I have a love/hate for Daylight Saving Time. On the one hand, I’m thrilled that the days are about to get longer and I can get a little more work done in the garden, finish my bike rides while it’s still light out, and not feel like it’s time for bed when it’s only 8 pm.
On the other hand, “losing” that hour of sleep makes me feel off kilter for weeks as I struggle to nip my late-night habits in the bud. Research has shown that our circadian rhythms never fully adjust to Daylight Saving Time, and the transition is especially difficult for night owls. (Not to stray off topic, but I am firmly in the “let’s abolish DST once and for all” camp. Or maybe I should just move to Arizona.)
This annual disruption of sleep is tied to how our bodies produce melatonin, the hormone that regulates when we feel sleepy and when we feel awake. The more light we are exposed to, the less melatonin we make. Once darkness sets in, we ramp up production of melatonin to start getting our brains ready for bed. Our internal clocks are controlled by the sun, but are designed to adjust to seasonal changes gradually. When sunrises and sunsets suddenly shift by an hour overnight — and seemingly out of nowhere — our clocks are sent for a loop.
Short of reading something reeeaaaally boring before bed (my husband actually keeps the full text of the Constitution on his nightstand, ha), is there anything you can do to drift to sleep easier in the coming week? Yes — and you probably have them in your garden or kitchen already.
Certain fruits and vegetables contain small amounts of melatonin (as well as other sleep-promoting chemicals, like tryptophan and magnesium) that may help you settle down and fall asleep faster. They’re not a cure-all for insomnia, but incorporating a few of them into your evening meals could make the time change a little less painful.
10 Fruits and Vegetables That Help You Sleep More Soundly
1. Cherries. Cherries (especially sour cherries like the Montmorency variety) are one of the only (and highest) natural food sources of melatonin. Studies have shown a boost in circulating melatonin after consumption of cherries, though sweet cherries have half the melatonin content as sour cherries. When the fruits are not in season, try a glass of cherry juice instead. (Dried cherries have been found to contain no melatonin.)
2. Bananas. Bananas are a good source of vitamin B6, which raises serotonin levels (the relaxing neurotransmitters that affect your quality of sleep), as well as potassium and magnesium, which help relax overstressed muscles. (If you’re unable to sleep because of restless leg syndrome, a magnesium deficiency is often the cause.) The fruits also contain the amino acid tryptophan, which the body converts to serotonin and melatonin.
3. Pineapples. With even more melatonin-boosting benefits than bananas, pineapples are a sweet choice for easing insomnia or jet lag. A study that measured the amount of aMT6-s in the body, a marker of circulating melatonin, found an increase of 266 percent in melatonin after test subjects ate pineapples (compared to a 180 percent increase with bananas and a 47 percent increase with oranges). On top of that, pineapples aid in digestion if tummy troubles cause you to toss and turn at night.
4. Oranges. Oranges can increase the melatonin in your body by approximately 47 percent, but that’s not the only reason you should eat them. They’re also a great source of B vitamins, which help with sleep in a number of ways: reducing anxiety and depression, improving the regularity of the sleep/wake cycle, and aiding in the synthesis of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA (the chief sleep-promoting neurotransmitter in the brain).
5. Avocados. Avocados are high in magnesium, which is sometimes referred to as the sleep mineral. When you’re short on this essential mineral, you may find it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Adding magnesium-rich foods to your diet helps promote slow wave, or deep sleep, as magnesium is a natural relaxant that helps deactivate adrenaline. As a result, you wake up feeling more refreshed from a good night’s sleep.
6. Kale. At the risk of sounding trite, kale is actually really good for you — and good for your sleep. That’s because kale is loaded with calcium, which helps the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin. The same goes for all the dark leafy greens, especially collards, spinach, and broccoli. (If you grow broccoli at home, don’t let the leaves go to waste!)
7. Lettuce. If you needed a good reason to choose salad over soup with your dinner: lettuce contains lactucarium, a milky secretion that has sedative properties and is commonly referred to as lettuce opium. It’s found in the stems of several lettuce species in varying amounts, including garden lettuce (Lactuca sativa) and especially wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa).
8. Tomatoes. Tomatoes are rich in the phytonutrient lycopene, which helps you stay asleep. Your body can absorb lycopene more easily if it’s heated in a little fat, so simmer a pot of tomatoes on the stove with a drizzle of oil and a handful of basil. (Long used as a holistic remedy for sleep troubles, basil is known to calm the mind, lower cortisol levels, and treat depression.)
9. Carrots. Carrots are packed with alpha-carotene, which is closely associated with better sleep. In fact, they’re the most potent source of the powerful carotenoid, followed by pumpkin. Consuming carrots in their various forms (raw, cooked, or juiced) may lead to an easier time falling asleep when counting sheep is no longer an option.
10. Soybeans. Don’t pass up the edamame next time you’re in a Japanese restaurant — in their natural state, soybeans are an excellent source of calcium and have a high concentration of tryptophan. Emerging studies have also found that soy isoflavones (estrogen-like compounds in the plant) may contribute to longer sleep duration (at least seven to eight hours a night) and better quality of sleep.