The Value of Sleep

Most of us love doing it but don’t get enough of it. Although much about sleep is still a mystery to us, one thing is certain: we need it. Lots of it. And if you don’t look like this girl every night – sleeping peacefully, calmly and effortlessly – then you may benefit from a little nutritional advice when it comes to sleep.

Things like impaired sleep, altered sleep patterns and sleep deprivation can significantly hurt mental and physical function, both in the short-term and the long-term. One statistic I read says that about 1/3 of all Americans experience insomnia on a regular basis, with about 10 million people using prescription drugs to help them fall asleep (Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Murray & Pizzorno). That’s shocking! Or, maybe not...

The most common causes of insomnia are depression, anxiety, grief and tension. However, there are also compounds in certain foods, drinks and prescription drugs that can interfere with sleep. Usually, it’s a combination of psychological factors and something in the person’s diet that cause the insomnia.

A lack of calcium and magnesium can really affect sleep. It may not prevent someone from falling asleep, however it can cause them to wake up after a few hours and have trouble falling back to sleep. Calcium has a calming effect, and magnesium helps relax the muscles. The magnesium helps calcium become absorbed, and when taken together they can improve sleep for some people.

There are some other evening habits that can improve sleep for many. Eating right before bed is not good. As I’ve mentioned before, your body doesn’t love multi-tasking. So, when you eat right before bed you are asking your body to make a decision: digest, or sleep? If it chooses to digest, your sleep will be restless. If it chooses to sleep, you may wake up a few hours later with an upset stomach. So, allow yourself about 2 hours after dinner to digest your food before you jump into bed.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning it cannot be created by our bodies and must be obtained from food. It’s a precursor to serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that converts to melatonin, which helps us sleep. I’ll talk more about melatonin tomorrow, but the point here is that we all need to include foods containing tryptophan in our diet on a regular basis. Foods high in tryptophan include oats, dates, bananas, figs, nut butter, tuna, turkey, whole grains, yogurt, eggs, fish, chickpeas, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. Oh, and let’s not forget chocolate! (But, unfortunately, chocolate also contains caffeine, which can impair sleep…).

Over the next couple of days I’ll talk more about the things that can help you obtain better quality sleep. It’s so important, and sometimes really small changes can make a huge difference.


  1. I'm sure you'll talk about it tomorrow, but what about melatonin supplements? Are they OK? Can you over do it? Thanks!

  2. Yes, I will talk about melatonin supplements tomorrow!