How to sleep better

To sleep better, we need to hack the brain with better behaviours and better foods. There are a few tips and foods that I recommend to all my athletes.

Published : Oct 28, 2019 17:37 IST

I have used Ashwagandha for thousands of athletes to help in sleep and recovery.
I have used Ashwagandha for thousands of athletes to help in sleep and recovery.

I have used Ashwagandha for thousands of athletes to help in sleep and recovery.

My previous article on sleep and how it effects performance has given many readers sleepless nights. In that article I talked about the importance of sleep, the reason how a person would miss out on their sleep and how small behavioural changes can significantly help a person manage more sleep in their life.

I received many emails requesting more information on foods and diets that will help players improve their sleep. In this sleep cycle, two molecules play a key role in inducing sleep. They are serotonin and melatonin. In nature, we have our sleep cycles coordinated by the light received from the sun. This light starts at dawn and ends at dusk. In today’s world of electricity, artificial lights have created a disruption in nature’s way of putting you to sleep. Ancient man slept by 7pm. Modern man has no such biological luxury. In ancient times, it took candle power to sustain mundane tasks before one went to sleep.

With the advent of electricity and creation of technology that could distract your brain, sleep went out of the window. So, to sleep better, we need to hack the brain with better behaviours and better foods.

There are a few tips and foods that I recommend to all my athletes.

1. Try to work out or be outdoors about one hour before sunset. The long rays of the evening sun have the correct orange wavelength that will help stimulate your pineal gland to produce melatonin. This is nature’s way of singing you a lullaby to put you to sleep. Switch your mobile phones to night mode, which then do not emit the blue wavelength that agitates your brain.

2. Try and plan these foods in your daily regime so that you can naturally stimulate the production of melatonin, serotonin and tryptophan. Below is a table of foods that are high in tryptophan. Consider this simple amino acid as the security guard that shuts down your brain and makes it sleep. So the secret is to find foods that are higher in this amino acid.

Food inducing sleep


1. Milk

Natural melatonin-enriched milk, obtained by milking cows at night time as opposed to daytime, is of scientific interest. Night time milk, which is abundant in tryptophan and melatonin, shortens the onset and prolongs the duration of sleep and has a sedating effect. According to studies, motor balance and coordination are reduced to a level comparable to known sedatives with the administration of night time milk.

2. Fatty fish

Fatty fish (with more than 5 percent fat) is a good source of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients important for the regulation of serotonin and therefore sleep regulation.

3. Fruits

Studies have looked at the consumption of fruit on sleep promotion. The consumption of two kiwi fruits a day, one hour before bedtime for four weeks significantly increased transition state theory and deeper sleep.

More recent studies have examined the effect of tart cherries on sleep regulation. The consumption of 250ml of tart cherry juice in the morning and night time for two weeks was associated with a significant reduction in insomnia severity. Tart cherries also reduced soreness. This is a win-win for an athlete. Better sleep and better recovery. Unfortunately, in India, we do not get tart cherries yearlong and its bottle juices are all imported and expensive.

4. Foods rich in vitamins B6 and B12

B-complex vitamins have a sleep-improving effect. Research evidences suggest deficiency in vitamin B6 promotes psychological distress, and nutritional modulators of serotonin (5-HT) found in raphe nuclei of the brainstem are believed to be involved in sleep onset. Some of the common sources include kokra (316mg), rohu (240mg), marine fishes (223mg), blueberry (52mg) and chilli (2.45mg).

Vitamin B12 has an effect on biological rhythm. Clinically, B12 has been reported to improve the symptoms of sleep-wake rhythm disorders. Orally administered B12 has been reported to stop free-running of the sleep-wake rhythm in patients suffering from non-24-hours sleep-wake syndrome. Common sources include sheep liver (91.9mcg), chicken heart (7.29mcg), egg yolk raw (4.4mcg), feta cheese (1.69mcg), skimmed milk powder (0.83mcg) and cow milk (0.14mcg).

5. Iron-rich foods

Iron and tetrahydrobiopterin are co-factors of tyrosine hydroxylase, i.e. an essential regulatory enzyme for dopamine synthesis. Iron is also linked to functions of gamma-aminobutyric acid, serotonin and opioid peptides. Common foods include dry lotus stem (60mg), rice bran (35mg), chingri (49.6mg), dry karonda (39.1mg), star anise (36.96mg) and calf spleen (25.42mg).

6. Herbs

a. Valerian (Valerian officinalis): Valerian is a traditional herbal sleep remedy that has been studied with a variety of methodological designs using multiple dosages and preparations in human studies. Valerian improves subjective experiences of sleep when taken before bedtime for a one- to two-week period. It also claimed to be a safe sedative/hypnotic for patients with mild to moderate insomnia.

b. Kava kava (Piper methysticum): Kava kava, or simply kava, contains lactones and pyrones such as methysticin, kawain, dihydromethysticin and yangonin, all of which affect the central nervous system. Kava enhances sleep, reduces sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) and increases slow-wave sleep without altering rapid-eye-movement sleep.

c. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita): Chamomile’s main active constituents are chamazulene, apigenin and bisabolol. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is used for restlessness and insomnia, and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is used orally for a variety of digestive, menstrual and naso-oral mucosal symptoms and topically for eczema, wounds and inflammation.

d. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis): Lemon balm, a perennial herb native to southern Europe, is used traditionally to treat sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, tension headaches and a nervous stomach.

e. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): Lavender’s most potent sedative compounds include linalyl acetate and linalool. It is often administered topically during a massage or as aromatherapy.

f. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): It tends to lower elevated cortisol levels and improve several markers of immune function as well. I suggest 1-6gm of the whole herb. I personally have used this herb for thousands of athletes to help in sleep and recovery from high-energy stresses that do not allow an athlete to fall asleep.

Below are a few of my very easy to toss into a blender and blitz to get a restful evening dessert snack. Eat dinner early, by 7.30pm latest. Then consume this by 9pm. Lights out at 10pm.


1. Ryan’s Sleep Smoothie

  • 50ml cherry juice concentrate/20gm of tart cherries
  • 1 Elakki banana
  • 1 kiwi fruit
  • 1 cup coconut or almond milk
  • 10 ice cubes

2. NutriBullet Sleepy Seeds Smoothie

  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1⁄4 cup blueberries
  • 1⁄4 cup raspberries
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tbsp sunflower seeds

Get a personalised session with a nutritionist to improve your diet and sleep. Email me at to know how you can better your performances. Please note: Self-prescription and consumption of supplements and herbs could be detrimental to your health. Please consult a medical doctor or a qualified nutritionist to help customise your food and supplement goals.

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