Did you know that your diet can determine whether you’re tossing and turning all night long or sleeping like a baby?
“We know that certain foods that we consume can interfere with sleep, Carl E. Hunt, MD, former director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research in Bethesda, Md., revealed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of adult Americans aren’t getting the recommended seven-plus hours of shuteye on a regular basis. To maximize sleep, there are some foods and drinks that are best skipped later in the day, while others make for great evening meals or snacks.
Fried dishes, like chicken fingers, or fatty favorites like pizza and hamburgers, should be avoided before bedtime. At night, digestion can already be as much as 50 percent slower than during the day, and it takes extra time for the body to digest and absorb those foods. Steer clear of spicy dishes as well, as they can trigger sleep-interrupting heartburn.
An excess of sugar and other carbohydrates in daily diets can also cause major disruptions in sleep patterns. Researchers from New York City’s Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center found that eating them caused a more fitful sleep. Salty dishes and sneakier sources of sodium, such as soy sauce and smoked meats, are just as bad, since they can be dehydrating and make you wake up in the middle of the night desperate for a glass of water.
While it’s a nobrainer that caffeinated coffee is a no-no late in the day, alcohol should also be avoided. “Many people use alcohol to help them relax, but it actually prevents your body from entering the deep stages of sleep,” explained Cynthia Pasquella, CCN, CHLC, CWC.
Once you’ve cut out the kind of fare that may cause problems, take a look at how much you’re eating. “If you’re waking up hungry in the middle of the night, that usually means you’re not getting enough calories during the day,” Pasquella said, noting that a good rule of thumb is to aim for three small meals, plus two snacks, if needed.
Next, incorporate foods that boost the mood stabilizer serotonin and melatonin, the sleep-wake cycle regulating hormone. Seratonin-increasing foods include salmon, pineapple, eggs and tofu, while melatonin can be found in berries, walnuts and tomatoes.
Above all, mealtimes should be filled with nutrient-dense foods. “Eating healthy and allowing the body to absorb proper nutrients provides the brain with the chemical environment it needs to produce the neurotransmitters to maintain adequate sleep,” explained Ana Krieger, MD, MPH, medical director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.
Food & Beverage Bedtime Sleep Aids
Add some of these staples to your diet for a better night’s rest.
Craving something sweet before bedtime? “Figs pack potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron,” noted Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN. “These minerals help with blood flow and muscle contraction, which are key for falling asleep.”
The breakfast staple is great for a midnight snack, since it triggers insulin production, raises blood sugar naturally and makes you feel sleepy.
Women who are experiencing the symptoms of menopause should try snacking on lightly salted edamame, which contains estrogen-like compounds that can control night-time hot flashes.
In addition to magnesium, they also supply proteins that help promote sleep by switching you from your alert adrenaline cycle to your rest-and-digest cycle.
They’re packed with magnesium and potassium, which help relax overstressed muscles.
“Chamomile tea is excellent for calming nerves before bedtime,” London shared. “It’s also hydrating and stomach-soothing. Decaf green tea is another good choice, since it contains the amino acid theanine, which helps promote sleep.
It’s not just an old wives’ tale that warm milk, which contains tryptophan, can take us to dreamland. Calcium helps reduce stress and stabilizes nerve fibers, including those in the brain.
Tart Cherry Juice
Researchers found that drinking tart cherry juice, which is high in melatonin, before bed helped insomniacs fall asleep faster than usual.