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Foods to Help Insomnia

By Karen Curinga

An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders, according to the National Institutes of Health. Over a period of time, sleep deficiency may result not only in fatigue, but also increased risk for chronic disease, depression and obesity. Eating certain foods can help boost the production of sleep-inducing substances in your body. Instead of taking medication, reach for a food that both helps you fall asleep and adds to your overall good health.

Foods Containing Melatonin

Melatonin -- a hormone made by the pineal gland in your brain -- helps regulate your wake-sleep cycle, known as circadian rhythm. Your body's circadian rhythm, which is a 24-hour "clock," plays a critical role in determining when you fall asleep and when you wake up. Walnuts and both fresh and dried cherries are good sources of melatonin. Corn, tomatoes and potatoes also contain melatonin but in smaller amounts.

Foods Containing L-tryptophan

L-tryptophan, an amino acid that functions as a protein building block, is a precursor of melatonin and seratonin -- a neurotransmitter that aids sleep. From tryptophan, your body produces another melatonin and seratonin precursor known as hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, which is linked to positive sleep patterns. Good food sources of tryptophan include turkey, chicken, fish, nuts, milk, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, tofu and soy.

Magnesium-Rich Foods

Magnesium promotes muscle relaxation, helping you to sleep. When your body doesn't get enough magnesium, anxiety and sleep disturbances can occur. It can also result in uncomfortable sensations in the legs known as restless leg syndrome, which can affect your ability to sleep. Foods rich in magnesium include legumes, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts and black walnuts. Bran cereals, oatmeal, bananas, chocolate, seaweed and the herbs basil, tarragon, marjoram and dill weed are also good sources of magnesium.

High-Carbohydrate Foods

Foods rich in carbohydrates make tryptophan more available to the brain, thus boosting the production of substances that are linked to sleep -- serotonin and melatonin -- according to University of Maryland Medical Center. Eating small carbohydrate-rich snacks, such as granola, unsweetened cereal, whole-grain bread or crackers with tryptophan-containing milk before bed may help reduce insomnia.

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