By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Tonight millions of people around the world will have trouble getting to sleep. Some will read, some will watch TV, others may just reach for a sleeping pill. Me, I have a tried and true solution anytime I find myself up for too many nights unable to sleep --- I head to the grocery store for a nice thick slice of salmon.
It works every time. After eating a dinner of salmon lightly grilled in olive oil, I am out like a light. I sleep like a baby. Why is that? What is it about the pink fish that works, for me at least, as well as a sleeping pill?
Why You Should Be Looking for a Natural Sleep Aid in the First Place
There is no dearth of commercial pharmaceutical sleeping aids on the market. A sample list includes Ambien, Zenesta, Ativan, Restoril, Xanax and many more. These pills either help you to get to sleep or they help you to stay asleep, thus combatting insomnia.
But, and you can guess the rest, there are serious downsides. The most important downside is that they can become addictive. To give you an idea of the magnitude of the problem, the Guardian newspaper in the UK ran a story entitled "Sleeping Pills: Britain's Hidden Addiction". The New York Times ran a story called "Are Sleeping Pills Addictive?" Both these stories highlighted the growing problem with sleeping pill addiction. There are even clinics in the US dedicated solely or mainly to helping people over come sleeping pill addiction. Many of these people were misled, sometimes by their doctors, into believing that sleeping pills were harmless and non-addictive.
Sleeping pills also can make you sleepy teh next day. You may find it hard to shake off the drowsiness, making it difficult to function at work or drive.
All of this points to the need for natural sleeping aids And salmon fills the bill.
Why Salmon Helps You Get to Sleep
Your body uses a natural hormone called melatonin to regulate your sleep patterns. Melanin is made in your pineal gland, a tiny ball about the size of a pea located in your brain. During the day, your pineal gland is inactive because of your exposure to light. Light stimulated a nerve that connects your retina to the hypothalmus area of your brain, where your suprachiasmatic nucleus resides.
The suprachiasmatic nucleus acts as a Sleep Command Center coordinating processes that help prepare you for sleep. When night falls, the command goes out and your body temperature begins to drop. Another command is given to start the production of melatonin, your natural sleeping aid. Once daylight hits, the reverse processes start, your body temperature goes up and melatonin levels all but disappear.
To make melatonin, your body needs Vitamin B6.
That's where salmon comes in. Salmon is rich in Vitamin B6. Salmon varieties differ in their B6 content but an average a 100 gram serving of salmon has about 0.944 mg of Vitamin B6. This is about 33% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin B6.
Considering that you get some B6 from other foods during the day, eating a piece of salmon with dinner is like giving your body a B and therefore a melatonin mega-boost.
And we haven't even mentioned the other relaxing effects of salmon, including all those omega-" fatty acids, which help to relax your arteries and induce a restful sleep. A 1989 Mayo Clinic study led by Dr. H. Shimokawa found that omega-3 fatty acids from cod liver oil significantly induces relaxation of the endothelium, the inner layer of the arteries in pigs. And it does the same thing to your arteries.
There are two omega 3 fatty acids that do the trick, EPA and DHA. The dosage in the study was 3.5 grams of EPA and 1.5 grams of DHA. Again, salmon is rich in both. A 100 gram serving of salmon contains about a gram of these essential fatty acids.