6 Surprising Foods that Make You Sleepy
No, turkey is not (fully) to blame
Yes, the big bird can make you tired, explains Bils, but a lot of it has to do with everything else on the Thanksgiving table.
“Turkey, along with a lot of foods, supplies an essential amino acid,” he says. “It’s something your body needs but can’t produce itself, so you have to get it through your dietary habits.”
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid found in turkey and chicken. First the body changes it into serotonin, which is a relaxing neurotransmitter, tells Bils, and then it changes that into melatonin, which is the hormone that regulates our sleep cycles.
“Other complex Thanksgiving food speeds up [tryptophan’s] metabolism into serotonin and melatonin,” Bils says.
“There are a lot of dietary items that we should eat on a regular basis that provide that tryptophan. It just so happens turkey is the most famous.”
Eats these foods for better Zzzs
According to Bils, a sizable list of foods have tryptophan. The list includes:
- Dried egg whites
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Atlantic cod
But the big winner is tart cherries, Bils notes, sharing that studies have shown they increase melatonin levels enough to give you longer sleep time and less tossing and turning.
“Also, there’s a flavonoid (one of the flavor enhancements) in cherries that actually increases tryptophan availability,” he adds.
The fruit also helps reduce inflammation, so it can act as a relaxant as well.
Other essential vitamins and minerals
As tryptophan breaks down into serotonin, it needs a lot of vitamin B6, which can be found in pistachios and bananas, notes Bils.
“That’s why pistachios are such a great food at night,” he comments. “In addition to B6, your body needs a lot of magnesium, and magnesium is an essential mineral, meaning your body can’t produce it — it has to come from your diet.”
Magnesium does a great job of increasing total sleep time, he tells. “It’s a relaxant, and it also increases melatonin levels so you fall asleep faster. It also decreases your cortisol at night. You want to have low cortisol at night to get great sleep.”
Another food that Bils likes to recommend for a nighttime snack: almonds, rich in both tryptophan and magnesium.
While all these foods don’t directly make you tired, they affect all of the processes in your body that help regulate sleep. Keep them balanced, and your sleep will also feel more balanced.
“If you have a balanced diet, your body already produces enough of what it needs,” he explains.
So pass the turkey and the cherry pie — and when your cousin jokes about you nodding off, this year you can blame it on the melatonin and the minerals. Not the turkey.
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Photo by Thomas Quaritsch on Unsplash