Food for Thought: Eat Better, Sleep Better

Posted on Posted in Brain Health, Food, Nourishment, Sleep


Welcome to the 10-day Food for Thought series. This is day 10! I’ve been writing this series for the Illinois Region of Phi Theta Kappa to promote healthy, focused, and smart brains. Post # 10 is dedicated to getting better sleep by making better diet choices.


Here’s what I’ve talked about so far in the Food for Thought series:

(1) DHA is a really important fat. You need plenty of it.

(2) Don’t eat what most other Americans eat. They follow the SAD diet.

(3) Eggs are what smart people eat. Organic eggs. Whole eggs.

(4) Turmeric is all-powerful. It keeps us healthy in countless ways.

(5) Eat real food. Processed food is no good. Refined sugars are no good. Don’t let the food industry fool you.

(6) GABA is the calm neurotransmitter. Eat foods that promote more GABA floating around your body.

(7) Antioxidants! Detoxification! Anti-inflammatory foods! You really do need 5 to 9 servings of produce per day. See what this looks like with my “example day.”

(8) Protein is really important for brain function. Do you know the best choices?

(9) Folate, and vitamins B6 and B12 are the Mighty Methylators. Don’t slack on these nutrients.

(10) It was difficult to choose the topic of my final post. I can easily create more guidelines for brain health that I didn’t cover in detail already. Two topics were covered in the Phi Theta Kappa group before I took over writing the rest of the series. These foods were berries and organic (virgin) coconut oil. I’ll elaborate on these in the near future. This last post is about foods that help us sleep better.


Sleep Promotion!

I don’t want to get too off-topic with promoting sleep (actually I do, but I won’t), because this series is about foods that help your brain function. However, I’m a HUGE FAN of sleep! I’m an ENTHUSIASTIC PROMOTOR of sleep! Sleep is a cure-all. You cannot over-emphasize the importance of rest, although you can sleep too much, but that is not a problem many people have. People do not get enough sleep and that’s why I believe many of us are not doing our best on a regular basis.

Sleeping well helps us to function better. It increases attention, focus, memory and mood. You’re familiar with this, I bet.


When you don’t get enough sleep, what happens? 

You forget your lunch, your cell phone, or your wallet. You forget to make an important call. You may even leave your garage door open. You go to work and find a stain on your clothing that you didn’t see when you got dressed in a blur. You cannot remember a word, a task, or an event. You’re crabby or zoned out. You misspell things. Your head literally aches. You’re not super motivated. You have difficulty concentrating. You under-perform on an exam, presentation or other important work task. Chronic sleep deprivation can cause severe emotional and personal issues.

Awhile back, I wrote a big, long list of tips for getting more sleep and getting better sleep.

In the meantime, remember that prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids don’t address the root cause of sleeping disorders. The cool thing is that you can use food choices to influence sleep quality in a major way.


Sleep-promoting Nutrients

There are certain nutrients that govern our brain’s sleep center. They are the B vitamins, calcium, magnesium (the “relaxation” mineral), tryptophan (an amino acid) and melatonin, a brain chemical than can be produced from tryptophan.

Best Foods for Sleep

100% Cherry Juice is a top melatonin-containing food. Cherries can help to improve sleep quality and duration. Remember, though, that no food can ensure better sleep if you are practicing any behaviors that take away from good sleep, like staring at a screen all evening.

Chicken contains a ton of tryptophan. This amino acid produces serotonin, which helps us to relax and feel sleepy. Have a little bit for a late-night snack if you have trouble falling asleep.

Pumpkin seeds are rich in magnesium, and they also have tryptophan. If you’re low in magnesium, as many people are, you may have trouble getting a good night’s sleep.

Walnuts also have nutrients that support a relaxed nervous system; folate, melatonin, omega-3 fats and vitamin E. Research shows the melatonin in walnuts is very well absorbed. Eat 1-2 tablespoons an hour before bed.

In general, carbohydrate-rich foods can help you get your zzzzz’s when you eat them an hour or so before bed. Choose carbohydrates that do not have added sugar, and make it a small portion. A top choice would be a small baked potato or sweet potato. Choose a real food with at least a few grams of fiber.



* Staying up late (just because you want to). This is one of my problem areas. The later I stay up — to read, write, etc — the hungrier I get. If I go to bed hungry, I wake up in the middle of the night because my tummy is grumbling.

* Eating too much. Don’t eat too large of a meal before you go to bed, and don’t eat too big of a breakfast after a poor night’s sleep. It will just make you more tired.

* Being overweight. People who are a healthier weight sleep better.

*Avoid alcohol and stimulants before bedtime. Alcohol interrupts your good REM sleep, which is the deepest level of sleep you need. Stimulants also interrupt sleep.

* Sitting around too much. People that exercise regularly get better sleep. This is another reason to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-high intensity exercise most days of the week.


What modification can you make to your daily routine, so that you can sleep better?