You Are What You Eat -- and How You Sleep.
By Michael Breus, PhD, ABSM and Stuart J. Meyers, MD
Friday, 1st December 2006
Eating right will help you sleep tight and sound sleep is essential for your mental - spiritual - physical and emotional health - So which foods contribute to good sleep? And which should we avoid? When should we eat certain foods?

The effects of various foods on individuals vary greatly due to how sensitive a person is to substances in the food, the time of day one eats, other dietary factors, medical conditions, medications, exercise, bedtime, stress levels, and other factors.

Although there is no doubt that foods affect the quality of our sleep, convincing clinical studies on how specific foods and substances affect sleep are often hard to come by. That said, certain foods do have sleep-friendly effects, while others have ones that can keep you awake. And the time of day you eat certain foods can impact your sleep.

Timing: To Eat or Not to Eat?

When you eat does make a difference. Restricting food intake before bedtime avoids uncomfortable feelings of fullness, and slows activity of your digestive system allowing for a more restful sleep. Don't eat a meal within a couple of hours before bedtime, but don't go to bed hungry, either. A grumbling stomach could easily wake you up.

Different foods are cleared from your body at different rates -- some foods are "longer-acting" than others. Caffeine, for example, can last from a few hours up to 14 hours. So it's best not to drink that java too late in the day. And alcohol before bed -- even a glass of wine with dinner -- could disrupt your sleep.

Drinking too much of anything close to bedtime may cause awakenings during the night to urinate. So try not to drink fluids after around 8 p.m.

Eating a healthy diet goes a long way toward sleeping well. If you eat well, you can sleep well. Sleep-friendly foods may help you relax and fall asleep, but don't view them as "sleeping pills." All the sleep-friendly foods in the world won't help much if you are working until midnight, chugging coffee, and your mind is racing about the next day's work.

  • Foods that, as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, help promote sleep may include tuna, halibut, pumpkin, artichokes, avocados, almonds, eggs, bok choy, peaches, walnuts, apricots, oats, asparagus, potatoes, buckwheat, and bananas. They contain generous supplies of the vitamins, minerals, fats, and proteins necessary for proper functioning of our nervous, muscular, metabolic, skeletal, and hormonal systems. Important nutrients include calcium, magnesium, selenium, zinc, omega fatty acids, amino acids to build proteins, vitamins C, E, and B-complex, and iron (especially for premenopausal women).
  • By curbing your hunger, a light snack may allow you to fall asleep more easily Carbohydrates and dairy products have been shown to help decrease the time it takes to fall asleep.
  • Tryptophan is a building block of serotonin, which has been shown to have a calming effect on the brain and help regulate sleep.Tryptophan is absorbed best when eaten with carbohydrates and without other proteins in the stomach. Turkey, chicken, pork, and cheese have a good dose of tryptophan.
  • Use of the herbal supplement valerian has been widespread since the 17th century. Most studies on valerian are on individuals with sleep disorders and do show some positive results on the quantity and quality of sleep. It may take a few weeks of use to have an effect. Side effects may include cramping and fatigue.
  • German chamomile: Not to be confused with Roman chamomile (both of the daisy family), chamomile has sedative effects, which have been reported as mild. Allergic reactions may occur in those individuals with allergies to daisies.
  • The herbal supplement kava (also known as kava-kava) appears to be a depressant and has been reported to be a muscle relaxant and analgesic. At least three studies have found sleep-promoting effects from kava, but mostly on anxiety-related sleep problems. Long-term use may show some skin discoloration (yellowing).
...And Sleep-Unfriendly

Caffeine is a stimulant and can keep you awake. Cutting out caffeine at least four to six hours before bedtime can help you fall asleep more easily. It can stay in your body longer than you may think -- up to 14 hours. So if you drink a cup of coffee at noon and are still awake at midnight, that may be the reason. But watch out -- if you usually consume large amounts of caffeine and cut yourself off too quickly, you may get headaches that also could keep you awake. Caffeine is present in:

  • Beverages like coffee (100-200 mg), tea (50-75 mg), soda (50-75 mg)
  • Frozen coffee deserts (8-85 mg)
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications cold remedies, diuretics, stimulants, and weight loss products, such as like extra strength Excedrin (two tablets, 130 mg), Dexatrim (200 mg), Vanquish (33 mg), Dristan (one tablet, 30 mg)
  • What about chocolate?! Gotcha. Many people think chocolate is high in caffeine. Actually it's not; milk chocolate and chocolate milk have only about 5-6 mg of caffeine per serving. That's a 1-ounce serving for chocolate and 8 ounces for chocolate milk.
A tip about caffeine consumption: Although many people do not abuse caffeine, its use can be insidious: Say you drink some coffee or tea in the morning, a couple of sodas during the day, some more tea or coffee after dinner. You may well have enough caffeine to keep you awake and disturb your sleep.

Now what happens the next morning? You wake up tired, so what do you do? Brew up some more coffee, of course, and start all over again. It's a vicious cycle. When you wake up tired, you should actually CUT caffeine, not increase it. We should note that caffeine use, in and of itself, is not a bad thing and has been shown to have some positive effects.

  • Nicotine: Although not a food per se, nicotine is ingested and associated with eating and drinking. Having a smoke before bed -- although it feels relaxing -- actually puts a stimulant into your bloodstream. The effects of nicotine are similar to those of caffeine. Nicotine can keep you up and awaken you at night; it can stay in your body as long as 14 hours. It should be avoided particularly near bedtime and if you wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol is a depressant. Although it may help you fall asleep, as your body clears it from your system while you are sleeping, you have a withdrawal that can cause symptoms like nightmares, sweats, and headache. Try drinking one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage to try to reduce these effects.
  • Ephedra, also called ma huang, is a stimulant once widely used to help with weight loss or improve athletic performance. Now it is banned by the FDA due to the risk of illness or injury. Insomnia is one of its potential side effects, which also include rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, chest pain, anxiety, nervousness, and tremor. It has even been linked to heart attacks, stroke, and death.
  • Yohimbe. This was originally used as a sexual stimulant in African countries, but has more recently been found in herbal stimulants, sexual aids, and body-building products. Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, sweating, rapid heart rate, and increases in blood pressure.
  • Ginseng. There are a couple of different types of Ginseng to be distinguished:
Panax ginseng (Asian or Korean ginseng): This has traditionally been used to counteract fatigue or as a stimulant. Its effects on sleep are unclear, with some people showing no effects and others reporting less sleep and poor quality of sleep after use. There was a highly publicized "syndrome" associated with ginseng, which included hypertension, nervousness, insomnia, and morning diarrhea, but not all people show these effects.

Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng):V This is often confused with Asian ginseng. Most of the research on Siberian ginseng is focused on its increases in physical endurance and work capacity. Few effects on sleep have been reported, but they include insomnia. Other side effects have included hair growth, and irregular heart rate in elderly patients.

SOURCES: SOURCES: Sleep Medicine, Kryger, Meir, et al., Third Edition, 2000. National Sleep Foundation: "Got Caffeine?" National Sleep Foundation: "Omnibus Sleep in America Poll." Gyllenhaal, C., "Efficacy and Safety of Herbal Stimulants and Sedatives in Sleep Disorders," Sleep Medicine Reviews, (2000) 4 (3), 229-251.

His latest book: Good Night: The Sleep Doctor's 4 Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health.

Copyright 2004-2006, Sound Sleep, LLC. www.soundsleepsolutions.com
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