“Eating healthy and allowing the body to absorb proper nutrients provides the brain with the chemical environment that it needs to produce the neurotransmitters that it needs to maintain adequate sleep,” said Ana Krieger, MD, MPH, Medical Director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine.
Nearly half of Americans spend their days tired, frustrated and moody because of poor sleep. The problem equates to many restless nights and believing stress or anxiety are the main factors. Sometimes, the issue can be solved simply by adjusting your diet.
The Sleep Foundation reports 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea that can seriously affect their quality of sleep. It also can lead to many health risks such as heart attack or stroke. Sleep apnea is also associated with snoring, which is common in overweight people who may be unmotivated to exercise.
“Weight gain leads to compromised respiratory function when an individual’s trunk and neck area increase from weight gain. These problems can make change difficult and leads to a slippery slope of health problems.”
Many of us already know not to drink coffee or sugar-rich foods prior to bed; but this is also a good reminder to cut out caffeine early in the day since it takes the body six hours to metabolize the caffeine. We all know what sugar can do to a child at night. These same results occur in an adult from a sugary alcoholic beverage or even a piece of chocolate cake. Cutting out the sugar hours before sleep is the first step towards healthier sleeping and eating.
Are you lost on what studies show are the best foods to eat at night? Turkey may sound like an easy and healthy alternative; but it is not always the right answer. The publication "Eating Well" provides nine foods that can help fight restless nights without worrying about indigestion or heartburn prior to getting the full eight hours our bodies long to get:
- Soy foods
- Fiber-rich foods
- Tart cherry juice
- Whole grains
A few of these items make sense and are repeats on any healthy food list. But one that stands out may be tart cherry juice. “When adults with chronic insomnia drank a cup of tart cherry juice twice a day, they experienced some relief in the severity of their insomnia.”
Kiwis are also not a traditional bedtime treat, but are “full of vitamins C and E, serotonin and foliate—all of which may help you snooze.”
If you are searching for bedtime snacks versus dinner options, Reader’s Digest suggests walnuts or almonds; cheese and whole grain crackers; pretzels and hummus; and cereal with milk.
Fitness Magazine provides an entirely different approach to a restful night with some simple tips and tricks to ensure an adequate amount of balanced food throughout the day. Their suggestions are:
- Don’t skimp, and then splurge. For those looking to lose a few pounds by eating light but are tempted to splurge at the end of the day, you may be causing an increase in hormone levels and active blood flow in digestion creating irregular sleep patterns.
- Do eat early and often. Balancing out your meals provide equality amongst the proteins and nutritional needs a single meal provides. Three to six mini meals a day are suggested.
- Don’t go to extremes. If you consistently miss a sufficient amount of calories, you are cheating your body of needed nutrients to function a full 24 hours causing low iron deficiency and other possible issues.
- Do go herbal. Add a cup of chamomile which can act as a mild, healthy sedative or passion fruit tea that contains “Harman alkaloids—chemicals found in high levels in the flower—act on your nervous system to make you tired.” Consider adding honey to your tea. Yes, it is sugar but a natural sugar easily allowing tryptophan to enter the brain.
- Do strike a balance. “A well-rounded diet with foods high in B vitamins, calcium, and zinc will help you rest better. Vitamin B6 signals your body to produce the calming hormone serotonin and calcium and zinc are natural relaxants."
According to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, the sleepier you are during the day, the more you will eat to just keep going through your regular routine. This attempt to “perk you up” can cause more weight gain leading to obesity, which is a cyclical issue in sleepless nights.
Another study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition encourages adding complex carbs to dinner, or a protein and whole grain at bedtime. The study suggests “high-glycemic index jasmine rice" instead of "lower-GI long-grain rice” helps study subjects fall asleep faster. “Researchers speculate the insulin triggered by the high-GI meal led to more sleep-inducing tryptophan in the brain, faster.”
Shifting the conversation to hydration, dehydration causes the body to not sleep well, also. Just like being dehydrated during the day in high heat, not drinking enough water causes the body to not function at 100 percent. Along with irritability or fatigue, dehydration may cause leg cramps, dry mouth or nose that increase snoring, or a dry throat causing hoarseness in the mornings. Staying well hydrated all day is the best medicine.
Viewing the opposite side of the conversation, sleeping more will then create healthier eating habits. In order to build a leaner and stronger body, a full night sleep is considered one of the most important factors.
A recent study concluded seven to nine hours of sleep rebuilds muscle more efficiently than those who receive less than seven hours of rest per night. Sleep strategies helped the study participants adjust their daily routine to sleep more and eat healthier, while maintaining a consistent workout routine.
If you find yourself reading this article and you already are checking off most of the boxes, you may need a consultation with a sleep study professional. Healthy eating and exercise alone may not be the only answer to your sleep deprivation. Call Alaska Sleep Clinic today for your free sleep assessment.
Alaska Sleep Clinic is the most comprehensive multi-site sleep lab in Alaska with clinics in Anchorage, Wasilla, Fairbanks and Soldotna; and we continue to expand our services to those with sleep disorders.