Recipe for rest

By Published On: June 27th, 2019Tags:

Going through your day in a zombie-like state? Well, misery loves company. Roughly 8 out of 10 women report periods of sleep disturbance during pregnancy, citing everything from being uncomfortable at night to feelings of anxiety to restless legs as reasons why their shut-eye is disrupted. Yet the benefits of a good night’s rest are extensive: Proper sleep helps keep you happy, your brain sharp and your immune system strong during those bump-bearing months.

So how do you ensure your eight-hour snooze sessions aren’t interrupted? Evidence suggests a trip to the supermarket might help you get that all-important beauty sleep.

As it turns out, certain foods are considered sleep-inducers and provide compounds that can go a long way toward improving your sleep quality. Incorporate these seven superfoods into your prenatal diet, and you may be on your way to a dreamier night’s rest.

If you’re reading this article at 3 a.m., perhaps you should have snacked on some kiwi before hitting the hay. A study by scientists in Taiwan found that females prone to tossing and turning who snacked on kiwi one hour before bedtime for a month fell asleep 45 minutes faster and were able to stay asleep longer than those who went without the fruit. One possible explanation: Kiwis appear to contain serotonin, a brain compound that regulates the sleep cycle.

Try it: Sliced in half and scooped out with a spoon, the fuzzy fruit is a refreshing snack on its own. If you’re feeling peckish, try topping some plain Greek yogurt with chopped kiwi and a few nuts. For a delicious salsa atop fish or chicken, toss together chopped kiwi with avocado, red bell pepper, jalapeño, cilantro and lime juice. The sweet-tart fruit is also a wonderful addition to green smoothies.

Tart cherries
Forget the warm milk! There might be a better drink to help you doze off. A European Journal of Nutrition study discovered that insomniacs slept on average 34 minutes longer after drinking tart cherry juice in the morning and evening. Researchers surmise that the naturally occurring melatonin present in the lip-puckering fruit makes it a slumber inducer. Melatonin is a hormone that helps your body maintain its circadian rhythm, or in other words, your internal clock.

Try it: When shopping for a tart cherry juice, look for brands that are made with 100-percent cherry juice and not diluted with fillers like apple juice. If you’re having sleeping difficulties, try downing 8 ounces of the juice daily. Dilute it with some seltzer water if you find it too tart. You can also whirl tart cherry juice into smoothies. Fresh cherries are a seasonal treat during the summer, but you can turn to their dried versions come sweater weather. Add dried tart cherries to oatmeal, yogurt or even your dinner salad to score some soothing Z’s.

Reel in this swimmer for dinner, and you might be counting less sheep. A 2014 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine discovered that people who consumed salmon three times a week between the months of September and February experienced improved sleep latency—the length of time it takes to go from being awake to being in a deep sleep—compared to those who got more protein from items like chicken and pork.

The researchers found that the fish group had improved heart rates and higher levels of vitamin D (a vitamin many women are deficient in during the winter months), both of which may have a positive impact on sleep patterns. Besides, salmon is also laced with the omega-3 fatty acids required for the proper development of your little tadpole.

Try it: Any way you prepare it—poached, roasted, grilled, pan-seared or steamed—salmon can elevate almost any dinner. Add it to salads, soups, pasta dishes and tacos. For the most nutrient-packed and sustainable fish, cast your line for salmon labeled “wild” at the fishmonger. And don’t overlook canned salmon, which can turn your lunch sandwiches into a vitamin D powerhouse.

Already billed as a superfood for its arsenal of protein and disease-fighting nutrients, quinoa may also help knock you out. A study by scientists in Brazil found that a carbohydrate-rich meal can help increase sleep duration. Carbohydrates in quinoa and other whole grains help bring the amino acid tryptophan into the brain where it’s used to make the calming compound serotonin that can induce better shut-eye. So, make it a priority to include some quality carbohydrates such as quinoa, sweet potato or whole-grain pasta throughout the day, especially with dinner.

Try it: Not just a side dish, try quinoa as a couscous alternative in tabbouleh or as a rice alternative in burritos. You can even swap it for oats in your morning porridge. Quinoa is also a stellar addition to veggie burgers.

To sleep more soundly, go nuts for pistachios. Not only are they crazy delicious, they are also a good source of vitamin B6. Our bodies require vitamin B6 to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain known to promote healthy sleep patterns. Pistachios also contain protein, fiber and healthy fats—a trio that will help quell late-night hunger pangs. Potatoes, bananas, garbanzo beans, chicken, pork, fish, sunflower seeds and avocado are other notable dietary sources of vitamin B6.

Try it: If you’ve plopped down on the couch for the evening, a handful of pistachios can be the perfect crunchy, guilt-free snack. Sprinkle them onto salads, soups, cooked grains, cereal and yogurt. Pistachios also make an inspiring alternative to pine nuts in pesto recipes.

Greek yogurt
Worthy of a resounding opa!, this deliciously thick yogurt is chock-full of calcium. Research has showed that sleep disturbances—particularly the absence of the essential rapid eye movement (REM) phase—can be related to calcium deficiency. Calcium helps the brain use the amino acid tryptophan to manufacture melatonin, the hormone needed to maintain the body’s 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. Ideally, melatonin levels should rise during the night, helping promote a restful sleep, and calcium can help set the stage for this to occur. In fact, yogurt is also a direct dietary source of tryptophan—a win-win!

Try it: It’s hard to beat a bowlful of protein-rich Greek yogurt for a healthy snack, but you can work more into your diet by using it in dips, baked goods or as an alternative to mayo. Try mixing plain Greek yogurt with the zest and juice of citrus, such as lime, and use it as a sauce for salmon.

While the golden popcorn at the multiplex is a calorie bomb, homemade popcorn is a great midnight snack for moms-to-be. As with quinoa, carbohydrates in popcorn work to transfer the amino acid tryptophan into your brain where it’s used to fire up the production of the sleepy neurotransmitter serotonin. Because it’s unwise to eat a large meal within two hours of bedtime, the low-calorie kernels (93 calories in three cups, popped) make an award-winning choice.

Try it: Grab a bag of inexpensive corn kernels at the grocer, and pop them in a saucepan or air popper. While plain popcorn is as exciting as lawn bowling, it can be jazzed up with everything from parmesan cheese to dried herbs to lemon zest.

By Matthew Kadey, MS, RD