Eat for Better Sleep

Sleep is an important part of our daily lives and can maintain a healthy weight, help us stay alert, improve memory & lower stress.  Unfortunately for many, quality sleep continues to evade us.  If you are trying to improve your sleeping habits, you may be surprised to learn that food and diet can have a huge impact. Many people associate turkey as the culprit to our post-Thanksgiving meal snooze-fest.  Turkey naturally contains an amino acid called tryptophan.  Tryptophan is used in our bodies to create serotonin which helps our bodies relax and prepare for sleep. But if you ate a high protein meal you would not feel sleepy. Instead the number of amino acids available in our bodies increases; all competing to cross the blood-brain barrier.  This makes it more difficult for tryptophan to cross the “finish line”.  Adding carbohydrates triggers the release of insulin which distracts competing amino acids, allowing tryptophan to easily cross the blood-brain barrier with minimal competition.  With this in mind, here are a few helpful tips to naturally improve your sleep. Include carbs at dinner.  As mentioned before, carbohydrates are an important factor when trying to convert tryptophan into serotonin.  A well-balanced meal that includes a good source of protein and carbs will help relax your body, preparing you for a good night’s sleep. Skip the spicy & high fat foods before bed.  Spicy foods and high-fat meals causes your digestive system to work harder; diverting the energy to prepare the body for sleep.  For some these foods can cause indigestion and heartburn; disrupting your natural sleep cycle and causing much discomfort.  Don’t go to bed hungry.  Choose a light high quality snack that combines tryptophan-containing protein and carbohydrate.  Good quality combos include ½ turkey or egg sandwich, a small bowl of whole-grain cereal with milk, oatmeal, yogurt, pita bread with hummus, or banana & peanut butter.  For best effects (peak of serotonin release) consume within an hour of going to bed. Avoid drinking too much liquid before bedtime.  Although it is important to stay hydrated, try getting all your fluid needs in during the day.  Drinking too many beverages right before bed may lead to annoying visits to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Pass on alcohol.  Although drinking alcohol can make you drowsy & fall asleep faster it also leads to poorer quality of sleep such as restlessness, frequent awakenings, night sweats, and headaches.  It is recommended to avoid alcohol 4 hours before bedtime.  If you do consume alcohol close to bedtime, remember to drink plenty of water to minimize these side effects. Watch the caffeine!  Caffeine may be the culprit of your nighttime insomnia, even if your last cup of Joe was in the afternoon!  Other sources of caffeine that may be keeping you up at night include cola, chocolate, tea, and decaffeinated beverages.  Although each person’s sensitivity to caffeine varies, it is recommended to cut caffeine from your diet at least 4 – 6 hours before bed. There are many other ways to improve your sleeping habits naturally like engaging in a regular exercise routine, dedicating enough time to sleep (an average adult needs anywhere from 6-8 hours a night), starting a bedtime routine, limiting stress and electronic use before bed and even engaging in light meditation. Elaine P. Secilmis, RD, CD

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