To be honest, it’s not so much about the foods, it is more about the nutrients that they contain, and I am a big believer in eating right instead of popping a vitamin pill. A while back, I started to wake up in the middle of the night. Sometimes at 3am, sometimes a bit later, but it would be impossible to get back to sleep. I got more lethargic day after day to the point where I would be so exhausted that one night I would sleep 12 hours. Of course, that got my hopes up my sleep schedule was restored, but a 12-hour night would always be followed by even more sleepless nights. So something had to give.
First I searched the internet (of course!) for a remedy. I read a lot of nonsense and got more offers for sleeping pills than I ever knew existed. And that was not a route I was willing to follow. After lots of research at respectable sites I decided that the answer had to come from my diet. I needed to eat enough every day and I needed to select foods with the right nutrients, specifically vitamins, plus magnesium, potassium and calcium. The other reason that I wanted to focus on food is that I travel a lot for work and following diet containing healthy foods would ensure I could buy what I needed everywhere I go.
Of all the changes I made I discovered that for me my B12, magnesium, potassium and calcium intake influence my sleeping patterns the most. For you, that could be totally different depending on your life style, so be prepared to try out what works for you.
Magnesium is a mineral that helps to relax nerves and muscles. Magnesium deficiency has been associated with several sleep disorders, including insomnia and restless leg syndrome. Potassium is another key mineral in the body that helps to relax muscles and nerves, as well as to promote healthy circulation and digestion. Potassium has been credited for regulating our slow-wave sleep, which is the deepest phase of your sleep cycle, when you get your most restorative sleep.
Calcium supports the production of melatonin, the “sleep hormone” that helps to maintain your body’s 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin levels rise naturally during the night, helping promote sleep, and are suppressed when we are exposed to light during the day, allowing us to be alert and wakeful. Just like ike magnesium and potassium, calcium is a natural relaxant in the body.
Increasing my B12 intake was a bit of a challenge, since I am a vegetarian and that means I can’t get my B12 the easy way: from meat. So to ensure I get enough every week I take a low dose B12 supplement.
Magnesium and potassium were easier: Bananas are a great source of both nutrients and I eat them every day. For magnesium I also eat enough dark leafy greens, black beans, brown rice, whole wheat and oat bran. I love peanut butter and almonds.
I also bought a magnesium spray, which is an oily water substance that comes in a spray bottle. Every night before I go to bed I massage my belly with 3 pumps and that works wonders. The label suggests to use as much as 20 sprays a night but after some experimenting I found that 3 is the magic number for me.
Potassium can be found in tomatoes, which I keep around on the kitchen counter all year long as a snack, as well as leafy greens and mushrooms. You can also get potassium from lentils and kidney beans, and I often add those to soups.
Finally, all dairy products are rich in calcium and I like to eat some yoghurt with walnuts an hour before bed time. I favor Greek yoghurt as it is high in protein, which I need for running. Some crackers and brie will do the trick too.
Ultimately, I don’t exactly know which of these nutrients helped me restore some order in my sleep patterns. I have not conquered my insomnia – now and again it will strike again. But sticking to this diet, making sure it contains plenty of these nutrients and observing strict evening routines helps me manage it: I know that soon I will sleep through the night again, even if it is not tonight.