Serotonin is a feel-good brain chemical, meaning your brain produces it to allow for calm and happy moods. This is one reason that insufficient sleep, which can stem from serotonin deficiencies, increases your risk for depression tenfold, says the National Sleep Foundation. A healthy diet that emphasizes certain foods can help improve your serotonin levels and your likelihood of restful sleep. If your symptoms are long-lasting or severe, seek guidance from your doctor.
Warm Milk and Bananas
The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends warm milk and bananas as sleep-inducing bedtime snacks. Milk and bananas both provide valuable amounts of carbohydrates, which stimulate serotonin production, and the amino acid tryptophan, which helps your brain efficiently use serotonin. Choose low-fat milk to avoid bothersome symptoms, such as inflammation and heartburn -- symptoms that can stem from fatty foods. If you don't tolerate or consume dairy products, choose soy milk for similar benefits.
Whole grains provide complex carbohydrates and more vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber than refined grains. While the carbohydrates promote serotonin production, the high fiber content helps ensure lasting blood sugar control -- another factor linked with positive sleep. MayoClinic.com psychiatrist Dr. Daniel K. Hall-Flavin recommends steering clear of sugary foods and simple carbohydrate sources, such as white bread and sweets, and amping up your whole-grain intake for reduced anxiety and heightened calmness. Nutritious sources include 100 percent whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas, brown rice, wild rice, air-popped popcorn and oatmeal.
Lean Meat or Tuna Sandwiches
Lean meats and tuna all contain tryptophan. Your brain needs more carbohydrates than tryptophan, however, to produce and use serotonin. And it's the carbohydrate and tryptophan combination that's believed to promote sleepiness, according to PsychologyToday.com -- not tryptophan alone. Turkey is best known for tryptophan content, but it doesn't contain more than other protein sources. So top whole-grain bread with turkey, chicken, beef or tuna for a calming bedtime snack.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds provide carbohydrates, tryptophan and healthy fats. Consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids is particularly important if you're prone to anxiety, says Hall-Flaven. Walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds contain valuable amounts of omega-3 fats. Nuts and seeds also provide nutritious alternatives to common evening snacks, such as potato chips and candy. Eat nuts and seeds on their own, as healthy additions to yogurt and smoothies or in nut butter form on whole-grain crackers or fruit slices.
- National Sleep Foundation: Depression and Sleep
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Sleep Hygiene
- MayoClinic.com: Foods That Help You Sleep
- MayoClinic.com: Coping with Anxiety: Can Diet Make a Difference?
- PsychologyToday.com: Tryptophan: What Does It Do?
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Tryptophan
August McLaughlin is a health and sexuality writer, podcast host and author of “Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment” (Amberjack Publishing, 2018). Her articles appear in DAME Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, the Huffington Post and more, and she loves connecting with readers through her blog and social media. augustmclaughlin.com