We all know that a healthy diet rich in good fats and leafy greens will improve our brain function (especially this) and boost our energy levels, but are you aware that certain foods can also improve your sleep and reset your REM cycle? If you're feeling tired all the time, it might be time to reconsider your evening meals and incorporate some of these common pantry items to your grocery cart.
To improve your sleep hygiene and become a cleaner sleeper (yes, that's really a thing, and it's Gwyneth-approved), we tapped holistic nutritionist Sarah Britton, BFA, CNP, founder of My New Roots, and author of cookbooks My New Roots and Naturally Nourished, who has made a career of helping people improve their physical, nutritional, emotional, and physical lives through food. Ready to start sleeping better? Try these foods for sleep and ramp up your slumber to the maximum dream state.
MD: What are the major food culprits that threaten sleep? What should we stop eating?
SB: Anything with caffeine is obviously not a great choice before bed, but some people are more affected by it than others, so with that one, it’s on a person-to-person basis. Large, complicated meals, however, that include many different foods and food groups are more challenging for the body to digest. So keeping the evening meal simple and light is optimal for achieving rest. I think the thing that threatens sleep the most is habits.
MD: What is a medicinal yet common pantry item we can keep on hand to encourage a happy, healthy sleep?
SB: Chamomile tea is a fantastic all-natural sedative. The important thing to remember with chamomile is to cover the cup or teapot when you are steeping the tea. All medicinal herbs contain volatile oils, which are responsible for their influential properties. When you steep tea without covering the cup or using a teapot, the volatile oils will escape in the steam, rendering the herb much less effective.
I put a plate on top of my mug for 10 to 15 minutes, remove the tea infuser (I recommend dried, organic whole chamomile flowers as opposed to tea bags, as the quality is much higher), then enjoy. The tea stays hot this way, and you’ll be taking advantage of those beneficial oils that promote relaxation and better sleep.
MD: What are your top five sleep-inducing foods we should all incorporate into our diets now?
SB: Bananas, dates, figs, whole grains, nut milk, and nut butter all contain tryptophan, a sleep-enhancing amino acid. Choosing to eat these foods in the afternoon or evening can help us get to sleep faster and promote a better night’s rest. Foods high in calcium (sesame seeds, collard greens, and spinach) and foods high in magnesium (pumpkin seeds and quinoa) help to prevent us from waking up in the middle of the night.
MD: What are some of the biggest health myths around food and sleep that you would like to debunk?
SB: I think the most important myth to debunk is that chocolate contains caffeine. I don’t know where this rumor began, but it is heavily ingrained in people. In actual fact, chocolate contains an alkaloid called theobromine, which is chemically related and has a similar molecular structure to caffeine, but it is an entirely different stimulant.
Theobromine increases the feelings of well-being, instead of feelings of alertness, so chocolate is totally fine to enjoy in the evening (up to two hours before bedtime). In fact, raw cacao’s high concentration of magnesium—a natural muscle relaxant—is the perfect treat to enjoy in the evening to help calm and relax your body.
MYDOMAINE: According to Goop, clean sleeping is the new clean eating. What do you think of this concept? Is it achievable?
SARAH BRITTON: “Clean sleeping,” from what I understand, is simply optimizing sleep for the benefit of overall health. This is a great idea but not a new concept! Proper, deep rest (about eight hours a night for most adults) is essential for our entire system to function at peak efficiency during the day and to help us feel and look our best. This can be achieved if we follow some simple guidelines before turning out the lights.
1. Try to go to bed at the same time every night to establish a routine.
2. Ensure that the room is dark and quiet.
3. Ensure that the room is a comfortable temperature, not too hot or cold.
4. Invest in a comfy bed.
5. Address any physical problems or discomfort (e.g., heartburn, menopausal hot flashes, arthritis, headaches, or back pain) that make sleeping difficult.
6. Exercise during the day, but not within three hours of going to bed.
7. Do not drink alcohol before going to bed.
8. Do not drink caffeinated beverages in the afternoon or evening.
9. Do not work in bed or just before going to bed.
10. Turning all screens off (TV, computer, tablet, phone) at least 60 minutes before closing your eyes is critical. The light from a screen signals to the brain that it’s still daylight and therefore our bodies will not yet be producing the sleep hormones we need to fall into deep rest.
Try the delicious My New Root’s recipe below and start sleeping better this weekend.
My New Roots: Delicious Valentine Rawlos Recipe for Better Sleep
Yield: 15 8-ml chocolates
Ingredients for raw chocolate:
1/4 cup (60 ml) coconut oil, melted
1 1/2 tbsp. (20 g) cacao butter, melted
2 1/2 tbsp. raw honey or maple syrup
4 1/2 tbsp. (30 g) raw cacao powder
1/8 tsp. sea salt
Ingredients for caramel:
1/4 cup (55 g) pitted dates (soak dates in warm water if they are firm, then drain)
2 tbsp. maple syrup
Sea salt, to taste
In a double boiler or heatproof bowl over a simmering saucepan of water, melt cacao butter and coconut oil. Remove from heat and whisk in honey until incorporated. Sift in cacao powder and salt (to avoid lumps) and whisk to combine until smooth.
In each chocolate mold, spoon in some of the liquid chocolate. Tilt the mold so that it coats the sides. Place in the freezer to set for about 10 minutes.
In a food processor, blend dates and maple syrup until smooth. Add as much salt as desired, blend, and taste.
Remove the chocolates from the freezer. Spoon a little of the caramel into each mold on top of the set chocolate. Spoon remaining liquid chocolate over top, covering the caramel completely. Place back in the freezer to set. Wait until the chocolate is totally firm before taking it out of the mold, at least 1 hour.
Remove from mold and place chocolates in a tightly sealed container in the freezer for one month (or store them in the mold and remove just before serving). Do not store chocolates at room temperature for more than 1 hour.
What foods do you swear by for a better night's sleep? Are there some ingredients you always steer clear of? Shop Britton's new book, Naturally Nourished, below and start cooking your way to better sleep.