Eating dinner al fresco, shopping at the local farmers’ market, picking dinner right from the garden—these are some of the simple joys of summer. Here in New England, we’re sticking rhubarb into pies and crumbles, and attempting to balance things out for our waistlines by eating buckets of delicate fresh lettuce greens. Meanwhile, we’re anxiously awaiting the ruby-red crop of strawberries headed our way soon. My neighborhood is filled with the smell of outdoor grilling, on a nightly basis.
The foods of summer are cause for celebration, a chance to eat well and linger around the patio table with friends and family. Many summertime foods are also good for sleep. Here are a few of the best:
Cherries. These sweet-tart beauties are one of a handful of foods that contain melatonin, a key hormone for sleep. (Melatonin helps to initiate sleep and to regulate our sleep-wake cycles.) If you have a choice, go with the tart ones: tart cherries are higher in melatonin than sweet cherries, and may be especially effective in helping sleep. A just-released study shows that drinking a nightly glass of cherry juice may increase sleep amounts and make sleep more sound and restful.
Kale, spinach, and other dark greens. Nobody needs to tell you these dark, leafy greens are super healthy. But it might be news to you that these nutrient-packed green veggies are beneficial for sleep. Kale, spinach, chard and other dark greens are high in calcium, which helps the brain produce melatonin. Magnesium is another essential mineral that is linked to deeper, more restful sleep. Magnesium deficiency is linked to restless sleep and insomnia, as well as higher levels of stress. According to the latest research, about half of American adults do not get enough magnesium.
Fish. Fish on the grill is one of my family’s favorite summertime meals. Grill-friendly fish including salmon, tuna and halibut are high in Vitamin B6, which helps the body produce melatonin and serotonin, two hormones important to sleep. (A maybe-bonus? Vitamin B6 may make it easier for you to remember your dreams.) Salmon, tuna, trout and many other types of fish are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. These inflammation-reducing fatty acids are getting a lot of attention lately from scientists for their potential benefits to sleep, including improving sleep quality and helping you fall asleep faster.
Tomatoes. Is there a food that says summer more than tomatoes? When they’re in season, I eat tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Tomatoes are another food that contain melatonin, as are the orange bell peppers that go so well with tomatoes in a salad, and the raspberries you might have for a light dessert. A Mediterranean diet is filled with plant foods that have melatonin, which is part of what scientists think makes that diet such a healthful one.
Summer will be over before we know it– for many of us, taking those al fresco meals and the bounty of fresh, local foods with it. I plan to take advantage of these foods for summer, for their deliciousness and for how they might improve my sleep.
Written by Caitlin Reynolds