Foods rich in tryptophan, magnesium, calcium, vitamin B and those that boost serotonin and melatonin levels, are the best foods for insomnia.
How do you define insomnia? Insomnia (Nidranasha or Anidra) is the difficulty in initiating or maintaining sound sleep. It may involve waking up early without complete sleep and the inability to fall asleep again. It may also involve waking up with a feeling of tiredness and exhaustion.
Sleep (Nidra) plays a very important role in the mental and physical health of a healthy individual.1 According to Ayurveda one of the most important principles that one should follow to lead a healthy life is the principle of three sub-supporting pillars (Upastambha). Those are diet (Aahar), sleep (Nidra) and celibacy (Brahmacharya).2 The ancient Ayurvedic sage Acharya Sushruta mentioned the factors responsible for the loss of sleep. Those are, the increase in Vata Dosha and / or Pitta Dosha, mental disturbance, weakness or any injury.3
Traditionally, Ayurveda indicates consumption of the flesh of domestic and aquatic animals, meat of buffalo and buffalo milk for insomnia.4 Wheat, black gram, milk products like curd and ghee are also possible to alleviate insomnia.5 Fruits like grapes, preparations of jaggery and sugar and wine6 are also indicated for insomnia. Beyond these, several other foods can be consumed to support healthy sleep.
Here is a list of 21 foods along with research that proves their effectiveness. So you can enjoy a good night’s sleep, every night.
Want more tips for insomnia? Read ‘Sleep: Ayurvedic Home Remedies + 10 Tips To Improve Sleep‘.You may also benefit from a soothing shirodhara session, where warm herbal oil flows in a continuous stream over the forehead. And if you like to sip warm beverages, warm milk before bed, with the addition of ashwagandha, is also quite soothing. Establish a bedtime routine to prepare your mind and body for sleep, and include Ayurvedic oil massage as part of your wellness plan. Questions or comments? Leave them below! And before making any change to your wellness plan, consult with your health care provider.
Small doses of tryptophan (1g) may improve both sleep latency and sleep quality. This can be achieved by consuming approximately 300g (approximately one cup) of turkey.7
Approximately 200g of pumpkin seeds provides around one gram of tryptophan which helps in inducing better sleep.8 A study in the Journal of Research and Medical Science found that supplementation of 500mg of magnesium appears to improve insomnia in the elderly. That’s about ½ cup of pumpkin seeds and 1 cup of cooked leafy greens daily.
“Milk helps to control melatonin production since it is a great source of calcium, a mineral that plays a role in the regulation of melatonin in the body,” explains Palinski-Wade. “Milk is also rich in the amino acid tryptophan which has a calming effect on the body.”
Tryptophan in whole milk per quart is 732 mg and the relative availability of plasma tryptophan for crossing the blood-brain barrier (.081) is quite good for inducing sleep.9
According to Ayurveda, buffalo milk is heavy and unctuousness and helps in inducing sleep.10 In fact, warm milk is commonly recommended as an insomnia cure in many homes.
Yogurt also contains plenty of tryptophan and is a rich source of calcium, magnesium and vitamins B12 and B5 which induces sleep easily. People who experience discomfort by taking milk due to lactose intolerance can take yogurt or curd. The calcium present in it reduces wakefulness restlessness.
Magnesium enhances secretion of melatonin from the pineal gland, prevents nervousness and induces sleep. Vitamin B12 prevents confusion, dementia and fatigue. Vitamin B5 helps in reducing stress and anxiety.11
Along with tryptophan, tuna is high in vitamin B6, which your body needs to make melatonin and serotonin.12
Millet or ragi is a good source of tryptophan, calcium and iron. It is beneficial in conditions of anxiety, depression and insomnia.13
Oats, high in magnesium and potassium make a suitable evening food. Even the very nature of oatmeal (warm, soothing and soft) is indicative of sleep and calming. Oats are also high in tryptophan14 and are good source of carbohydrates.
They induce a release of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a “feel good” hormone that decreases stress and puts you in a much calmer state of mind and thereby helps in sleep. Moreover, oatmeal is usually taken with milk, which is one of the best-known relaxation drinks.
