Natural Sleeping Aids—Nutrients that help you sleep more soundly

February 2014 View more

iStock_000021982876LargeDo you  ever have a tough time falling asleep or staying asleep? Do you ever find yourself craving a nap every afternoon? You’re not alone. Sometimes a simple change in your diet may be the key to getting a solid slumber.

Tweak What You Eat

Instead of turning to your physician for a prescription, you may just need to tweak what you eat. Medical research has found that if you add a few key nutrients into your diet on a regular basis, you can greatly improve your sleep quality. And better sleep is important for your overall health. “If you don’t get enough sleep, that can throw all of our appetite hormones out of whack the next day. So hormones that are responsible for our hunger cues tend to be increased, so we feel hungrier when we haven’t gotten enough sleep,” said Clinical Nutritionist Jean Alves, Rush University Medical Center.

Key Nutrients For Better Sleep

Magnesium plays a key role in regulating sleep. Researchers say a magnesium deficiency can cause insomnia for some individuals. You can find this nutrient in dark, leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, beans and some fish. “I find nutrients minimally effective and rely much more heavily on herbal supplements. The one I find consistently beneficial is magnesium,” said Dr. Melinda Ring, Medical Director, Northwestern Integrative Medicine. Always check with your doctor if you have questions about starting supplements. “Magnesium and calcium deficiencies can contribute to anxiety, muscle cramps and imbalances in the nervous system interfering with sleep. These work in harmony so both nutrients together may be more helpful than on their own,” said Dr. Ring.

Potassium can help if you have trouble staying asleep throughout the night. “Potassium is actually linked to our muscles and how uptight or relaxed our muscles get. So not having enough potassium sometimes can make it difficult to fall asleep at night,” said Alves. We often think of bananas as a great source, but there are better options for potassium. Citrus fruits actually are great sources. In fact, an 8-ounce glass of orange juice gives you enough potassium for your whole day.

A 2012 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine tied a vitamin D deficiency to excessive daytime sleepiness. It can be tough to get enough of this important nutrient naturally from the sun this time of year, but vitamin D fortified dairy foods and fatty fish are excellent sources.

Healthy Habits

Sleep researchers have only started scratching the surface in exploring the relationship between what you eat and how well you sleep.

Experts remind us that large meals and too many fluids (especially alcohol) before bed can cause trouble falling asleep. Even greasy, fatty foods can upset the stomach enough to interfere with sleep. “Caffeine, including chocolate, is a stimulant to the nervous system and may also cause insomnia. People metabolize caffeine at different rates depending on the genetic form of the metabolic enzyme they carry, so what one person can tolerate causes jitteriness and insomnia in another,” said Dr. Ring.

Researchers do know that efficient sleep is critical to overall good health. Eating a well-balanced diet, high in fruits and vegetables is a great start to sweet dreams.

More Nutrients to improve your sleep quality:

LYCOPENE is a cancer-fighting antioxidant found in grapefruit, tomatoes, papaya and watermelon.
SELENIUM Find it in fish (halibut, tuna and cod) also shellfish, barley, turkey and nuts.
VITAMIN C Best sources are pineapple, strawberries, citrus fruits and bell peppers.

See more of CBS 2 Meteorologist Mary Kay Kleist’s reports here.