Supplement Your Sleep with These 5 Foods
By Allison Brager, O2X Sleep Specialist (PhD, Neuroscientist, U.S. Army) Author of Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain
In a perfect world getting a perfect eight hours of restorative sleep can be difficult. Even if you’re able to adopt a consistent nighttime and daytime schedule, your sleep may still be disrupted. In fact, we now know that the comprehensive state of sleep health in tactical populations is far from good; for example, greater than 70% of active duty military suffer from at least one sleep disorder (reviewed in Good et al. 2020).
Sleep disturbances begin early and are pervasive. A few years ago, O2X Sleep Specialist Dr. Tina Burke and I discovered that even some of the fittest athletes playing Division I collegiate football in our country suffer from at least one major sleep disturbance (Burke et al. 2019).
At O2X, we focus on food as medicine, and in the case of achieving restorative sleep, there is documented evidence that some foods can indeed promote restorative sleep. You’ll quickly learn that there was a reason why grandma always tried to give you a warm glass of milk before bed.
Ready to crush your day? Here are five foods you can try to improve sleep quality.
5 Foods to Improve Sleep Quality
- A glass of warm milk. In a recent publication by Qian et al. 2021, the researchers identified and screened for potential bioactive peptides with sleep-enhancing effects in cow’s milk. The protein known as casein tryptic hydrolysate (CTH) relieved stress and enhanced sleep in mice and may show therapeutic potential in humans.
- A glass of tart cherry juice. Tart cherry juice has been a recognized biohack adopted by elite athletes for the past decade. Tart cherry juice is a natural source of melatonin – the “hormone of darkness” that helps us fall and stay asleep. It has even shown promise in a clinical study of insomnia (Pigeon et al. 2010).
- A glass of beets (root) juice. If cherries are too sweet and if you are lactose-insensitive, don’t fret. Beets may suit your palate. A recent study in trained male athletes has found that beetroot juice can help to eliminate physiological fatigue and improve subsequent sleep through an indirect mechanism (Shamloo et al. 2018). With intense training, we accumulate lactic acid really quickly. But beets, through a unique physiological process, can help to eliminate the rapid accumulation of blood lactate during intense training. This, in turn, can help to eliminate sleep disturbances catalyzed by muscle fatigue and overexertion.
- Two kiwis. Kiwis have also been a recognized biohack adopted by elite athletes for the past decade. Kiwis are historically known to be a good source of antioxidants and serotonin – a neurochemical driving sleep processes. Like tart cherry juice, kiwis showed promise in a small clinical study of adults with sleep disturbances (Lin et al. 2011).
- A handful of walnuts. Similar to kiwis, walnuts have identifiable amounts of melatonin and serotonin that in one study have been shown to improve sleep quality (Tapia et al. 2013). If you’re in the mood for salty over sweet, stock your shelves with walnuts.
You’ll notice that the recipe for achieving restorative sleep is not one-size-fits-all. It should be enjoyable, after all. But remember, if food supplementation and bedtime routines are still not helping, don’t try to be invincible, but instead get yourself a sleep study.
Good CH, Brager AJ, Capaldi VF, Mysliwiec V (2020). Sleep in the United States Military. Neuropsychopharmacology: 45(1): 175-191.
Burke TM, Lisman PJ, Maguire K, Skeiky L, Choynowski JJ, Capaldi VF 2nd, Wilder JN, Brager AJ, Dobrosielski DA (2020). Examination of Sleep and Injury Among College Football Athletes. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 34(3): 609-616.
Jingjing Qian, Lin Zheng, Guowan Su, Mingtao Huang, Donghui Luo, Mouming Zhao. Identification and Screening of Potential Bioactive Peptides with Sleep-Enhancing Effects in Bovine Milk Casein Hydrolysate. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2021; 69 (38): 11246.
Pigeon et al. 2010. Effects of a Tart Cherry Juice Beverage on the Sleep of Older Adults with Insomnia: A Pilot Study. Journal of Food Medicine 13(3).
Shamloo S., Irandoust K., Afif A.H. The Effect of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Physiological Fatigue and Quality of Sleep in Male Athletes. Sleep Hypn. Int. J. 2018;21:97–100
Lin H.-H., Tsai P.-S., Fang S.-C., Liu J.-F. Effect of kiwifruit consumption on sleep quality in adults with sleep problems. Asia Pac. J. Clin. Nutr. 2011;20:169–174.
Tapia MI, Morgado JS, García-Parra J , et al. Comparative study of the nutritional and bioactive compounds content of four walnut (Juglans regia L. cultivars. J Food Compos Anal. 2013;31:232–7.