With over 70 million Americans affected by intermittent or chronic sleep problems, we are a nation awake. If you are one of the many people suffering through sleepless nights, your diet may hold a clue to your sleep patterns. Stop counting sheep and instead, start making your calories count. Incorporate the right foods into your diet—and eliminate the wrong ones—to ensure a sound slumber every night.
The Carbohydrate Connection
Carbs have gotten a bad rap recently, but they do have their merits. Carbohydrates boost serotonin, a hormone that helps you feel calm, peaceful, and even sleepy. If you’re battling insomnia, a small meal that’s high in carbohydrates before bedtime might help promote sleep. Consider snacking on cheese and crackers, toast, yogurt, or cereal and milk before turning in for the evening. Just remember to keep it small, simple, and easily digestible, as large meals tax the digestive system and actually interfere with sleep.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that has been shown to have a sleep-inducing effect. While many people once believed that the tryptophan in turkey was the cause of post-Thanksgiving sleepiness, newer research indicates that might not be the case. Still, tryptophan does have its place as a sleep aid. The trick is that tryptophan needs to be consumed on an empty stomach without the interference of other amino acids and proteins. Turkey isn’t the only source of tryptophan—try chicken, pork, cheese, milk, and eggs as well.
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Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain that controls the body’s sleep and wake cycles. Melatonin can be found in cherries, oats, sweet corn, rice, and nuts. When included as part of the regular diet, these foods might help regulate the body’s natural sleep cycle.
In addition to incorporating the right foods into your diet to promote sleep, you’ll want to eliminate some sleep stoppers. Here’s what to avoid:
- Caffeine: Caffeine lurks in many places—coffee, tea, chocolate, and more. Some people need 24 hours to eliminate the effects of caffeine, whereas others only need a few hours. Each individual is different. If you’re having trouble sleeping, consider cutting caffeine—either altogether, or stopping it earlier in the day—to see if you can reclaim precious sleep.
- Alcohol: Alcohol is deceiving. We feel relaxed and mellow after we drink it, but in truth, it interferes with sleep cycles and results in lighter sleep.
- Sugar: If you want to sleep, get off the sugar roller coaster. Sugar affects our blood sugar levels, causing highs and lows throughout the day. Get off the sugar to stabilize blood sugar levels and become a sound sleeper.
- Liquids: What’s true for toddlers is true for everyone—avoid consuming too many liquids before bed. This will prevent your body from waking you up to use the bathroom.
- Large Meals: Large meals require a lot of digestive activity, a sure sleep stopper. Keep it light in the evenings to ensure a good night’s sleep.
Try these pre-bedtime snacks to help promote sleep:
- Mashed potatoes
- Cereal and milk
- Cheese and crackers