To cure the torment of insomnia, Vincent van Gogh used ‘a very, very strong dose of camphor.’ Considering it’s the stuff found in mothballs and it slowly poisoned him, it wasn’t one of his better decisions. But lack of sleep can make you feel as if you are going insane. No one wants to resort to sleeping pills. The answer instead is to look at the foods you eat.
It may sound like an alien planet but…
Tryptophan is real. Many make the classic mistake of thinking that a glass of wine (or two) will help them sleep. Or a glass of warm milk? Alcohol – no. Milk, possibly. Here’s the science bit: if you eat food with tryptophan, an essential amino acid formed from proteins, it will have a far better effect. C11H12N2O2, is the chemical formula, for those of you who like that sort of thing. It has the magical ability to help produce niacin and serotonin in the body. Serotonin promotes healthy sleep but also helps with stable moods. Foods with protein: eggs, chicken, fish, milk, bananas and even peanut butter, are the answer.
Getting your oats
Oats also have a lot of precious protein, but also contain other goodies like calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium. A hearty bowl of porridge, or something with oatmeal in it, will cause blood sugar to rise and then produce insulin to make you sleepy. Oats also have the added benefit of containing melatonin, which seasoned travelers will know all about – if not by name, then by the effect a lack of it has on the mind and body.
Sleep easy with melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally but if you interrupt the sleep/wake cycle too much, a lack of it may cause problems. Melatonin has been proven to help fight against insomnia. Sounds great, right? So, where can you get it from?
Well, you could start in a German cowshed. Munich-based company Milchkristalle GmbH have made claims that their nocturnal milk, taken from the animals between 2am and 4am, contains greater amounts of melatonin. Or you could eat tart (as opposed to sweet) cherries, which sounds a lot easier. There's plenty more foods with melatonin, too. The list includes easily scoffable foods like sunflower seeds, available in health food stores or some supermarkets.
But Russel J Reiter, a biomedical scientist at a sleep centre in Texas, really rates the cherry – whether in juice, frozen or fresh form. ‘When consumed regularly,’ he states, ‘tart cherries may help regulate the body’s natural sleep cycle and increase sleep efficiency, including the time it takes to fall asleep.’
Hindsight is a wonderful thing
Poor Vincent van Gogh. If he had just eaten some sunflower seeds, as well as painting the flower, he might have had more restful sleep. Maybe his life might have had a different outcome. But armed with the knowledge of what you eat, you don’t have to make the same mistake. Night, all!