• Marissa Mekelburg Functional Medicine Dietitian

Do Pistachios Help You Sleep? Yes!

Are you having a harder time falling asleep, or staying asleep? Are you wondering if the Google rumors are true: do pistachios help you to sleep?


Turns out there are many things that you can do, both to fall asleep more quickly and to stay asleep longer. Having a good night’s sleep helps you to feel better the next day and to move through your schedule more smoothly, with less effort and mental sludge.


Pistachios do help you sleep: woohoo!


Not only can we optimize your midnight snack (I mean, prior-to-10pm-snack), there are several small tweaks that you can make, that will have a big impact on how rested you feel each morning.



a pile of shelled pistachios: do pistachios help you sleep? yes!

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash




Risks of not sleeping well (or not sleeping enough)


Not sleeping well is a big threat to your health. And if you’re struggling with this, please know that you’re not alone. As many as 1 in 3 people are struggling with insomnia - yikes (1).


Not only can poor sleep make you feel sluggish and less productive the next day, it also increases your risk of chronic diseases including hypertension and diabetes. You can also feel more anxious and moody and have cravings for carbs and sugars.


And if you are chronically stressed, don’t have regular exercise that you enjoy, and eat in a way that doesn’t support a good night’s sleep, this cycle can be on repeat.


So, how do we modify things so that we get a better night’s sleep? It might start with a better evening snack!



Do pistachios help you sleep? Yes!


Pistachios may be a better option than Ben and Jerry’s before bed; want to know why? They’re a naturally occurring source of melatonin (2).


Melatonin is a hormone that our bodies make naturally. Melatonin helps your body to sleep by putting your mind in a restful state so that it is easier to drift off to sleep.


As the sun sets, the darkness signals your body that it is evening and time to wind down. Melatonin levels rise, preparing your body for sleep (3).


But a lot of things can go awry here, starting with our indoor lighting. Most of us use lights and screens in the evening, long past sunset. This artificial light hijacks the natural rhythms that support optimal sleep. Having a melatonin boost, from foods or supplements, is one strategy to support a better night’s sleep. (Psst - there are a lot more we’re going to cover, so keep reading!)


And pistachios are not the only naturally occurring source of melatonin, a few other foods are as well!


In addition, pistachios are a great source of protein and magnesium, two other nutrients that are important for blood sugar management and sleep. We’ll cover both of those, in a bit.



A better nightcap


Now, what to drink with your pistachios, now that you know that they can help you to sleep?


While a glass of wine is tempting and quick to be an evening ritual, there are some other options that are better at promoting good quality sleep, not just an accidental nap on the couch.


Just like pistachios, tart cherry juice is a source of melatonin. It is also chock-full of phytochemicals that decrease inflammation - double win!


In the winter, try a DIY dry hot toddy with cinnamon herbal tea, a splash of tart cherry juice, a bit of lemon juice and a drizzle of honey, to taste. Not only is it warm and soothing, but the tart cherry juice will also help your night’s sleep to be more restful. Tart cherry juice is in fact, quite tart, so a bit of sweetness from the honey can make the drink very enjoyable.


And in the summer: try a few ounces of tart cherry juice with your favorite seltzer water flavor and perhaps a splash of apple juice or other juice that is a bit more sweet. Fizzy, refreshing and sleep-promoting, with no hangover risk in the morning.



Keep your cool


We sleep more soundly when the bedroom is cool. Not only will dropping the heat at night save you money on your next energy bill, but the cooler temperature will also make it easier to sleep soundly.


And in the winter, you may even sleep better with the window cracked. The fresh air is refreshing and plus, you won’t dilly dally getting dressed in the morning!



Cap the screen time


We all know that we’re on screens far too often. Unfortunately, there are repercussions of this excessive screen time, including your sleep.


The light from screens includes a few different colors, including blue and red (remember the ROYGBIV from your high school science classes?). Blue light is stimulating and red light is soothing.


Not only are the usual screen time activities activating your reward system (ahem, scrolling on social media while watching Netflix episode after episode), the blue light stimulates your brain to stay awake and active.


The best practice for a good night’s sleep is to not be looking at your phone (or any screen) for an hour before bed. I know, I know, that is really hard. But, it is a good habit to work towards. You can start with a 10-minute window of screen-free time before bed and build from there.