Cottage cheese is a perfect source of protein before bed since it contains slow-digesting casein proteins that will distribute the amino acids to the muscle tissues for hours to come. It is also enriched with calcium and tryptophan. Calcium present in cottage cheese helps the brain use the tryptophan to manufacture sleep-triggering melatonin.
Another food that should be consider if there is difficulty falling asleep is peanuts or natural peanut butter. Peanuts are a rich source of niacin, which is another nutrient that helps to increase the release of serotonin in the system. In a study on peanut plant extracts it is found that peanut stem and leaf extracts are reputed to aid sleep.16
Magnesium which is present in dark chocolate helps the cells to cope with the body’s circadian rhythm which is responsible for the different bodily functions such as sleeping, waking and temperature.
Chocolate counteracts the negative effects of sleep deprivation. A study shows the role of flavonoid-rich chocolate in counteracting the detrimental effects of sleep disorders.17
Dried prunes are high in magnesium18 which again helps in regularizing the sleep wake cycle. In studies, it is demonstrated that dried prunes are good in anxiety conditions.19
Recent studies demonstrated that consuming two kiwi fruits an hour before bedtime improves sleep in both the total sleep time as well as sleep efficiency.20 Kiwi is rich in tryptophan.
Avocado has high levels of folate and potassium which helps in production of the feel-good hormones serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine and regulates sleep.21
Banana is a good source of tryptophan, potassium, magnesium, serotonin, and melatonin, which helps to relax muscles and promotes sleep. They also contain vitamin B6, which improves sleep.
In a research study conducted by the University of Texas, it was found that walnuts are a good source of melatonin and tryptophan, so they help one to fall fast asleep.
“Try snacking on a small handful about 20 minutes before bed to help you relax and reach a deeper state of restful sleep,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat Diet For Dummies.
Almonds are the ideal nut to help you sleep. Almonds are rich in B vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium and potassium. These are nutrients that help regulate brain activity, relax the muscles and increase the secretion of sleep-inducing compounds such as melatonin.22
Lettuce has a sedative-hypnotic property and sleep-prolonging effect due to the presence of tryptophan. In a study on mice, it was observed that lettuce potentiates pentobarbital-induced sleeping behaviors. The sleep prolonging effect was comparable to that of one induced by diazepam and accompanied with no neuron toxicity.23
The white fluid that is visible when we cut lettuce leaves is called lactucarium. This fluid has relaxing and sleep inducing properties similar to opium but without the strong side effects. Simply eat a few leaves or drink some lettuce juice. Leafy vegetables like Swiss chard and Spinach are rich in magnesium and calcium and so are sleep friendly.24
The juice beverage prepared from tart cherries is beneficial in enhancing sleep in insomnia conditions. Drinking a glass of tart cherry juice in the morning and the evening is a better and a safer way to treat insomnia, adding nearly 90 minutes of sleep to your night.
Tart cherries are also a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle and tryptophan, an essential amino acid and a precursor of serotonin that helps in sleep.25 The anti-inflammatory properties of tart cherries are responsible for its mechanism of action in insomnia conditions.26
Germinated brown rice increases the sleep cycle giving deeper rest. It boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure and assists in the treatment of anxiety disorders.27 White rice also has tryptophan and a high glycemic index, which promotes sleep. Eating it will significantly slash the time it takes you to fall asleep.28
Relaxing Herbal Teas…
The dried flowers of chamomile contain many terpenoids and flavonoids which contribute to its medicinal properties. According to researchers, drinking this tea is associated with an increase of glycine, a chemical that relaxes nerves and muscles and acts like a mild sedative. An herbal tea preparation of chamomile is beneficial for insomnia. 29
Herbal tea made from the flower of passionfruit has a mild sedative effect and can help to induce sleep.
The root of the valerian plant, consumed in tea form is widely used for inducing sleep and improving sleep quality. Moreover, its sedative and anxiolytic properties have been proven by numerous studies.30
1 Tripathi Ravi Dutta Astanga Samgraha revised edition by Chaukhambha Sanskrit Pratisthan Delhi Sutrasthan, 1999; 9(41): 197.
