Diet Can Induce Restful Sleep
- Monday, 12 October 2009
About a third of our adult life is spent sleeping—or at least it should be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, 70 million Americans suffer from sleep problems.
As fall sets in and the days become shorter, a lack of sunlight can interfere with sleep and may even trigger sleep disorders. Sleep deprivation can compromise our mood, work, and especially our health. Studies show that people who sleep less than six hours a night are more prone to obesity and are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research suggests that even one night of sleep deprivation can raise levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin in normal weight, healthy men, which "in the long run may increase weight gain and obesity." Other studies show that children who do not receive adequate sleep are more likely to be overweight, and a decade of research has shown sleep deprivation is a risk factor for diabetes.
While numerous medical issues such as chronic pain or sleep apnea can interfere with a restful slumber, stress and an overactive nervous system is the culprit for most of us. We may not have much control over work schedules or stress levels, but sleep can be positively or negatively influenced by diet.
Foods that provide B vitamins promote wakefulness and improve mood throughout the day while encouraging restful sleep at night. Whole grains, dark leafy greens, legumes and meats are the best food sources, but to ensure a deep and consistent slumber (B vitamins help you sleep through that 3 a.m. brain chatter) try a B-complex supplement with breakfast or lunch.
If you're a caffeine user—90 percent of us are—keep in mind that caffeine is not a stimulant; rather, it blocks adenosine, a neurotransmitter that indicates when a snooze is required, and it and releases adrenaline, a stress hormone.
Sleep expert, Dr. Charles Samuels, medical director at the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance recommends that caffeine should always be consumed with protein to prevent blood sugar fluctuations. Since the half-life of caffeine is five hours (up to 10 if you use oral contraceptives), stop caffeine use four to six hours before you plan to sleep. Though green tea is a source of caffeine, it has just one-third the amount of caffeine of coffee, and it will keep your mind alert without delaying sleep onset.
Eat your last meal several hours before going to bed. Digestion involves a great deal of energy and can interrupt your sleep. If you're hungry before bed, have an easy-to-digest snack such as yogurt or a protein shake. Foods rich in the amino acid L-tryptophan—turkey, pasta, potatoes and plain yogurt—stimulate serotonin production, lulling you into sleep.
Avoid high-glycemic foods at dinner and before bed. The simple sugars in sweets, juice, and sodas will reach your bloodstream just as you have fallen asleep and can interfere with a restful sleep (and they contribute to weight gain).
Australian researchers found that a spicy meal before bed can lead to poor sleep by raising body temperature and metabolism, so be sure to eat spicy foods at least five hours of bedtime. Gas-forming foods like onions, corn, green peppers, broccoli, beans, and lentils can also disrupt sleep as they move through your digestive system.
Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it disturbs sleep quality by suppressing the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase of sleep—the most restorative sleep phase—and it can worsen sleep apnea.
Supplement Support for a Sound Sleep
Known as the "anti-stress" mineral, magnesium relaxes the body and calms the nervous system. Eat foods rich in magnesium—pumpkin seeds, almonds, and green vegetables—at or after dinner and take a magnesium supplement just before bed (combine with bone-builders calcium and vitamin D for best results). Begin with 150 mg of magnesium and increase if necessary.
The hormone melatonin regulates the circadian rhythm (or sleep cycle). It is also a powerful antioxidant.
Normally released at night as sunlight disappears, melatonin ‘informs' the body that it's time to sleep. If you struggle to fall asleep, take oral melatonin (0.5 mg to 6 mg) 30 minutes before bedtime. The right dosage varies from person to person. Experiment with different dosages until you find the amount that works best for you. Sleep in a completely dark room to maximize melatonin production.
Omega-3 fish oil combats inflammation caused by disturbed sleep patterns. It helps also to counter depression sometimes experienced by those suffering from long-term sleep disturbances. Take 1,000 to 2,000 mg of fish oil (EPA/DHA) daily and eat fish three times a week.
Other sleep aids you may want to consider include 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), adrenal extracts, valerian root, and licorice root.
Finally, get to bed by 10 p.m. every night. Between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m., our adrenal glands work the hardest to help the body recover from the effects of stress.
More on Sleep from Naturally Savvy:
Fall Asleep Naturally
Treat Insomnia with Yoga
Sleepless Nights: Come to Your Senses