Is it just us or is everyone sleep-deprived these days? There's a lot you can do to up your chances of getting a great night's rest. With that in mind, we surveyed some of the nation's best functional medicine practitioners, asking them to share the one food they recommended for optimal sleep. The shocking answer that came back time and again? A lowly baked potato. Read on to find out exactly why, and their other picks as well.
My food of choice for a good night's sleep is a baked potato. Research shows that diets high in saturated fat and sugar and low in fiber (think processed and junk foods containing meats, cheeses, and white breads like a pepperoni pizza) are associated with lighter and less restorative sleep. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates and starch-based foods like pasta, rice, and potatoes without butter or coconut oil facilitate sleep. The foods with complex carbohydrates stimulate the release of serotonin that calms the brain. High-protein foods, whether meat or beans, do the opposite. Remember, one potato, two potato, three potato, snore.
Before I go into what I eat for a great night's sleep, let me tell you what I don't eat and what will surely interfere with the quality of your sleep. If you want to have sound sleep, then in the evening you have to avoid alcohol, sugar, and caffeine. You may say, "Well I get sleepy after a glass of wine," and this may be true, but the effect is transient and only lasts for half of the night, while during the second half it interferes with REM, leading to an unsatisfactory night's rest. In addition, the drop in your blood sugar that inevitably will happen an hour or two later after a drink will interrupt your sleep as well. So, now that you know what to avoid if you want an amazing night's sleep, what do I eat to improve sleep quality? It starts with a well-balanced dinner more than three hours before bedtime, because you can't sleep well on a full stomach. With my dinner, I get the right proportion of macro-nutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates) in order to provide steady energy throughout the night's fast. I like to divide the plate in quarters: ¼ protein, ¼ healthy omega-3 fat, and ½ complex carbohydrates (mostly greens). One specific food on my favorites list for a great night's sleep is a baked sweet potato. They are rich in potassium, which helps your muscles relax. They also have magnesium, which promotes GABA secretion in the brain—a relaxation-inducing neurotransmitter. As a complex carb, they digest slowly, providing the steady energy your body needs to make it through the night in a fasting state. And their vitamin B6 content becomes a co-factor for a number of important chemical reactions in the brain, including serotonin and melatonin production—the sleep-inducing hormone.
Rooibos tea + adaptogens (and another vote for potato!)
My ritual for a good night's sleep is some calming rooibos tea with a teaspoon of Dream Dust from Moon Juice. Also, having a healthy starch and fat in the evening can put the body in sleepy mode. Think: sweet potato drizzled with some avocado oil.
When I have trouble sleeping, I like to eat one handful of raw, unsalted almonds. These nuts are high in Vitamin B6 and tryptophan which support the neurotransmitter serotonin. Low levels of serotonin can prevent us from falling asleep and staying asleep. Almonds are a natural way to boost mood and increase serotonin for a restful night's sleep.
To set myself up for a great night of sleep, I eat a handful of sprouted almonds. Almonds contain fat and protein, to give us stable blood sugar throughout the night, magnesium, which promotes the relaxation response, and tryptophan, which may promote melatonin production and sleepiness. I prefer to eat almonds that have been sprouted because this deactivates something called phytic acid. This way you have a better shot at absorbing all the nutrients in the almonds.
To boost my sleep I eliminate caffeine from my diet. I also make sure to get plenty of magnesium. That is easy for me. I have a plate of salad greens or cooked greens every day. Or you can have a green smoothie using parsley and green grapes. Another option for getting more magnesium, though this is not something to eat, is to take an Epsom salt soak in the evening before bed. It lowers stress hormones, improves magnesium levels, and improves your sleep (and the sulfur improves your detoxification pathways). A couple of drops of lavender essential oil in the bath water is a lovely addition. Finally, I enjoy a cup or two of chamomile tea with supper and/or after supper in the evening. I often put in a bit of coconut milk and a touch of cardamom or nutmeg. It is a delicious top to my evening meal.