Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fighting Insomnia: Foods for Sleep

A while back I was battling a bad case of insomnia. It was affecting my job, my music, and my social life. In addition, this was making me depressed. However, I did not want to simply take sleeping pills (which come with side effects) without first taking a look at my diet. Since then I have not taken sleeping pills, and my sleep has improved - largely from changing my diet and cutting back on my hectic schedule. After experimenting with different foods, I mostly removed caffeine and alcohol from my diet, I cut back on processed sugars (while natural sugar such as sugar in raw fruits are healthy, sugars in soda and candy are not), and I began eating more fresh green vegetables, especially before bed. After reading some studies (linked to below), I found that the relaxing properties in these foods were mainly due to their rich amounts of chlorophyll, potassium, magnesium and calium.


"Vegetables rich with chlorophyll, the green pigment of plants, is said to contain an opium-related substance, a natural sleep aid, along with traces of the anti-cramping agent hyoscyarnin. Lettuce is a chlorophyll-rich food that has a long-standing reputation for promoting healthy sleep. Mixed with a little lemon juice for flavor, lettuce juice is an effective sleep-inducing drink highly preferable to the synthetic chemical agents in sleeping pills" (link).

Some examples of chlorophyll rich foods include lettuce, kale, spinach, broccoli, celery and cucumber. 


According to one study completed by the Department of Psychiatry, University of California-San Diego, potassium was found to improve sleep patterns. "Potassium significantly increased actigraphic Sleep Efficiency...The results may indicate an improvement in sleep consolidation with potassium supplementation" (link).

Below is a list of foods that are rich in potassium:
Potassium Rich FoodsWeight (g)MeasurePotassium Content
Spinach301 Cup167 mg
Celery1101 Cup286 mg
Raw, baby carrots101 medium24 mg
Raw Lettuce101 leaf19 mg
Raw Onions141 slice20 mg
Fresh Strawberries121 strawberry18 mg
Raw Garlic31 clove12 mg
Honey211 tablespoon11 mg
Raw Radishes4.51 radish10 mg
Raw Peppers101 ring18 mg
White Bread231 slice17 mg
Papayas3041 papaya781 mg
Lima Beans1881 cup955 mg
Plantains1791 medium893 mg
Jerusalem Artichokes1501 cup644 mg
Bananas1181 banana422 mg
Oat Bran941 cup532 mg
Tomatoes2551 cup528 mg
Cucumber3011 large442 mg
Cantaloupe1601 cup427 mg
Pears2751 pear333 mg
Mangoes2071 mango323 mg


"Your calcium intake may be almost as important to blood pressure as your sodium intake," says Gene Spiller, Ph.D., the director of the Health Research and Studies Center in Los Altos, Calif., and co-author of Calcium: Nature's Versatile Mineral (Avery, 2000). He explains that an adequate supply of calcium helps muscles--including your heart muscle--do their work of contracting and relaxing. Calcium also appears to help your nervous system regulate the level of pressure in your arteries (link).

Below is a list of foods that are rich in calcium:

note - While milk and cheese are high in calcium, they do not contain high amounts of chlorophyll, magnesium and potassium. As a result, if you include dairy in your diet, you may want to eat dairy earlier in the day,
focusing instead on raw, fresh fruits and vegetables later in the day.

Milk - 244 milligrams per cup
Mozzarella Cheese - 203 milligrams per 56 grams
Apricots - 117 milligrams per 4 apricots
Salmon - 91 milligrams per 100 grams
Baked beans - 72 milligrams per cup
Almonds - 62 milligrams per 12 almonds
Celery - 44 milligrams per 110 gram serving
Walnuts - 38 milligrams per 12 halves
Broccoli - 34 milligrams per cup
Spinach - 30 milligrams per 30 gram serving


According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, "Symptoms of magnesium deficiency may include agitation and anxiety, restless leg syndrome, sleep disorders, irritability, nausea and vomiting, abnormal heart rhythms, low blood pressure, confusion, muscle spasm and weakness, hyperventilation, insomnia, poor nail growth, and even seizures" (link).

Many additional studies have confirmed the importance of magnesium in sleeping. "A high magnesium, low aluminum diet has been found to be associated with high-quality sleep time and few nighttime awakenings, and magnesium supplementation has been reported to reduce sleep latency and result in uninterrupted sleep" (link).

Foods High in MagnesiumServing SizeMagnesium (mg)
Spinach, cooked1 cup157
Spinach, raw2 Cup (60 g)48
Celery2 Cup24
Beans, black1 cup120
Broccoli, raw1 cup22
Nuts, peanuts1 oz64
Plantain, raw1 medium66
Rockfish1 fillet51
Scallop6 large55
Seeds, pumpkin and squash1 oz (142 seeds)151
Soy milk1 cup47
Whole grain cereal, ready-to-eat3/4 cup24
Whole grain cereal, cooked1 cup56
Whole wheat bread1 slice24

Click here to check out my other sleeping tips!


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