Nutrition Tips and Supplements for Insomnia

There are many factors that can cause sleep problems, and even more potential solutions. The steps you take to improve your sleeping patterns will be individual, based on the cause of your insomnia and the treatment plan laid out by your healthcare provider. In addition to the many lifestyle changes that can help you sleep better, the following nutrition tips and supplements may also help improve the quality and quantity of your shut-eye:

Stop eating at least two to three hours before your regular bedtime. If your body is trying to digest food, you won't be able to fully relax, fall asleep or stay asleep.

Limit fried and fatty foods, refined carbohydrates (such as white rice, breads, pasta and sugars), and spicy foods (especially if you are prone to heartburn), especially before bedtime. The effects of these foods can interfere with your ability to get a good night's sleep.

Enjoy a light snack approximately two hours before bedtime, as falling and staying asleep can be difficult if you are hungry. A healthy snack can help take the edge off of your hunger and help you sleep through the night. Your snack should contain mostly carbohydrates and a small amount of protein. This combination may help increase the availability of tryptophan (an amino acid that helps induce sleep) to your brain. A few pre-bedtime snack ideas include:
  • A small bowl of oatmeal
  • Cereal with low-fat milk
  • Yogurt with granola sprinkled on top
  • Half a bagel topped with peanut butter
  • A piece of whole-wheat bread with one slice of deli turkey
  • Six whole-grain crackers with one ounce of cheese
  • Sliced apple with one ounce of cheese or peanut butter
Avoid alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol may help you to fall asleep quickly, but it can disrupt your normal sleep patterns and leave you feeling un-rested the next morning.

Avoid caffeinated drinks and foods during the afternoon and evening. Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, soda and chocolate that can delay your sleep or cause you to wake up during the night. You may want to avoid caffeine entirely and see if your sleep improves.

Limit the consumption of liquids in the evening, to decrease the urge to go to the bathroom during the night.

Along with these lifestyle measures, you may wish to consider a natural sleep aid supplement. Supplements should NEVER be taken together or with other sedative drugs. Discuss the appropriateness of these supplements with your doctor first, as well as dosage and the risk of physical and psychological dependency. The two best-researched, most effective supplemental sleep aids are valerian root and melatonin.
  • Valerian root (valeriana officinalis) is a sedative herb that has been used for centuries. Several small studies have suggested that valerian helps people fall asleep and stay asleep. It may take up to four weeks (or more) of usage to notice improvements in sleep, and this herb can leave some people feeling "fuzzy" the next morning. A typical dosage of valerian root is 300-600 milligrams of valerian extract in tablet or capsule form, 30 minutes before bedtime. Always discuss valerian root with your doctor before trying it.
     
  • Melatonin is a hormone (made in the brain of humans but also produced by animals and plants) that appears to play a critical role in the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle. So far, the effects of melatonin are complex and poorly understood, but research shows that it is "possibly effective" in decreasing sleep disturbances caused by jetlag, as well as "likely effective" in easing sleep disorders in blind children and adults, and people with mental retardation, autism¬†or other central nervous system disorders. There is not enough research to conclude anything about melatonin's effectiveness for other sleep disturbances. Melatonin supplements are available over the counter, but always discuss melatonin use with your doctor before trying it.
When it comes to treating insomnia, there is insufficient evidence or limited research to support the following supplements:
  • Hops
  • Indian snakeroot
  • Kava
  • Lavender
  • Lemon balm
  • Passionflower
While nutritional changes and supplements alone are possibilities for curing your insomnia, it's best to take a comprehensive approach. Work with your doctor to find potential underlying causes to your sleeping problems, and create a treatment plan that encompasses lifestyle, diet and exercise changes to help you sleep better.
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About The Author

Becky Hand
Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.