The Simple Fix to Better Sleep: Eat Wisely

May 5, 2016

The Simple Fix to Better Sleep: Eat Wisely

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What you eat or drink greatly affects how you sleep. Different nutrients contained in food may help you fall asleep faster, have a better quality of sleep, or may keep your mind or body restless. If you have ever found yourself needing a nap after a big meal, especially Thanksgiving, the tryptophan in turkey is probably to blame.

While many people turn to various sleep aids to help them, few realize that what you consume, especially in the few hours before bed, can have a significant influence on our sleeping habits.

Foods That Can Help

Here are five foods that may help you fall asleep faster, or improve the quality of your sleep. Beyond the foods mentioned, others such as kale, lettuce, hummus, and sweet potatoes will help Mr. Sandman come a little sooner.

  • Cherries - Cherries are one of the few natural foods that contain melatonin. Melatonin is a chemical that helps to control your body’s internal clock. If you’ve ever taken melatonin capsules to fall asleep, you’re familiar with the effects. A study has found that tart cherry juice helps improve not only sleep duration but also the quality of sleep.
  • Turkey - If you’re trying to beat that afternoon lull, you might want to rethink that turkey sandwich, but if you’re getting ready for bed, a turkey sandwich just might do the trick. Turkey contains tryptophan, which is an amino acid that can help people doze off. If you’re an insomniac, a serving of turkey may not help you, but if you just need a little push in the direction of Slumberland, that turkey sandwich might be perfect.
  • Bananas - Bananas make a great choice for a snack, and especially when you’re getting ready for bed. These fruits contain the natural muscle-relaxants magnesium and potassium. Since they’re also full of carbs, they are the perfect snack to help make you sleepy.
  • Jasmine Rice - Ranking high on the glycemic index, jasmine rice can help cut down on the time it takes to fall asleep. If a food ranks high on the glycemic index, the body slowly digests it, releasing glucose into the bloodstream gradually. Jasmine rice also boosts tryptophan and serotonin production, encouraging sleep.
  • Milk - We’ve all heard of having a warm glass of milk before bed to help you fall asleep, and here’s why: milk contains tryptophan, the amino acid that helps you fall asleep. Milk is also an excellent source of calcium, which helps with the production of melatonin.
  • Chamomile Tea - Most people know that if you’re trying to fall asleep, caffeine is the last thing you want to consume. Sometimes caffeine “hides” in some of our favorite beverages like green tea. But herbal teas, like chamomile tea, are an excellent way to get ready for bed. Drinking chamomile tea causes an increase in glycine, which is a chemical that helps to relax nerves and muscles. And if you want to sweeten your tea, choose honey. The natural sugars in honey help to slightly raise insulin and allow tryptophan enter the brain easier.

Foods That Can Harm

Some of the foods or drinks on this list may surprise you, but if you want to get a better night of sleep, you should avoid them in the leading hours before bed. Other foods that may keep you up at night are tomatoes, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, and beans.

You might want to rethink that nightcap. While alcohol does indeed help adults to fall asleep faster and deeper, it disrupts rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM occurs approximately 90 minutes after you fall asleep and is the sleep stage when people dream. Disrupting your REM sleep can make it harder to concentrate and cause you to be drowsy throughout the day. If you want to avoid a night of disruptive sleep, keep yourself to only one glass one to two hours before bed.

  • Caffeine - We all know that caffeine keeps you awake at night. Even that small coffee you had after dinner with dessert may be the culprit of your restless night. However, there is caffeine in more than coffee. Even decaffeinated coffee still has enough caffeine to disrupt sleep, especially if you’re caffeine sensitive. Sodas, teas, and even dark chocolate are all things that we may forget have caffeine in them. Medications such as pain relievers, cold medication, and weight loss pills may also contain caffeine and keep you up at night. Pay attention to medication labels to see if they contain caffeine.
  • Fluids - We all know that staying hydrated is important for keeping your body healthy and also great for losing weight. But a large intake of fluid before bed may wake you up in the middle of the night for a bathroom run. Even worse, this bathroom break may disrupt your REM sleep stage, and we already know what happens when your REM sleep is disrupted (See alcohol, above).
  • Protein - Your body needs protein for energy during the day, but eating foods high in protein before bed may make it much harder to fall asleep. Protein blocks the serotonin activity, and guess what your body needs to help it be able to relax or fall asleep? Serotonin. So skip reheating that steak before bed, and sleep well.
  • Bacon - While it may be the perfect smell and food to wake up to, bacon should be avoided before bed. Bacon, along with ham tomatoes and some cheeses, contains an amino acid called tyramine. Tyramine releases a substance that will stimulate your brain and keep you awake—probably thinking about more bacon.

Although everyone responds differently to the wide variety of foods out there, a healthy diet and regular exercise are never a bad idea. Finding a schedule that works for you will help you get the sleep you need consistently and keep your body and mind functioning at its top performance!

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Frequently Asked Questions

I just turned 63 and I can’t seem to fall asleep or stay asleep as well as I used to. Do you have any recommendations for what I can do to treat this that doesn't involve medication?

Sleep disorders are a common problem in elderly adults. To help combat this issue, most doctors will recommend a number of treatments. Here are a few: avoid large meals before bedtime, avoid stimulants starting mid-afternoon, do not take naps, patriciate in regular exercise, have a consistent bedtime schedule, and avoid using the bed for things other than sleep and sexual activity. 

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Our grandmother’s assisted living home recently told us that she is waking at night and having intense night terrors. What is the cause of this?

Oh my! It’s possible she might be suffering from a REM sleep disorder, something that causes people to act out their dreams. Although this is very rare, such sleep disorders may also cause intense and terrifying experiences at night. In some cases, people can become violent, kicking and flailing in their surroundings. It’s best to consult a professional before making any changes, but there are some medications that can be useful!

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