our diet plays such a big role in our qual­ity of sleep. What we eat af­fects our or­gan func­tion, im­mune sys­tem, hor­mone pro­duc­tion and brain func­tion.

A re­ally im­por­tant hor­mone that con­trols our sleep pat­terns is mela­tonin. It is pro­duced in the brain and the amount you pro­duce and how ef­fi­ciently our brain uses it is af­fected by our diet. One of the big­gest in­flu­ences on our mela­tonin lev­els ap­pears to be our in­take of a type of pro­tein called tryp­to­phan, an es­sen­tial amino acid and the build­ing blocks of pro­teins. Our bod­ies can­not make it, it can only be sourced through diet.

Other nu­tri­ents that ap­pear to be help­ful for sleep in­clude B vi­ta­mins and mag­ne­sium. This is be­cause they help tryp­to­phan to be more avail­able in the body. If your diet is lack­ing tryp­to­phan, B vi­ta­mins or mag­ne­sium it is very likely that your mela­tonin pro­duc­tion and se­cre­tion will be af­fected and your sleep qual­ity will be poorer.


Overly re­stric­tive di­ets or di­ets that put you at risk of nu­tri­ent de­fi­cien­cies can af­fect your sleep. But in­creas­ing your in­take of foods rich in spe­cific nu­tri­ents may well help to pro­mote bet­ter sleep qual­ity and du­ra­tion.

Dairy foods can be great at help­ing you sleep. Not only is dairy an ex­cel­lent source of tryp­to­phan, but it also con­tains mag­ne­sium and B vi­ta­mins which help to pro­mote the ac­tiv­ity and avail­abil­ity of tryp­to­phan. Nuts, like dairy, also con­tain all the nu­tri­ents known to pro­mote in­creased mela­tonin pro­duc­tion and sup­port its re­lease.

Fish is a great source of tryp­to­phan and B vi­ta­mins. Fish with bones, such as sar­dines, will also pro­vide mag­ne­sium. In­clud­ing fish in your diet reg­u­larly may help to pro­mote healthy mela­tonin pro­duc­tion. Pulses, beans and lentils also con­tain high amounts of tryp­to­phan and B vi­ta­mins. Adding some tofu or paneer to a veg­etable stew or curry can also help to in­crease your like­li­hood of a great night’s sleep. You could also add in soya – an­other good source of tryp­to­phan – to op­ti­mise your sleep po­ten­tial.

If you’re still strug­gling to sleep, you may ben­e­fit from lean meat. It con­tains all the es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ents for a good night’s sleep.

For the ideal bed time snack, try a glass of semiskimmed or skimmed milk, a small ba­nana or a few nuts – all of which can help im­prove sleep and your willpower the next day. It takes around an hour for the tryp­to­phan in foods to reach the brain, so don’t wait un­til just be­fore bed­time to have a snack. It’s ad­vis­able to have a bal­anced diet high in tryp­to­phan to op­ti­mise your chances of a good night’s sleep.

So­phie Medlin, Lec­turer in Nu­tri­tion and Di­etet­ics, King’s Col­lege Lon­don

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