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Foods That Increase Serotonin and Induce Sleep

By August McLaughlin

Your brain and body rely on the chemical serotonin for positive moods -- that satisfaction you feel from eating, relaxation and restful sleep. Although foods affect people's serotonin levels differently and no foods directly induce sleep, certain foods and eating habits may help give your brain a boost of the chemical, making restfulness more likely. Bear in mind that your overall diet and maintaining other healthy habits, such as keeping routine sleep times and exercising routinely, are also important for sleep. If your sleep challenges are severe or long-lasting, seek guidance from your doctor.

Simple Carbs

Carbohydrates allow your brain to produce serotonin. Although not always the healthiest choices, simple carbohydrates provide the greatest impact on your serotonin levels, reports Columbia University Health. Found in sweets, refined grains and fruit, simple carbs enter your bloodstream quickly, giving a serotonin boost that will last up to two hours. Eating too many simple carbohydrates from unhealthy sources, such as sweets, can disrupt blood sugar control and potentially keep you awake. If you want to feel sleepier shortly before bedtime, have a small snack containing a simple carb source, such as honey or fruit, along with some protein to minimize these effects. Have a glass of low-fat milk with a touch of honey, for example, or fresh fruit topped with a little yogurt.

Complex Carbs

Complex carbohydrates, which are prevalent in fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, yams and legumes, provide longer-lasting blood sugar control and slower-release serotonin effects. Because they also contain protein, which can interfere with serotonin production if you consume too much, avoid pairing them with additional protein sources -- or do so sparingly. Have whole-grain toast with peanut butter, for example, or oatmeal with fresh berries and a drizzle of honey. Adding these simple carb sources provides that quicker-acting serotonin boost and enhanced flavor.

Nuts, Seeds, Milk and Bananas

Nuts, seeds, milk and bananas provide carbohydrates and the amino acid tryptophan, which helps your brain better utilize serotonin. These foods also contain valuable amounts of the mineral magnesium. Magnesium plays an important role in sleep, according to a report published in the "Journal of Research in Medical Sciences" in December 2012. Magnesium deficiencies have been linked with restless leg syndrome, which disrupts sleep. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends having warm milk, which is also soothing, or a banana as a sleep-inducing bedtime snack.

More Sleep-Friendly Diet Tips

Maintaining a healthy body weight is important for sleep, particularly since 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Sleep apnea is a disorder that interferes with breathing during sleep and can result from excess pounds. Aim for a balanced diet based on whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Rich in fiber and other essential nutrients, these foods make weight control easier. Steer away from unhealthy fat sources, such as fatty meats, pastries and other low-nutrient processed foods, which increase inflammation. Choose healthy fat sources, such as nuts, seeds and oily fish, instead. Near bedtime, avoid spicy foods, fatty foods and large portions, which can cause abdominal discomfort, acid reflux and heartburn -- all of which can interfere with a restful night. Caffeine and alcohol can also disrupt sleep.

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