And if you can’t stay off? Try wearing blue-light blocking glasses to minimize the stimulating effects of the blue light.


If I can convince you to read at night instead of watching a show or movie, try reading with a red light to further create a soothing atmosphere before bed.



Go to bed a bit earlier


As much as some of us are independent night owls, going to bed late can have repercussions on your daytime activities. Going to bed too late disrupts your hormonal levels and sequences (this is called your circadian rhythm). What’s the best practice? Getting to bed before 10 pm.


Cortisol (most commonly referred to as your stress hormone) is the hormone that wakes your body up in the morning. But, the work of cortisol is actually slow and steady. It starts to rise naturally around 11 or 12 and eventually wakes our body up in morning.


But if you go to bed too late, it can be much harder to fall asleep to begin with because the cortisol levels are already picking up. We fall asleep most easily when we’re ahead of the cortisol levels.



Blood sugar levels...and the midnight bathroom run?


If you wake up in the night and have to urinate, it can be a sign of that your blood sugar is dipping. If your blood sugar dips, your body secretes cortisol to bring blood sugar back up.


But remember that cortisol is your natural alarm clock: the action of cortisol brings your blood sugars up, but it also wakes you up. Ugh!


Of course, sometimes we do drink too much before bed and truly do have to urinate. But if it's happening a lot especially if someone tends to skip dinner or works out late in the evening, then they may want to consider blood sugar balance.


What can you do to prevent this? I like to joke that you should wind down with a "meat pill" - a slice of lunch meat, a small spoonful of nut butter, pumpkin seeds or pumpkin butter (natural source of tryptophan), something with a little protein and fat can keep that blood sugar from dipping.


And dare I plug pistachios for their protein, too? What a powerful little nut!



Minerals and sleep


Magnesium is a hard-working mineral in our bodies. It is essential for 100s of different enzymes and you know what? Most of us are low! Our typical food choices are processed and low in this essential nutrient.


Magnesium and sleep are linked together; if we’re too low (and many of us are), we can have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep.


One good source of magnesium? Nuts and seeds. For example...drumroll please...pistachios!



Tryptophan and sleep


Is it really true - turkey can make you fall asleep?


Sort of.


Tryptophan is an amino acid, found in protein-rich foods such as turkey. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin. Low tryptophan is associated with anxiety and poor mood (4).


If you’re low in tryptophan, your body is not able to make enough melatonin for sleep or serotonin for mood.


So while you might be prone to a delightful nap on the couch after Thanksgiving dinner, that is likely the effects of a huge meal and a cocktail more than the turkey. But, a slice or two of turkey before bed might help on an ongoing basis.



Hormones and sleep


Hormonal imbalances, environmental triggers (like caffeine or alcohol) and inflammation (hello, personalized anti-inflammatory diet and gut health!) are also issues.


Melatonin, cortisol, and other hormones rise and fall throughout each day and night in an intricate dance. And if something falls off its pattern, the consequences can continue, like the ripples on water after throwing in a pebble.



Other natural remedies for better sleep?


Your evening cup of tea might include chamomile or valerian root (with a splash of tart cherry juice) for an even better night’s sleep.


You can also diffuse or spray soothing essential oils such as lavender, chamomile or vetiver. A drop of essential oil can be dropped right on your pillowcase or mixed with witch hazel to spritz into the air and on your bedding. Inhale and slowly exhale - nice, isn’t it?



chamomile tea, herbs and doterra essential oil

Photo by Lisa Hobbs on Unsplash




Where is the root cause?


If you’re a gardener, you know that just plucking a few leaves off of a weed is not going to deter the weed’s growth. Those weeds will be bouncing back before you’ve even gotten your tools back in the shed.


And the same is true for symptom management. We can’t fight symptoms and expect lasting results.


While it sure was simpler to fall asleep and stay asleep while we were younger, things can get more complicated with less-than-optimal nutrition, excessive screen time, chronic stress and not having the right snacks before bed (ok, ok, we all know about pistachios now).


But if the problem is related to nutrient status (like magnesium), food sensitivities or something else, it can take a bit more digging to figure it out.


You deserve a good night’s sleep; I’d love to help!



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