Need a midnight snack? Chow down on tryptophanIt’s hard to fall asleep in the sweltering summer heat, and it doesn’t help that the days are longer and the nights shorter. Missing long periods of sleep ― especially during the crucial hours from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., when a person is usually in the deepest stage of sleep ― can be as bad as getting no sleep at all.
In many Western countries, doctors recommend that those who have difficulty sleeping drink a cup of warm milk with honey, or sometimes lemon juice, before bed.
Milk has a lot of tryptophan, a type of amino acid. The amino acid becomes serotonin, a type of neurotransmitter, and helps one slowly fall asleep. Serotonin is sometimes called a “natural sleeping pill” because it stabilizes and generates a sense of happiness.
Tryptophan is not produced in one’s body, and needs to be obtained through ingestion. Chicken, pork, fish and cheese have tryptophan, but many people find those difficult to digest at night, which obviously does not help a person sleep. Bananas and figs are a better option, especially with honey, which has carbohydrates that assist in the absorption of tryptophan.
In March, the medical school at National Taiwan University published the results of a study on how kiwi consumption affects sleep. The participants in the study ate two kiwis an hour before going to bed. The result was remarkable: Their sleeping hours increased from 5 hours and 54 minutes, on average, to 6 hours and 39 minutes. The duration before falling asleep decreased from 33 minutes to 20 minutes. The researchers concluded that this was due to kiwis being rich in calcium, magnesium and inositol. Calcium and magnesium help stabilize the nervous system, while inositol is a type of fat that helps one fall asleep.
The Dowager Empress of China, Cixi, reportedly ate walnuts to fight insomnia. Walnuts are recommended for people with sleeping problems because they are rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium. Potassium is known to lower one’s blood pressure, and thus help one sleep.
Onions and squashes also help one fall asleep. Onions have a lot of allicin, a chemical that induces sleep. Alliin, which creates the spicy flavor in onions, turns to allicin in the body and helps absorb vitamin B1. Vitamin B1 eliminates fatigue, a barrier to sleeping. “Donguibogam,” a medical book by the Joseon Dynasty physician Heo Jun, recommended that those with sleeping problems eat squash. Professionals say the potassium in squash helps lower the body’s blood pressure.
Valerian root has been used for a long time in Western countries to treat sleeping problems. Driking valerian tea before going to bed is said to help one fall asleep. Chamomile or lime flower tea can also help one sleep.
by Park Tae-kyun