When our bodies are forced to handle pollution, stress, noise, illness and even poor dietary choices, we might find ourselves tossing and turning in our beds, unable to get a good night’s sleep. As resting is a vital part of life, we are incapable of functioning properly without sleep.
Sleep deprivation can have devastating effects on human health, such as reduced attention span, dizziness, irritability, confusion, nausea, palpitations, and in very extreme cases, even hallucination, coma and death. According to statistical data provided by the National Sleep Foundation, about six out of ten Americans report having sleep problems at least a couple of times per week.
Scientific evidence shows that sleeping fulfills a number of restorative functions for the body, such as speeding up wound healing, helping the brain store experiences acquired throughout the day, rejuvenating bodily tissues and resetting metabolic processes.
Increasing levels of serotonin and melatonin, which assist sleep, can be done by upping the intake of the amino acid tryptophan through diet
For those individuals struggling with insomnia, raw foods might just provide the answer they have been waiting for. Evidence suggests that increasing the dietary intake of the amino acid tryptophan can help individuals who struggle with sleep disorders because of low levels of serotonin (a neurotransmitter that regulates mood) and melatonin (a sleep inducing hormone that is released during the night to naturally induce sleepiness).
Individuals with low levels of serotonin and melatonin may feel restless and irritable in the evening and may have a hard time falling asleep.
Once ingested, tryptophan eventually reaches the brain where it is used primarily to create serotonin. Part of that serotonin can later be used by the brain’s pineal gland to produce melatonin.
Raw foods that are naturally rich in tryptophan include beans, whole grains, peanuts, hazelnuts, guava, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. (1)
Melatonin can increase by up to 16% after drinking fresh tart cherry juice
A recent study, conducted by the School of Life Sciences at Northumbria University in the UK, concluded that consuming fresh tart cherry juice can also significantly improve the quality of sleep, as well as add an extra 25 minutes of sleep on average per night.
Urine samples from the 20 participants in the study revealed that when they drank tart cherry juice before going to bed, their melatonin levels went up by 15-16%. Dr. Glyn Howatson, leader of the experiment, further explained, “these results show that tart cherry juice can be used to facilitate sleep in healthy adults and, excitingly, has the potential to be applied as a natural intervention, not only to athletes, but to other populations with insomnia and general disturbed sleep from shift work or jet lag.” (2)
Beyond tryptophan, magnesium and calcium can improve sleep
Magnesium rich spices, nuts, pumpkin seeds and green leafy vegetables can help relax the muscles and reduce nervous excitement, preparing the body and the mind for a soothing night’s sleep.
Seaweeds and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, cress and bok choy) are also known to improve one’s quality of sleep, on account of their high amino acid and calcium content. A study published in the European Neurology Journal showed that calcium levels elevate in the body during deep sleep, and that the absence of deep sleep and subsequent sleep disturbances are related to calcium deficiencies.
Dr. James F. Balch, author and nutrition adviser, explained that “A lack of the nutrients calcium and magnesium will cause you to wake up after a few hours and not be able to return to sleep.” (3)
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