Are you getting a little weary of the warm-milk or chamomile-tea routine before bedtime? Here are some other foods and herbs that can help give you a night of blissful Zzzz’s…
Cherry lullaby: Tart cherries are among the richest food sources of melatonin, the same sleep-inducing hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in the brain. The body’s production of melatonin declines with age, which is part of the reason that older adults often have trouble sleeping. A study in Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that small doses of melatonin—about 0.3 milligrams (mg)—helped insomniacs get a better night’s sleep. About one-eighth cup of dried tart cherries contains that amount. Sweet cherries contain some melatonin but not as much as tart.
Trick or treat: Eat pumpkin—as a side dish or as a dessert—and your insomnia may be no more than a dream. It contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is a natural sleep aid.
Spice sedative: Nutmeg can act as a sedative but use it sparingly. Like many spices, large doses can be toxic (it’s rare, but we had to warn you). Steep half a freshly grated nutmeg (up to two teaspoons) in hot water for 10 minutes, then strain for a fragrant tea. Drink it a half hour before bedtime. You can also use nutmeg oil as a topical rub. Dab it on your forehead just before bedtime, and inhale deeply. You can find nutmeg oil from numerous online vendors.
Onion elixir: Cut a yellow onion in chunks, and place it in a glass jar. Cover the jar and keep it on your night table. When you can’t fall asleep—or when you wake up and can’t fall back to sleep—open the jar and take a deep whiff of the onion. Close the jar, lie back, think lovely thoughts, and within 15 minutes, you should be fast asleep. No, you won’t cry yourself to sleep. There’s something in onions that relaxes muscles (so far science hasn’t figured it out exactly). You also can slice a large onion and place the slices under your pillow…but that’s only if you don’t mind your sheets smelling like a salad.
Sweet dreams sachets: If the smell of onions in the middle of the night is a turnoff, create sachets of pleasant natural scents that will whisk you off to the land of Nod. Our favorite scents include lavender flowers (dried), anise seeds, pine needles and celery seeds. It you don’t feel like sewing up a small pillow, use an old pair of panty hose or other thin sock to hold your fragrant sleep aids. Store a sachet near or under your pillow and inhale your way to pleasant dreams.
Sleepy soak: Take a bath just before bedtime using any one or a combination of the following herbs—lavender, marigold, passionflower or rosemary. All of these calming herbs should be available at health-food stores or online. A 20-minute soak should help you wind down and ultimately doze off.
Thanks to David Grotto, RD, LDN, nutrition consultant and author of The Best Things You Can Eat (DavidGrotto.com) for help with these tips.