It’s that time of year again – the final weeks of Summer have us thinking about getting ready to head back to school.

After a couple of months of late nights and lazy mornings, we need to get back into our rhythm of early to bed and early to rise – and that all starts with healthy sleep.

Maybe you’ve heard some of the advice to turn off electronics and read a real book for an hour before bed, but there are also diet tips that can help you relax and improve sleep quality.

Earlier this week, I visited the set of Fresh Living (KUTV CBS Channel 2 in Salt Lake City) to talk about some of my favorite foods and nutrients to help improve sleep – you can watch the video here.

Here are a few of my favorite foods and herbs that can help with sleep and relaxation:

Dairy: Warm milk’s calming quality is not just an old wives tale. Calcium and magnesium are relaxing. Plus milk has peptides (small protein chains) that, when digested, have direct relaxation effects in the brain. A glass of milk or cup of yogurt can be just the thing to relax the mind and help you slip off into a restful night of sleep

Whole grain carbohydrates: When you choose whole grains instead of refined grains, you maintain blood sugar levels, so your brain and body function better. Plus, the lignan compounds in whole grains are associated with lowered cortisol. Combine dairy and whole grains in a bedtime snack such as yogurt & granola or cheese and crackers.

Oranges: On the psychological side of stress, the scent of oranges and other citrus fruits has been shown to directly stimulate areas of the brain associated with stress resilience – so take a good whiff of orange to shield yourself from stress before you eat it. On the biochemical side of stress, oranges also contain both vitamin C and flavonoids, which are among the most effective nutrients for reducing concentrations of cortisol. In addition to cortisol control, flavonoids also help protect from other biological stressors such as free radicals and inflammatory cytokines that can lead to cellular damage and pain.

Cherries (especially tart cherries): have potent anti-inflammatory effects (to reduce pain) and naturally boost levels of melatonin (the sleep hormone) – making tart cherries one of the most effective foods to help athletes (and everyone) to relax and get a good night of sleep.

Almonds and Walnuts: Nuts are an excellent source of several anti-stress and sleep-enhancing nutrients including muscle-sparing protein, heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, stress-fighting B-vitamins and relaxing magnesium (mineral) and tryptophan (amino acid). Nuts also provide you with the opportunity to “crunch away” some of your stress because several studies have shown the chewing action to be associated with lower stress and better moods.

Corn grass: Perhaps the most effective natural herbal therapy that we’ve ever studied for improving both mood (due to increased serotonin production during the day) and sleep quality (due to increased melatonin production at night). Corn grass contains natural compounds that the body can convert into serotonin and melatonin “on demand” – so it won’t make you sleepy like melatonin (which is a synthetic version of your body’s natural hormone), but it will help you sleep when you’re ready (with no “melatonin hangover” the next day). Studies have shown corn grass extract to help reduce depression and anxiety,while also increasing both REM sleep (which rejuvenates the brain) and deep sleep (which restores the body).

Any (or all!) of these natural options can help you to relax and achieve the deepest most restorative sleep possible – which then gives you the clear mind and rejuvenated body to rise to the challenges of “back to school” or whatever life serves up!

Thanks for reading,