However, it’s becoming more and more apparent to me that how we fuel our body has a huge impact on both our physical and mental wellbeing, and our lifestyle in general.
I used to think that eating a healthy, well-balanced diet was simply a way to either lose weight or stay in great shape.
But, it appears that there’s a lot more to it.
I know from my own eating habits that certain foods can make me feel lethargic and I have also discovered later in life that I have a couple of food allergies.
Nothing major you understand, but I have definitely felt far more energetic ever since I removed dairy from my diet. But that’s just me.
So, today I would like to introduce you to 3 surprising (well to me anyway) foods that help you sleep.
Do Bananas Help You Sleep?
Having researched the effects of bananas on sleep I was left somewhat confused.
I typically eat bananas on a daily basis, but often before, during or after my morning workout. To me, bananas are a way to provide an energy boost, so this was much-needed to fuel or recover from my exercise exertions (well that was a tongue-twister, try saying that quickly 10 times in a row. Sorry, I digress).
However, my confusion around bananas came from the conflicting “expert” opinions I had read.
Okay, so I always assumed (before I had done any real research into the subject) that bananas were a great source of potassium.
My limited study of the effects of potassium on the body led me to believe that this would help to balance out fluids, nerve signals and muscle contractions.
I also knew that a lack of potassium could lead to cramps and my muscles feeling weak – not really what you want if you’re going to spend the next hour pumping iron.
With that being said, my research has led me in a somewhat new direction.
I’m not insinuating that bananas aren’t great for an energy boost, but it appears they can also aid sleep.
Bananas are a fantastic source of fiber, potassium and magnesium, which also allow the muscles of the body to relax.
They also contain the amino acid, tryptophan, which helps the body produce serotonin (the happy hormone) and melatonin (the sleep hormone).
Nevertheless, I’m now also aware that fiber, potassium and magnesium will provide a gradual release of energy, which will explain why they’re so popular with fitness enthusiasts.
So, basically bananas help to prevent muscle cramps and spasms and slowly deliver energy, whilst at the same time they release both the happy and sleepy hormones and help you relax!
Do you see why I’m a little confused?
Being from the UK, this goes a long way to explain why barring Andy Murray, we have never produced a decent tennis player in my lifetime. It’s all the confusion around eating bananas in between games and sets I tell you.
As I see it, bananas can best be described as a “super-food” because they provide benefits in terms of both energy and sleep.
With this being the case, I think the only confusion is when is the best time of the day to eat bananas.
I guess you could say there’s a little bit of controversy about when the best time is to eat bananas. However, as they help the body to produce melatonin, I see no problem with eating them within an hour or two of going to sleep.
I mean, let’s face the facts, they’re a lot healthier and less likely to keep you awake than say snacking on a chocolate bar or a massive, greasy pizza a couple of hours before bedtime.
I think it’s important to understand that the body does need to be “fueled” in order to sleep anyway. This is because the brain actually does a lot of work while we sleep and it requires energy to do this.
The brain will take this energy from the liver’s glycogen stores. The liver’s glycogen stores will typically take around 8-10 hours to be depleted, as they feed both the brain and the body (this is also why we are always told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day – you need to top up those glycogen stores again).
If the brain doesn’t have sufficient energy this generally sets off a chain reaction of events, including decreased blood sugar levels, increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and this is why we often wake up in the middle of the night feeling absolutely ravenous.
So, my suggestion would be that a banana, possibly mixed with Greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey, would be a perfect evening, post-dinner snack.
How Do Cherries Help You Sleep?
Cherries happen to be one of few natural food sources of melatonin, which as I’ve mentioned is the hormone that controls our internal body clock and regulates sleep.
Cherries are a fantastic source of potassium, calcium, vitamin A, and folic acid. They also have great antioxidant properties.
This is especially true of tart cherries, which are most commonly used to bake cherry pies.
A portion is approximately 14 cherries and should be eaten an hour or two before bed. They will naturally raise your blood sugar levels and make you feel sleepy.
