Maybe you're reading this article at 2AM, looking for a solution to help you naturally fall asleep?
Well, you're not alone.
According to a new survey from Consumer Reports, around 27% of adults claim to have issues falling asleep or staying asleep. Plus, 68%, or roughly 164 million Americans, have trouble with sleep at least once per week.
So, assuming counting sheep didn't cut it, how can you improve your sleep?
If you aren’t following a perfectly balanced diet (and who does?), you may not be getting all of the vitamins and nutrients you need to get a restful night.
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of vitamin C might be that it's beneficial for your immune system. You’re totally right!
However, that’s not all this super vitamin can do for you. In fact, studies suggest that those individuals who have particularly low levels of vitamin C can also experience occasional sleep disturbances (trouble staying asleep).
According to findings from the research, when low in vitamin C, you are also more likely to wake up sporadically throughout the night, which means you’re not getting the most restful sleep.
Kiwi and sleep? Kiwi may be a great bedtime snack. One study found that eating 2 kiwis one hour before bed promoted sleep time and sleep efficiency. Although the exact mechanism of action may not be known, kiwi’s sleep promoting properties may be related to its high vitamin C content. The recommended daily allowance of vitamin C for men is 90mg and 75mg for women. Green kiwi (100g) can have about 93 mg of vitamin C and the golden kiwi (100g) can have about 160mg of vitamin C!
If you are not getting enough vitamin C in your diet, from adequate fresh fruit and vegetable intake, adding a supplement of vitamin C to your daily routine may be one of the best ways to support your sleep. If your sleep challenges are chronic be sure to talk to your doctor as it may be a sign of a more serious underlying health issue.
You might think vitamin D would help wake you up instead of putting you to sleep, since you can get vitamin D from the sun, and the sun wakes you up bright and early.
In reality, research has shown that adequate vitamin D levels have been linked to the maintenance of good sleep. To get vitamin D, you can eat certain foods like fatty fish, beef liver, and fortified milk and cereal. Your body also naturally produces the vitamin through exposure to sunlight. However, a number of factors can impact the ability for you to get necessary levels including cloud cover patterns, smog, and the angle at which the sun hits the earth where you live. Over 70% of Americans get less than the recommended amount of vitamin D, so especially in the winter months, when there’s less sunlight, supplementation can be beneficial.
While melatonin has only now been making waves in the press recently, it’s been making waves in the brain for millennia.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring sleep hormone that aids in the regulation of the body’s circadian rhythm. That means it helps support your body’s normal wake-sleep cycle. Your hormones cycle throughout the day to manage the sleep-wake cycle. Normally melatonin levels are low in the morning upon waking and increase as your bedtime approaches. This is usually the opposite of cortisol (your stress hormone). The two are inversely related. Melatonin levels are low in the morning, cortisol levels are high and as melatonin increases at night, cortisol levels go down. Studies suggest that taking melatonin supplements can help you naturally fall asleep and have better, more restful sleep.
Studies show that up to 75% of Americans are consuming a magnesium-deficient diet but the mineral can actually be incredibly helpful for improving sleep quality and quantity. Magnesium supports two critical aspects of sleep: healthy melatonin production and muscle relaxation from temporary soreness. If your diet is lacking in magnesium, you may want to consider supplementation.
Intake of specific dietary minerals may impact sleep. Although you may normally think of bone health when you see calcium, a recent study that analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that a deficiency in calcium may contribute to a disruption in your REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep. Other studies have shown a sharp rise in calcium in the brain during REM sleep, which may also point to potential significance in sleep. More studies need to be done in order to fully understand calcium’s role in promoting sleep. As you may recall from your high school psychology class, REM is the deepest, most rejuvenative state of sleep where dreaming also occurs. Calcium also plays a role in muscle relaxation by helping with contractions. Low levels of calcium may result in muscle cramps because the muscles are not fully going through the process of contracting and relaxing.
You can find calcium in plenty of foods, including many dairy products as well as collard greens, kale, sardines, sesame seeds, and mustard. You can also easily boost your calcium levels by taking a supplement.
