Foods that can help with insomnia

Q. Do you have any recommendations for what to eat to help falling and staying asleep? I read the following:

“Try eating a kiwi. High levels of antioxidants and serotonin in the fruit may regulate slumber. Or, try a spoon of almond butter. One tablespoon offers up a healthy dose of magnesium. Deficiencies of that mineral have been linked to muscle cramps and insomnia.”

A. Believe it or not, both of these recommendations are supported by actual published research. A small study of 24 people experiencing sleep disturbances found that eating 2 kiwi fruit 1 hour before bedtime every night for 4 weeks led to significant improvements in their sleep quality. Unfortunately, there was no control group, so it’s hard to say how much of this effect was due to placebo effect.

Seeing as anxiety about not sleeping often makes insomnia worse, it’s easy to imagine that the hope/belief that something you are eating will make you fall asleep could make things a lot better.

Another (better designed) study found that taking 500 mg of magnesium at bedtime helped older people fall asleep sooner and sleep better through the night. However, you’d have to eat not one but 11 tablespoons of almond butter to get that much magnesium. A supplement would probably be more practical (and less caloric!).

Turkey and other foods high in the amino acid tryptophan are often touted as foods-to-make-you-sleepy.  But tryptophan only makes you drowsy if consumed in large amounts on an empty stomach, without any other amino acids present. (Like most protein foods, turkey contains lots of different amino acids.)

But if you’re plagued to sleepless nights, I think it makes sense to match the cure to the cause. Frequently, there are non-nutritional factors at work, in which case nutritional solutions probably aren’t going to be very effective.

  • If stress or worry is keeping you awake, learning relaxation techniques or listening to a guided meditation might be far more effective than any food or supplement. This is one of my favorite guided meditations for inducing sleep.
  • Sleeping in a room that is very dark, quiet, and somewhat cool can also help a lot. I always travel with a sleep mask to block out light. (I like the kind that doesn’t touch your eyelids.) I find earplugs uncomfortable so I use a free smart phone app called Signal Generator to generate sound-absorbing pink noise that blocks out random sounds that would otherwise wake me up.
  • Blue light from your computer, tablet or phone can powerfully suppress the normal evening release of melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep. If you frequently use these devices before bed, cutting down on evening screen time or buying blue-light blocking glasses may make a world of difference.  See also: Can melatonin help you sleep?
  • If heartburn from acid reflux is waking you up in the middle of the night, putting your bed on blocks could be part of the solution. (And a bedtime snack might make things worse.) See also: How to Avoid Reflux.
  • Of course, you’d want to avoid foods or substances that have a stimulating effect before bedtime.

Finally, as someone who occasionally suffers from restless nights, I have taken comfort from recent reports that the 8-hour sleep shift that we all aspire to is a relatively recent invention.  A short night’s sleep coupled with a nap later in the day may work just as well as 8 hours of uninterrupted nighttime slumber.

Make your own calcium-fortified cashew milk

In the ever expanding category of nondairy milk, cashew milk has become a favorite. Although soymilk is a closer match for cow’s milk in terms of protein, it does have that distinctive beany flavor. (Which I don’t find unpleasant…just pronounced.)

Cashew milk, on the other hand, has a much milder flavor. To my palate, at least, it is the most dairy-like in taste and mouth feel. It’s also–by far–the easiest nondairy milk to make yourself, which can save you big bucks. You can even add your own calcium and vitamin D!

Cashew milk is the easiest to make from scratch. No boiling, skimming, straining. Click To Tweet Continue reading “Make your own calcium-fortified cashew milk” >

An easier way to stay on track

Keeping a record of everything you eat–whether you jot it down in a notebook or use a mobile app like My Fitness Pal–can be a very effective tool for improving your eating habits. Part of it is increased awareness and part of it is the accountability. Even if no one ever sees your diet log but you, you may decide to pass on that random cookie or doughnut hole if you know it’s going on your “permanent record.”

On the other hand, it’s kind of a pain. Even with the convenience of a smart phone app, logging every bite you eat every day quickly becomes tedious. Most people start to drift away from the habit after a week or two–often, when they have a day they’d just as soon be “off the record.” And the benefits of that increased awareness and accountability gradually slip way.

A simpler way to stay on track

Continue reading “An easier way to stay on track” >

What’s the optimal timing for meals and exercise?

Every week, there seems to be a new study or analysis on these questions, such as the one I reviewed in last week’s Nutrition Diva podcast, and others that I’ve tackled in countless other posts and podcasts over the years.

Having spent so much time reviewing all this evidence, I thought I’d share with you my typical eating/exercise schedule. Continue reading “What’s the optimal timing for meals and exercise?” >

Next 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade starts March 13th!

Over the past 2 years, over 400 people have participated in the 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade program. And in just a few weeks (March 13th, to be exact), we’re going to do it again!
These 30-day nutrition and fitness challenges are super popular these days, and for good reason. They’re a great way to kick-start healthy routines and to stay motivated long enough for new behaviors to become established habits. And even though there are already plenty of them out there, I wanted to offer my followers something unique…something fun, effective, and based on solid science.

I put everything I know about nutrition and the psychology of behavior change into the 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade program. I really really hoped it would make a difference in people’s lives, and was thrilled to have over a hundred people sign up for the first challenge.

But nothing could have prepared me for what happened during those next 30 days. Continue reading “Next 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade starts March 13th!” >

Is fruit more nutritious when it’s ripe?

Evie asks: “Is fruit more nutritious when ripe than unripe? For example, would a green banana have less potassium than a yellow one?”

The nutritional content of fruits (including those fruits we think of as vegetables) absolutely changes as the fruit ripens. Whether you would consider it more or less nutritious might depend on your definition, though! Continue reading “Is fruit more nutritious when it’s ripe?” >