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Foods That May Improve Sleep

Foods That May Improve Sleep

You've been planning your tournament trip for months, preparing in every way. You've kept yourself in shape, made time to practice with your partner, and you've drilled until you dink in your dreams. Finally, the big day is just hours away. But now instead of getting the rest you need, you're staring at your hotel ceiling, unable to sleep. Does this sound familiar? Most of us struggle with falling and staying asleep from time to time, but the excitement of playing in a major tournament can exacerbate the problem. In addition to the stress that contributes to pre-competition insomnia, traveling athletes have additional factors to consider:

* Long-distance travel itself can cause anxiety.
* Jet lag affects the body's circadian rhythms.
* Sleep can be hindered by room sharing and unfamiliar surroundings.

Research shows that eating certain foods, and avoiding others, may be helpful toward getting a full night's sleep. Here are some ideas to give you that well-rested edge you need before tournament days and beyond.

Foods That Contain Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone made by a tiny gland in the brain. Its release is triggered by dimming light after the sun goes down, and it helps regulate the body's circadian rhythm and sleep patterns. Melatonin supplements have become a popular sleep aid, but some foods contain the chemical naturally. These foods include:

* Tart cherries
* Nuts, especially almonds, pistachios, and walnuts
* Eggs
* Fish
* Milk
* Mushrooms

Consider a glass of tart cherry juice before bed, or a nice cream of mushroom soup with dinner.

Foods High in Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that plays roles in many nerve and muscle functions. Research shows that low magnesium levels may lead to poor sleep patterns. A healthy, plant-rich diet can supply plenty of magnesium for most healthy people. As we age, magnesium doesn't absorb into our bodies as well and we may need extra. Great sources include:

* Pumpkin seeds
* Chia seeds
* Nuts, especially almonds, cashews, and peanuts
* Spinach
* Black beans


Consider a spinach salad with pumpkin seeds and dried tart cherries with dinner, or perhaps a side of black beans with your meal. green or black tea, for at least 6-8 hours before bedtime. Keep in mind that decaffeinated coffee and chocolate also contain small amounts of caffeine.

Foods High in Tryptophan

There's science behind the lore eating turkey may cause people to crave an after-Thanksgiving nap. Turkey is high in the amino acid tryptophan, which is used for melatonin production. Other foods that are good sources of tryptophan include:

* Milk
* Tuna
* Chicken
* Oats

Consider eating breakfast for dinner with a big bowl of oatmeal made with milk instead of water, mixed with pumpkin seeds, pistachios, and tart cherries. A spinach omelet would complete the meal.

Other Sleep-Promoting Foods

Several other foods have been shown to promote sleep for various reasons, many of which are not fully understood by scientists. These foods include:

* Kiwifruit - Though scientists aren't exactly sure why, several studies show that sleep is improved in people who eat kiwis. It's likely because the fruit contains serotonin, which helps regulate sleep.
* Chamomile tea - This herbal beverage is well- known for promoting sleep, both anecdotally and in research. It contains the antioxidant apigenin, which binds to special receptors in the brain, reducing insomnia.
* Fatty fish - Fish like salmon, sardines, and trout are high in omega-3 fatty acid, which is needed to make serotonin, a sleep promoter.

Consider enjoying a pistachio-crusted salmon dinner with a spinach, kiwi, and pumpkin seed salad on the side.

Foods to Avoid
Some people believe that having an alcoholic drink at bedtime helps them fall asleep faster, but many studies show that alcohol is detrimental to sleep quality. Drinking alcohol can disturb sleep patterns by affecting melatonin and human growth hormone production. It can also worsen sleep apnea and increase snoring, two factors that may contribute to still feeling sleepy in the morning. You might consider waiting to have that celebratory drink until after you win the gold.

Caffeine, which stimulates the nervous system, is the more obvious drug to avoid. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. Most doctors recommend avoiding caffeine, including coffee and green or black tea, for at least 6 hours before bedtime. Keep in mind that decaffeinated coffee and chocolate also contain small amounts of caffeine.

A little planning and a quick trip to the grocery store can provide you with foods that may help you get that full night’s rest to play your best

Sleep Well Sockeye
2 Sockeye salmon filets, 4-6 oz. each
2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup pistachios, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F. Combine honey, lemon, oil, and garlic in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, toss spinach with 1 tablespoon of the honey mixture. Pile seasoned spinach on a small baking sheet that has a lip around the edges. Place salmon on top of spinach and brush half of the remaining honey mixture over filets. Mix pistachios into the last of the honey mixture, then spread and press onto top of salmon. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Bake 15-20 minutes or until salmon easily flakes with a fork.

Enjoy, and sleep well!

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