Dr. Breus Guest Column: Cooking up a sleep-friendly diet in 2014

Dr BreusThere’s the old adage, “you are what you eat.” But it is also true that choosing the right foods can actually help you sleep better. Many of the foods that are most healthful to our bodies and our waistlines are also the foods that can help us sleep better. It’s not difficult to keep good sleep in mind when making good food choices as part of your resolutions this year.

Reach for these healthy, mineral-rich foods:

Magnesium is a mineral that functions to relax nerves and muscles and also promotes healthy circulation. Deficiencies of magnesium have been associated with several sleep disorders, including insomnia and restless leg syndrome. Foods high in magnesium are some of the most sleep-friendly foods around.

Bananas are a great source of magnesium. So are many other nutrient-rich, waist-friendly foods, including:

Fruits: avocados, berries and melons
Nuts and seeds: including cashews, almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, and nut or seed butters
Beans: black beans, tofu, soybeans
Whole grains: brown rice, wheat and oat bran

Potassium is another key mineral in the body that helps to relax muscles and nerves, as well as to promote healthy circulation and digestion. Research has shown a possible genetic link between potassium and slow-wave sleep. Slow-wave sleep, also known as delta sleep, is the deepest phase of our sleep cycle, the time when we get our most restorative sleep.

Bananas win again, as a great source of potassium as well as magnesium. Other healthy foods that contain high levels of potassium are:

Vegetables: leafy greens, mushrooms, tomatoes and cauliflower
Beans: including lima, soybeans, lentils, pinto and kidney beans
Fish: salmon, cod, and flounder
Citrus: especially in juice form, in sources like orange juice

Calcium is a mineral that plays a direct role in the production of melatonin, the “sleep hormone” that helps to maintain the body’s 24- hour sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin levels rise naturally during the night, helping promote sleep, and are suppressed during the day, allowing us to be alert and wakeful. Calcium, like magnesium and potassium, is also a natural relaxant in the body.

Dairy products are rich in calcium, and can be a good choice for a sleep-friendly evening snack.
Dark leafy greens: turnip greens, collards, spinach, mustard greens, kale
Nuts and seeds: Brazil nuts, almonds, sesame seeds
Soy: tofu, soymilk

Take your vitamins

Vitamin and mineral supplements can play an important role in helping maintain your health and your sleep. These are some of the best supplements for sleep:

Vitamin B. There are several supplements on the B spectrum that can boost your sleep. Vitamin B has been shown to promote REM sleep. Vitamin B6 helps the body to produce serotonin, which is known as the “calming hormone.”

Vitamin D. This supplement has made plenty of news in recent years, with much discussion of how deficiencies in Vitamin D can lead to depression, weight problems and difficulties with sleep. A study of veterans suffering from both chronic pain and Vitamin D deficiency found that Vitamin D supplements led to both reduction in pain and improvement to sleep and the veterans’ sense of well being.

There is no single magic bullet that can eliminate sleep problems—that is to say, switching to a bananas-only diet not only isn’t practical, it isn’t going to make your sleep troubles disappear. Creating and maintaining a strong sleep routine is about more than just what you eat— but eating well can surely help.

Visit www.thesleepdoctor.com.