At the renowned restaurant Monastrell in southern Spain, chef Maria Jose San Roman offers a special “sleep menu” for insomniacs. Claiming to use secret ingredients prized by the ancient Romans for their sleep-inducing qualities, the celebrity chef has concocted a menu of exotic gourmet dishes that promise to put diners to sleep.
You won’t find turkey on the sleep menu, but you will find peppery grilled octopus, another food equally high in tryptophan. Found in a number of foods, tryptophan is an amino acid that triggers the production of serotonin, the body’s natural sedative. Although scientific opinion on whether or not tryptophan triggers sleep is divided, many people are firm believers in the connection between food and feelings of sleepiness.
The sleep menu is rich in foods high in tryptophan, including seafood, chickpeas, whole grains, nuts, tofu, milk and bananas. But it also features small servings to keep courses light. Even if it’s the right kind of food, too much food hinders digestion which can make it difficult to fall asleep. But San Roman says it’s the saffron in her dishes, not tryptophan, that makes diner sleepy.
Saffron’s soporific qualities have been passed through the generations. Spanish mothers often rub it on the gums of teething babies to quiet them. San Roman believes adding saffron to foods has the same sleep-inducing effect on the stomach. Her recommendation for a good night’s sleep? Sprinkle a pinch of saffron on your dinner!