The main problem with cherries is that they are out of season for much of the year, which is why tart cherry juice is often lauded as an ideal way to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Tart cherry juice contains less sugar than ordinary cherry juice.
A study was conducted by the European Journal of Medicine in October 2012 and their findings showed that tart cherry juice helps to improve the quality of sleep, the duration of sleep, and could even reduce the need for napping during the day.
The study followed 20 men and women, aged 18-40, for a period of 7 days. The participants received a drink twice daily, one upon awakening and the other just before bed.
Certain members of the study received a drink that comprised 1 ounce of tart cherry juice mixed with a pint of water, whereas the remainder of the study group were given a non-cherry fruit drink.
The participants’ sleeping habits were tracked over the week to see if there were any notable changes. Additionally, the entire study group had their urine sampled to check on the levels of melatonin present, and again to see if there were any changes to these levels as the week progressed.
The participants who received the tart cherry juice slept for an average of 39 minutes longer, they spent 6% more of their time in bed actually asleep, they had increased levels of melatonin, and they napped less during the day.
The people who drank the placebo drink for 7 days showed absolutely no changes in their sleeping habits whatsoever.
The study was then conducted once more, but this time swapping the two groups around, so the tart cherry juice drinkers received a placebo drink and vice versa.
Almost the exact same results were produced, which indicates that tart cherry juice does help to improve sleep quality, sleep duration, and that it increases the levels of melatonin in the body.
So, if you’re looking for a longer, deeper, and more peaceful night’s rest, then it appears that tart cherry juice and cherries in general are one of the best foods to help you sleep.
Surely Not – Kiwi Fruit To Help You Sleep
I must admit I have always loved kiwi fruit and I became an even bigger fan when I realized that they contained far more vitamin C than oranges, in fact nearly double the amount when you consume the same quantity of each.
However, I had never really considered their sleep-inducing qualities before.
I myself often eat kiwi fruit in the morning, either on its own or as part of a fruit salad, because I know it is a great antioxidant as well, so it can help to detoxify the body first thing in the morning.
The kiwi fruit is often listed as a “super-food” due to its antioxidant qualities which can boost heart health, respiratory function, the immune system and it can even enhance the protection and repair of the body’s cells.
It wasn’t until the Taipei Medical University in Taiwan studied the effects of eating kiwi on sleep that it became apparent that there is far more to this fruit than first meets the eye.
The study was conducted on 24 participants (22 women and 2 men), aged between 20 and 55. All the volunteers reported that they experienced some form of disrupted sleep.
The group was followed for a total of 4 weeks and consumed kiwi fruit on a daily basis. Data was collected as the participants completed a questionnaire based on sleep quality, kept sleep diaries, and they all wore wrist watches which also measured the quality and quantity of their sleep.
The results were actually quite astounding:
35% of the group found that the time it took them to fall asleep after going to bed improved dramatically.
29% reported that they slept more soundly, waking up far fewer times throughout the night than they normally did.
Lower scores on the sleep quality questionnaire meant that the participants enjoyed greater sleep quality, and 42% saw their scores decrease over the 4-week period.
There was a 5% increase in the time they spent sleeping when compared to the total amount of time they spent in bed.
The total amount of sleep time among the volunteers increased by 13%.
Obviously, further studies, and possibly larger ones, are required, but I find the results very intriguing.
There have been additional studies which seem to show that there is a link between reduced antioxidant levels and a poor quality of sleep.
So, it makes perfect sense that the high antioxidant properties of the kiwi fruit can be linked to a greater, improved sleep quality.
There are indeed many more foods that help you sleep than you can possibly imagine.
However, it seems that bananas, cherries and kiwi fruit may be an ideal place to start.
The reason I say this is because you won’t need to worry about recipes or cooking with certain ingredients, as these fruits can be eaten on their own or as part of a fruit salad.
They all provide many other health benefits as well, but if you are someone who suffers from insomnia or has real difficulty in sleeping then these fruits may just be the perfect tonic.