2 Charaka Samhita Sutra Sthana chapter 11 verse 35.
3 Trikamji J. Sushrutha Samhita with Ni-bandha Sangraha commentary of Sri Dalhanacharya. Edn 6, Chauk-hamba Orientalia, Varanasi, 1997, topic no.4, verse no.42, 359.
4 Acharya YT. Charaka Samhita with Ayurveda Deepika Teekha of Chakrapani Dutta. Choukhambha Sanskrit Sansthan, Varanasi, 2011, 119.
5 Misra SB. Bhavaprakasha Vol 2, Edited with Vidyotini commentary. Edn 8, Chaukhambha Sanskrit Sansthan, Varanasi, 2003, 190.
6 Padakara HSS. Ashtanga Hridaya with Sarvanga Sundari Commentary by Arunadatta and Ayurveda Rasayana of Hemadri. Edn 9, Krishnadas Academy, Varanasi, 2005, 143.
7,8,12,14,15,28 Shona L. Halson Sleep in Elite Athletes and Nutritional Interventions to Enhance Sleep PMCID: PMC4008810
9 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908021/table/t1-ijtr- 2-2009- 045/
10 Charaka Samhita sutrasthana 27 verse 219 with Ayurveda Deepika Teekha of Chakrapani Dutta. Choukhambha Sanskrit Sansthan, Varanasi
11 Parle Milind et al. Curd: A sedative with the bonus ball of useful sideeffects irjp ISSN 2213-8407
13 T.P.Mall MILLETS-THE NUTRIMENTAL POTENT ETHNO-MEDICINAL GRASSES: A REVIEW World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research SJIF Impact Factor 5.990 Volume 5, Issue 2, 495-520.Review Article ISSN 2277– 7105
16 XIAOYAN ZU et.al.Sedative effects of Arachis hypogaea L. stem and leaf extracts on sleep-deprived rats PMCID: PMC3786996
17 Grassi D Flavanol-rich chocolate acutely improves arterial function and working memory performance counteracting the effects of sleep deprivation in healthy individuals. 2016Jul;34(7):1298308.doi:10.1097/HJH.0000000000000926PubMed
18 Siddiq M. Plums and prunes. In: Hui Y. H., editor. Handbook of Fruits and Fruit Processing. Iowa City, Iowa, USA: Blackwell Publishing Professional; 2006. pp. 553–564.
19 Raj K. Keservani Medicinal Effect of Nutraceutical Fruits for the Cognition and Brain Health PMCID: PMC4757744
20 Lin HH, Tsai PS, Fang SC, Liu JF. Effect of kiwi fruit consumption on sleep quality in adults with sleep problems.Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2011;20:169–74
21 Pavan Chaudhary AVOCADO: THE HOLISTIC SOURCE AS A NATURAL DOCTOR World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research SJIF Impact Factor 5.990 Volume 4, Issue 8, 748-761. Review Article ISSN 2277– 7105
22,24 Rashmi Sharma Nutrients Helpful To Cure Sleep Disorders International Journal of Science and Research (IJSR)
23 Ahmad Ghorbani Potentiating Effects of Lactuca sativa on Pentobarbital-Induced Sleep PMCID: PMC3813237
25 Lui AG et.al"Tart Cherry Juice Increases Sleep Time in Older Adults with Insomnia & presented at Experimental Biology 2014San Deigo CA, April 28,2014.
26 WR, Carr M et.al. Effects of a Tart Cherry Juice Beverage on the Sleep of Older Adults with Insomnia: A Pilot Study Pigeon Gorman C, Perlis ML. J Med Food. 2010 Jun;13(3):579-83. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2009.0096.PMID:20438325
27Swati Bhauso Patil Germinated brown rice as a value added rice product: A review PMCID: PMC3551059
29 Janmejai K Srivastava,Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future PMCID: PMC2995283 NIHMSID: NIHMS250193
30 Stephen Bent, MD et. al Valerian for Sleep: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, PMCID: PMC4394901 NIHMSID: NIHMS455706
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