We recently talked about the importance of getting enough sleep in Sleep More….. Weigh Less…..Live Longer. Sleep is one of most important activities you can do for your body, even ahead of exercise and eating a nutrient dense diet. (Though conversely if you exercise and eat a healthy diet you will naturally sleep better!) Most everyone I know has had a difficult time lately getting or staying asleep. My clients are forever asking my suggestions to help them sleep more. There are various things I suggest but one of the biggest is the foods they choose. Concentrated sources of tryptophan (the precursor to seratonin, the sleep hormone) along with a healthy carbohydrate-rich foods can help you get to sleep faster and achieve deep, restorative sleep.
Your body cannot make the amino acid tryptophan; you must get it from the foods you eat. Once tryptophan crosses from your bloodstream into your brain (blood-brain barrier) it is used to make a hormone called serotonin.
Serotonin is necessary to promote feelings of sleepiness, calm, and relaxation. Seratonin then converts to melatonin, the “sleeping pill” of the body, which is responsible for getting into deep sleep.
Without enough serotonin in your system, you might have a hard time feeling sleepy enough to rest soundly. Without adequate levels of tryptophan within your brain, you may not be able to produce enough serotonin. Bottom line, no tryptophan, no seratonin; no seratonin, no melatonin; no melatonin, no sleep. Get the picture?
The challenge with getting tryptophan through to your brain is that it has to compete with other amino acids for access to the limited number of channels that line your blood-brain barrier. Tryptophan tends to be the weak little brother among other amino acids in natural foods. The other amino acids outnumber him.
The key to getting enough tryptophan to your brain to sleep well at night is to combine a tryptophan-rich food with a high quality, carbohydrate-rich food. This is because eating a carbohydrate-rich food causes your body to release insulin, which diverts many of your other amino acids away from your brain, leaving tryptophan less competition to cross your blood-brain barrier to get where it needs to be.
Here is a list of some healthy foods that are naturally rich in tryptophan:
- Whole grains, including rice
- Sunflower seeds
- Miso (fermented soy beans)
- Unsweetened soy milk
- Raw dairy products (if you can tolerate dairy)
If you combine any of the foods listed above with a healthy carbohydrate-rich food as an evening snack, your body should be able to produce enough serotonin to facilitate a good night’s rest.
What follows are some suggestions for healthy meals and snacks that combine a tryptophan-rich food with a carbohydrate-rich food:
- Rice with miso soup or our Vegan Miso Garlic Ginger Noodles
- Whole grain pita with hummous
- Whole grain crackers with organic, natural peanut butter
- Unsweetened whole grain cereal with soy milk (nut milk has the same effect on most of my clients)
- Rice with lentils
- Rice, black beans, and guacamole
- Hummous with steamed broccoli
- Eggs with whole grain toast
Be creative with your combinations of tryptophan-rich foods and carbohydrate-rich foods. There are endless ways of combining foods to help you achieve deep, rejuvenating sleep.
Wishing you peace and balance,