I was looking up some relaxing food on the web today and of course the competition for my attention is rampant. Every website is clawing its way up the Google search engine (as for some reason there is now only one search engine...?) in order to grab my clicking actions and I wind up at a site that at least has some information (which is more than I can say for clicking on the average Twitter link) but as soon as I arrive at the website I am stuck with a very loud video which I cannot find a way to stop. I scroll down in the hope that it will silence this intrusive noise only to see that it starts another video. All of this whilst I am trying to read about the benefits of eating walnuts before going to bed? I just don't see how any of this adds-up when you are trying to help people relax.
Online magazines that should be helping me find what I need as easily as possible are now abusing their Google ranking by trying to trick me into clicking on adverts at every turn and I have to click a 'next' button after every single item in a '15 foods to...' list. Hopeless.lt I have sifted through some information on various sites and have been trying out a few and here is a quick word on the food that helps a middle aged man relax in an increasingly crazy world...
Firstly it is worth noting that the the overall picture does seem to indicate that the further along the pescatarian/vegetarian/vegan path you tread, the more relaxing foods you find. The vegan diet is a much more relaxing diet in the main part than the full-on omnivore diet as you tend to be eating natural foods rather than a prefabricated meal in which preservatives etc. have been added to keep the cheese intact as long as the pasta etc. In general, anything that contains string fat which requires enzymes to break down will not be helping you sleep, regardless of how exhausted it may make you feel whilst digesting it.
Let us start with a few essential facts...
The body has evolved on planet Earth which operates (more or less) over a twenty-four hour cycle. Unsurprisingly the human body as evolved around this cycle and biologists refer to this as the circadian rhythm. This rhythm is regulated by two opposing forces that navigate you between sleep and wakefulness. The force for sleep is obviously accumulative, and increases throughout the day bringing on tiredness in the evening when it is time to sleep, rather like an hour glass filling up with sleepiness throughout the day. A chemical named adenosine builds up during this process and may well be the drug we use to send ourselves to sleep. Adenosine is broken down with the process of sleeping which accounts for why sleeping reduces the feelings of tiredness (eventually in my case) upon waking.
When your body receives certain activity throughout the day, such as bright light in the morning and darkness in the evening, it reacts by releasing different chemicals. Melatonin, for instance, is associated with sleep and is actually present in some foods. When your body senses that the day is getting darker it releases melatonin into your bloodstream which is a hormone also associated with sleep. The amount of melatonin in your bloodstream increases throughout the day and has been proved to make you feel drowsy. The melatonin in your body peaks during the evening whilst you prepare yourself for sleeping and may well be an important part of transitioning into sleep. Just as darkness brings on melatonin, bright light can disrupt this process, so beware of bright screens and lights throughout the evening as this may hinder your sleep preparation process.
By contrast your body also has a wake-up hormone, called cortisol. Cortisol prepares us for waking up on reception of indicators such as bright lights and birdsong etc. This is a natural way of awakening yourself rather than six cups of coffee so do bear in mind that perhaps waiting to see how you feel in thirty minutes may be an alternative to a visit to the coffee shop...
Caffeine is a drug which affects us throughout the day and is something to be avoided after early evening when melatonin levels are increasing.
Walnuts are a good source of tryptophan which is an amino acid associated with sleeping well as it helps your body manufacture serotonin and melatonin. Research suggests walnuts may contain their own source of melatonin, which should also allow you to fall asleep more easily. Green leafy vegetables such as kale are loaded with calcium, which helps the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin. Spinach and mustard greens are other good options for calcium which has other helpful effects as you can read about below...
It has long been said that a serving of warm milk or cocoa can make you sleepy, but it has been shown that dairy product can help. Calcium (found in cheese, yogurt, milk and most of all fried whitebait) helps the brain use the tryptophan found in dairy foods to manufacture sleep-triggering melatonin. Calcium can also regulate muscle movements and avoid twitches or restlessness that may contribute to waking during the night.
Almonds are rich in magnesium, a mineral catalyst for quality sleep (and also an element which is considered to hold properties that relieve headaches). Some studies have shown that when the body’s magnesium levels are too low, it makes you less likely to sleep soundly.
Lettuce has historically been associated with sleeping. In ancient England they would boil lettuce in water before adding a sprig of mint and then drink before bedtime to encourage sleep; lettuce contains lactucarium, which has sedative properties and affects the brain similarly to opium. A nice salad with any meal is always a good idea as there are other enzymes in fruits and vegetables, such as pineapple and passionfruit that help you break up your food, helping you feel more relaxed prior to sleeping.
Surprisingly, sugars aid sleep, and so eating carbohydrates such as rice-crackers or potato or corn crisps give a natural spike in your blood sugar and insulin levels, shortening the time it may take you to enter sleep. Steady levels of blood sugar and insulin help avoid mood swings and insulin resistance but do aid rest. Blood sugar and insulin allow tryptophan into your brain which will encourage sleep. Crustaceans like shrimp or lobster are another good source of tryptophan if you are not keen on crisps or wish to avoid carbohydrates in your diet.
Part of the process of manufacturing melatonin and serotonin requires vitamin B6 and so foods high in vitamin B6 can also aid sleep. Salmon, halibut, and tuna all contain high levels of vitamin B6. Other suggestions for good levels of B6 include pistachio nuts and raw garlic. I often have a mediterranean fish soup for dinner with a little corn bread which is high in garlic and all of the right fish and find sleeping comes very easily afterward.
White rice has a high glycemic index, in particular jasmine rice, which is another great accompaniment for tuna, salmon or halibut stews. Chilli increases your metabolism though and can bring on sour feelings in your stomach throughout the night which may cause you to wake early or find difficulty in going to sleep so take it easy!
Cherries, particularly tart cherries, naturally boost levels of melatonin and can be added to a variety of puddings and salads to make them more exciting.
Sipping a cup of chamomile tea will help you sleep. According research, drinking the tea increases levels of glycine, a chemical that relaxes nerves and muscles, a bit like a mild sedative.
Drinking a cup of passionfruit tea before bed helps you sleep more soundly. Researchers believe that Harman alkaloids, which are chemicals found in high levels in passionfruit flower will act on your nervous system in a way that will help you feel tired.
The natural sugar found in honey slightly raises insulin and allows tryptophan to enter the brain more easily, a spoonful before bed or mixed with chamomile tea could help you have a more restful night.
Chickpeas are also a good source of tryptophan, so a light lunch of hummus and whole-grain crackers, which will help the tryptophan reach the brain just as corn chips or other carbohydrates will, could be a good way to relax you and aid you falling asleep.
A bowl of your favorite flakes before bed could help you get better sleep as well. As described earlier, the snack combines two components that aid sleep: carbohydrates from the cereal and calcium from the milk...