Even though vitamin B12 is thought to be more energizing, B12 may impact your sleep cycle too. This retrospective study looked back at surveys and blood nutrient values from 2,459 people and noticed a pattern in the individuals who reported experiencing shorter duration of sleep. They happened to have low levels of B12 in comparison to those who reported having optimal sleep. The exact reason is not known yet but some theorize that higher levels of stress may result in a higher demand for B12 to support the nervous system that regulates sleep. Sleep is a multi-faceted function in the body so more studies need to be done to elaborate the specific role B12 may play in maintaining sound sleep.
How can you ensure your levels of B12 are sufficient? Your diet is the best place to start. B12 can be found in meat, eggs, fish, and dairy products. Supplementation by vegan friendly vitamins is a strong option for those who don’t eat meat and follow a strictly plant-based diet.
Additional Sleep Supporting Herbs
Ashwagandha- Ashwagandha is a popular herb used in Ayurvedic medicine. It has been shown to support occasional stress and tension which may then support better sleep. Although the exact part of the herb that may be responsible for sleep is not well known. A preliminary study suggests that triethylene glycol which is found in the leaves may be one of the key compounds that support sleep. Keep in mind that Ashwagandha is non drowsy or sleep inducing (think chill pill).
Passion Flower-This flower is where passion fruit comes from. Passion flower supports mental calm in the body from occasional stress. Passionflower contains an active constituent called apigenin that has been shown to support sleep latency and duration for those with occasional sleep challenges due to mental stress.
Valerian-This herb has been shown to support healthy GABA levels. GABA is a neurotransmitter system that contributes to regular sleep patterns in healthy people. Valerian supports restlessness and irritability by promoting relaxation and restful sleep. Studies have shown that valerian may improve sleep quality and support sleep onset in those who may have temporary challenges with sleep from time to time due to normal everyday things such as stress.
Sleep blend is a formula that combines all 3 of the herbs listed above as well as melatonin to help relax the mind for better sleep.
There are so many minerals and vitamins that may play a role in occasional sleep challenges. Taking a reliable multivitamin can ensure you get all of the minerals and vitamins you need for proper sleep. If you are aware of a particular deficiency you have, you can also supplement your multivitamin with that specific vitamin or mineral.
Sleep and diet are deeply connected. The National Sleep Foundation recommends foods such as tart cherries which naturally contain melatonin. A randomized double blind placebo controlled study was done with 20 healthy individuals. Half the group was given a placebo beverage and the other was given tart cherry juice concentrate for 7 days. Urine samples were collected from both groups and those who consumed the cherry juice had higher levels of melatonin. The group that consumed the cherry juice reported improved total sleep time and sleep efficiency. The data collected suggested that tart cherry juice (not to be confused with black cherry juice) may be a great option for those who would like to promote healthy sleep.
Certain nuts, such as walnuts or almonds, are also beneficial as they offer heart-healthy fats and can give you a healthy dose of melatonin right before bedtime.
Other bedtime snacks to consider include fruits or whole grains as carbs, when paired with fats, have been shown to stimulate the transport of amino acids in the brain.
The National Sleep Foundation contends that the amount of sleep you need and the particular pattern you should follow depend on a couple of factors, the most impactful being your age. Teenagers typically need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep to feel well-rested, while adults need somewhere between 7 and 9 hours.
The National Sleep Foundation also recommends the following tips to promote sleep:
Additionally, research shows that it’s important to put away your devices like your phone, computer, and TV before bed as the blue light from these screens may trip up your circadian rhythm by suppressing melatonin — making it harder to fall asleep naturally.
REM sleep takes place just about 90 minutes after you’ve fallen asleep and it’s an essential state for dreaming. A quality night’s sleep will bring you through about 4 cycles of REM sleep. When REM occurs, your eyes, even though closed, move from side to side. As you get older, you spend less time in REM sleep, which can be problematic because REM is significant for memory formation and learning.
The same methods discussed earlier, including keeping a regular sleep schedule, preparing for bed, and eating a balanced diet can help support your REM sleep.