Is sleep an elusive dream for you? You can’t fall asleep and if you do, you can’t sustain sleep? If you’re one of the 50 million Americans who fight to get some shut-eye every night, you know what the lack of sleep can do. You feel tired, irritable, lack concentration and it lowers your productivity at work. That’s on the surface. Health authorities point out that the lack of sleep may increase risks of diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, lower immunity and promote weight gain, among others. However, there is help and, sometimes, the help could be as simple as looking at the foods you eat. Certain key nutrients found in foods promote sleep and a lack of these nutrients may be the reason that you’re counting sheep instead of enjoying a good night’s sleep. Let’s look at the impact of diet on sleep.
Nutrients that Aid Sleep:
The nutrient that promotes strong teeth and bones is also a key element in helping sleep. Calcium helps to produce melatonin, sleep hormones that regulate sleep-and-wake cycle. During the night, melatonin level typically increases, enabling you to sleep. If you’re calcium deficient, it may affect melatonin production, which will in turn affect your ability to fall asleep. To increase calcium intake, enjoy dairy products such as yogurt, kefir and milk. That may explain the common advice to drink a glass of warm milk before you go to sleep.
Magnesium deficiencies have been linked to sleep disorders including insomnia and restless leg syndrome (makes it difficult to fall asleep). Magnesium helps to relax muscles and promote healthy circulation to fight stress and anxiety. A relaxed body falls asleep more easily. Look at your diet and be sure to include magnesium-rich foods such as avocados, berries, melons, green leafy vegetables such as chard and kale, various nuts and seeds, beans and whole grains such as millet, quinoa and oats. To improve your body’s uptake of magnesium, include foods rich in B6, vitamin D and selenium.
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C is perhaps most associated with fighting the common cold. But that’s not the only thing it can do. Various studies show that low levels of vitamin C may contribute to short or poor quality of sleep. If you’re experiencing sleep disturbances, waking up during the night or can’t seem to stay asleep, check your vitamin C level. Vitamin C helps to reduce stress hormones, cortisol, while producing serotonin, hormones that make you feel relaxed. Even though vitamin C aids sleep, too much vitamin C can interfere with sleep. It’s all about balance.
The joke about the heavy Thanksgiving turkey dinner and how it produces sluggish guests thereafter may have some bearing. Turns out the amino acid found in turkey, tryptophan, is a building block of serotonin and melatonin, both brain chemicals that induce relaxation. However, some research has shown that it’s not just the tryptophan that induces sleep, it’s the carbohydrates that accompany the meal that cause the biggest boost of serotonin. The research also goes on to point out that the amount of carbohydrates should be no more than 30 grams. Think whole wheat cracker with some turkey or tuna.
- B Vitamins
B vitamins refer to a group of 8 water-soluble vitamins. Collectively, they help cell metabolism, enabling the body to make energy and to produce red blood cells. Certain B vitamins help to synthesize certain neurotransmitters that regulate the sleep-and-wake cycle. They help to produce serotonin, needed to produce melatonin, which promotes sleep. A lack of B vitamins may cause insomnia. To get your daily intake of B vitamins, include lean proteins such as fish, poultry, meat, eggs and dairy products, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, beans and peas.
However, the sleep quandary is sometimes, not as simple as it seems. As much as there are foods that are sleep-helping, there are those that sabotage your sleep efforts. If you’re on a hunt to take them down, so you can enjoy quality sleep, here are the main culprits:
You’ve probably heard of caffeine and how it can keep sleep away, after all, coffee is a stimulant. Coffee, tea and caffeinated sodas are usual suspects but do you know caffeine can sneak into other foods too? Some OTC (over-the-counter) medications contain caffeine and certain foods such as dark chocolate (yes, some of us have a weakness for that) and certain beverages. If your body is sensitive to caffeine, always check labels and stay away from caffeine 8 hours before sleep.
A glass of wine before you go to sleep may seem like the perfect way to fall into slumberland but hold that thought for a second. Studies show that even though alcohol relaxes you and helps you to fall asleep, it actually disrupts sleep and interferes with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. And REM sleep is crucial to foster concentration, memory and memory skills. Missing out on REM sleep is like taking a shower without soap. You’re missing out on the essence of sleep.
- Foods Rich in Tyramine
Tomatoes, eggplant, soya sauce, fermented and aged foods such as brie, stilton, smoked salmon and cured meat make for tasty ingredients but these foods are rich in Tyramine. Now, what could be the problem with Tyramine? For those who have difficulty falling asleep, Tyramine is an amino acid that causes the brain to produce norepinephrine, a chemical that stimulates brain activity. An active brain is not going to want to go to sleep. Go easy on these type of foods, especially closer to bedtime and avoid the “wide-awake” curse.
Don’t let a full bladder get in the way of a good night. True, drinking at least 8 glasses of water every day hydrates you, but drinking too much before you go to sleep may be your sleep nightmare. Taking bathroom breaks in the middle of sleep means disruptive sleep, at best. If you already have a sleeping problem, this may further compound the problem. You can avoid this easily by drinking water during the day and watching how much you drink before you go to sleep. On that note, watch out for high-water-content vegetables/fruits such as celery, cucumbers, radishes and watermelon.
- Less Fiber, More Fat and Sugar Foods
Doctors worry about the terrible threesome: the less fiber, more fat and sugar combination. For good reason as the threesome promotes cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight gain, among others. Now, a new study found another link, a bad one at that. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, found that subjects who eat a diet of less fiber, more saturated fat and sugar have lighter, less restorative and more disrupted sleep. The results showed that high-fiber diet helps deep, slow-wave sleep, whereas high-saturated fat cause less deep sleep. High sugar intake also causes sleep interruptions.
If you realize that sleep is a precious necessity, essential for good health and wellness, make diet changes to facilitate a good night’s sleep. Choose to eat a diet rich in fiber, antioxidants, nutrients and minerals to promote sleep. That’s one big part of the sleep equation. Other noteworthy factors include exercise, having a sleep regimen (commonly known as sleep hygiene), a good sleeping environment (cool temperature, good supportive mattresses, comfortable pillows and for some, soothing aromatherapy). For more information on sleep and how you can promote sleep, contact your local Urban Mattress store.