In the previous lesson, we talked about exercise and weight-loss helping you sleep better. In this lesson, we will talk about food, and how it can help or hurt your sleep. Before we get into specifics, a generalization: Eating a consistently healthy diet will improve your overall health, and by extension sleep. Again, I am not a health Guru. Seek out a nutritionist or dietician to get the best advice on eating right.
Foods That Help Your Sleep
Tryptophan. Okay, raise your hand if you knew this one would be on this list. Everyone's favorite happy, sleepy turkey drug. And yes, tryptophan does indeed induce sleepiness. But why turkey has that reputation is beyond me. Even though there is the exact same amount of tryptophan in chicken as there is turkey, for some reason, nobody ever talks about that or reports being sleepy after eating chicken. Maybe it's the stuffing... more on that in a second. The reason tryptophan makes you sleepy is that it is an amino acid that is used to synthesize melatonin, a vital hormone in the sleep-wake cycle.
Common foods with tryptophan are any meats like beef, poultry, pork, and fish. Spinach, soy, and seaweed also contain tryptophan. There are others, as well, but those are the most common. The “food” with the highest tryptophan level is sea lion kidney with a whopping 2,580mg per serving. Yummy. By comparison, turkey only has about four to five hundred.
Carbohydrates. Bread, pasta, rice, cereal, oats, wheat, etc. Carbs help you in two significant ways. If you need a little extra oomph to get you through something, such as a race, a baseball game, etc. Then “carbing up” can give that to you. However, if you don’t need anything extra, carbs will help slow you down. Some might say, weigh you down. When combined with tryptophan, carbohydrates help to speed up the effects of the former, making you sleepier faster. This may be why turkey gets the reputation that it has. Thanksgiving stuffing is a carb, which is at least served with turkey if not cooked inside the turkey itself. Eating both will get you that familiar sleepy feeling you get after Thanksgiving dinner.
Fruits and vegetables. That's right, fruits and vegetables, while part of a healthy diet, can also aid in good sleep. Bananas, in particular, are high in potassium and magnesium, which are natural muscle relaxants. Other good fruits and vegetables that help with sleep include sweet potatoes and yams, white potatoes, spinach, winter squash such as butternut squash or acorn squash, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, kale, green peas, cauliflower, celery, beets, asparagus, corn, oranges, grapefruit, mangoes, grapes... so pretty much all of them.
Some dairy. Some, but not all, dairies can help with sleep. Some include low-fat milk and yogurt. Even low-fat ice cream. You’ve heard of the warm glass of milk before bed. While this runs counter to the no fluids right before bed rule, it will help you fall asleep. I still don't personally recommend it, as having to pee might wake you up in the night. But milk with dinner would be great. Also, when you hear “low-fat ice cream” on this list, please don't hear that as “a big bowl in bed right before going to sleep.” Again maybe with dinner.
Foods That Hurt Your Sleep
Alcohol and caffeine can both negatively affect your sleep. The next lesson focuses specifically on these substances and others. For the purposes of this lesson, go easy on the alcohol and caffeine 6 to 8 hours before bed.
Highly salted foods. Found frequently in processed foods, such as ready-meals, soups, highly-processed meats, and many types of bread, are extremely high salt levels. High sodium content elevates blood pressure and causes dehydration, which can interrupt sleep. Reading the labels of most of these foods will help you to easily identify them. It is listed as Sodium on the label. Make sure you know which bread is heavily-salted. The salt will counteract the benefits from the carbohydrate.
Spicy foods. Spicy foods can aggravate the GI tract, which can cause gastrointestinal ulcers and acid reflux. GI discomfort is one of the main food-related causes of insomnia.
Finally, and this isn't so much a food but a timing issue, it is suggested that you eat early. The last meal of the day should be at least 3 hours before bed. Some experts actually recommend having six small meals throughout the day, rather than eating three large meals. Also, avoid liquids at least three hours before bedtime.
The next lesson is entitled, “What Substances Are Keeping You Up?” In it, we will discuss the substances you put in your body, and how they affect your sleep. Until then, happy Z's.