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Foods That Help You Sleep

Yep, food plays a key role in sleep. Certain foods interfere with how well we sleep (hello alcohol and caffeine) while others encourage deeper, more restorative sleep. Don't worry I'm going to share what they are further down.

Melatonin is the naturally occurring hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. Our circadian rhythm or body clock, is the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that occur within most beings around a 24-hour cycle. As our eyes detect light or darkness through the retina, melatonin is manufactured by the pineal gland in our brain. More melatonin is produced with reduced light. In fact, levels increase by at least tenfold in the evening compared to in the daytime.

Melatonin is the precursor to serotonin, a well-known neurotransmitter that is derived from the amino acid tryptophan. We know that exposure to sunlight increases our serotonin and that our pineal gland in the brain converts it to melatonin as nighttime and darkness set in.

Why am I telling you all this?

Well, because we can also boost our melatonin through certain foods that are rich in this amino acid called tryptophan.

What is Tryptophan?

Tryptophan is referred to as an essential amino acid, which means our body can't make it – we must obtain it from our diet, through protein-rich foods.

Once consumed, tryptophan crosses your blood-brain barrier and is used to make serotonin in the brain. Without adequate levels of tryptophan in the brain, sleep can be a struggle. The challenge with shuttling tryptophan to your brain is that it has to compete with other amino acids for access to the limited number of channels that line your blood-brain barrier. Moreover, tryptophan tends to be outnumbered by other amino acids in natural foods.

The key to getting enough tryptophan to your brain for good sleep is to add tryptophan-rich foods to a carb-rich diet. Consuming healthy carbohydrates causes your body to release insulin, which diverts many other amino acids away from your brain. This leaves tryptophan with little competition to cross the blood-brain barrier so it reaches your brain more easily.

Tryptophan-rich Foods

Combine any of these with a healthy, carbohydrate-rich diet and you can promote both normal sleep onset and maintenance.

  • Bananas

  • Whole grains, esp. oats and barley

  • Dates

  • Lentils

  • Wheatgerm

  • Chickpeas

  • Walnuts

  • Cashews

  • Turkey

  • Wild-caught salmon and other seafood

  • Free range chicken

  • Free range eggs

  • Ground flax seeds

  • Sunflower seeds

  • Sesame seeds

  • Spinach

  • Miso or tempeh (fermented soybeans)

Combined Meal Ideas

  • An apple with 1 tbsp of cashew butter

  • A banana with your protein smoothie

  • Oat porridge with wheat germ and flax seeds

  • Brown rice with spinach and tempeh

  • Miso soup with 100% buckwheat soba noodles

  • Barley, spinach and lentil soup

  • Stewed apple, walnuts, cinnamon and tahini

  • Salmon, brown rice and miso

  • Brown rice with lentils and guacamole

  • Egg with a slice of sourdough toast

  • Brown rice noodles with turkey/chicken

Herbal Teas

Herbal teas can be considered a food right? Let's go with that. Because you know what, they're the perfect little addition to an evening routine. And, they truly assist the body to establish a healthy circadian rhythm. My fave herbal teas that help sleep are hops, californiian poppy, valerian, skull cap, passionflower and lavender. You're welcome :)

And just a gentle reminder - it's a no-brainer but caffeine stimulates wakefulness, so it’s best to keep cups of caffeinated tea or coffee to before midday. And regarding alcohol - it might help get you to sleep but it seriously messes with the quality of your sleep and will have you waking up in the early hours of the morning or preventing that deep restorative slumber.

Other Ways to Improve Sleep

If you still have trouble making enough melatonin or having a good night’s sleep, you will definitely benefit from some supplemental support. Our Kiyah Calm herbal formula is a gentle nervous system tonic that will assist you in developing healthy sleep habits.


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