If your childhood was anything like mine, you probably noticed that a sugar binge before bed usually makes for some pretty wild dreams. As fun as those dreams might have been, though, sugar highs aren't super conducive to a night of restful sleep. The good news is that dreaming and a healthy night's sleep are not mutually exclusive! There are plenty of foods that can give you the best of both worlds, leading you into a steady sleep cycle while promoting vivid and memorable dreams. I should state here that serious sleep problems like chronic insomnia should be treated with a heavier hand, but if you're looking to sleep a little deeper and dream a little better, these everyday foods might give you that little extra nudge!
You've probably been told a few times to eat a banana when you have sore muscles or after a workout, but have you ever been told to eat a banana before bed? Bananas are a great source of both magnesium and potassium, which help to relax your muscles and regulate your heartbeat, both integral steps in the process of falling asleep. Bananas have been linked to dreaming by many different people, and the reason for that seems to boil down to serotonin. Serotonin plays a role in helping the brain remain somewhat alert during the REM stage of the sleep cycle, which leads to greater dream intensity and recall. Bananas contain the B6 vitamin, which converts tryptophan into serotonin.
In addition to being great for pit-spitting competitions in the summers (...just my family? no?), cherries are actually a decent natural source of melatonin, a sleep hormone that occurs naturally in our brain chemistry. Contrary to popular belief, melatonin does not induce sleep. What it does do is help to regulate the circadian rhythm (sleep cycle) by signaling the body to start shutting down when it's dark outside and to wake up when it's light again. Serious sleep problems are typically not caused by melatonin deficiencies, but eating foods rich in the hormone before bed on a regular basis can help to get the cycle back on track. One of melatonin's other jobs is to regulate serotonin levels, so it helps to make sure that everything in your brain chemistry is working as it should to bring about a great dreaming experience.
Like bananas, almonds contain magnesium, which has been shown to combat both insomnia and restless leg syndrome. They also contain tryptophan, that all-important precursor to the serotonin that makes our dreams bright and exciting!
These babies are full of our good friend melatonin, and the complex carbohydrates in oats (as well as other grains) cause a spike in insulin, which tends to cause drowsiness. This insulin-induced energy crash is also what causes your holiday food comas, incidentally. By eating more oats you will find that your sleep quality is improved in general, but especially your REM stage.
This one may sound like a mythical herb straight out of Game of Thrones, but it's actually a common flowering plant that is widely available as a tea as well as an herbal supplement. Valerian has been used for generations for its sedative properties, both to promote sleep and to treat anxiety. This one doesn't have any apparent relationship to dreaming, but pair it with any of the above and you're ready to go. A cup of tea and a bowl of warm oatmeal with a few sliced cherries, bananas, and almonds sounds a lot like breakfast, but science and experience tell us that this balanced breakfast as an evening snack might actually lead to a great night's sleep and some memorable dreams. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!