Having trouble sleeping? You’re not alone. At least 40 million Americans each year suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders each year, and an additional 20 million experience occasional sleeping problems.
Like most people, I have an incredibly busy schedule, and without a good night’s rest, I’m grumpy as a bear! I’ve made it a point at home to create a great “sleep environment”. Living in Miami and NYC, this is no easy feat (think lights, noise). But I know that sleeping soundly at night is key to a happy and productive day. Once you have covered the basics: the right mattress and a dark, quiet room, you may want to focus on your diet if you’re still having difficulty getting or staying asleep.
While sleep disorders have many causes – from medications and medical conditions to psychological stress, what you eat may also play a role in how well you sleep.
Some foods can interfere with sleep while others may enhance it. Research shows that tryptophan, an amino acid found in many proteins, helps to produce serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that induces feelings of calm and sleepiness. Bedtime snacks should be eaten about one to one and a half hours before your actual bedtime. It takes this much time for the tryptophan in foods to reach your brain, so don’t wait until right before you hop into bed to have your snack. Portion-size is important as well. Too large a meal could tax your digestive system or cause heartburn, so a small snack is ideal (under about 200 calories). If you plan to have bedtime snack, consider a smaller lunch or dinner so you don’t add excess calories to your daily intake.
Here are some sleep facts and sleep snacks that may help you get your zzz’s:
Sleep fact: For tryptophan to reach the brain efficiently, you will also need to consume carbohydrate. So the perfect pre-bedtime snack should contain BOTH carbohydrate and tryptophan-rich protein.
Sleep Snack #1: 1 cup skim milk with 1/2 cup strawberries
Nutritional bonus: Milk is a good source of calcium, protein, and also contains vitamin D. Strawberries are rich in fiber and vitamin C.
Sleep fact: Sleep disorders account for an estimated $16 billion in medical costs each year, while the indirect costs due to lost productivity and other factors are probably much greater.
Sleep Snack #2: Whole wheat bagel with 1 tbsp peanut butter.
Nutritional bonus: Peanut butter is an excellent source of protein and heart healthy monounsaturated fats.
Sleep fact: During sleep, we usually pass through five phases of sleep: stages 1, 2, 3, 4, and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. These stages progress in a cycle from stage 1 to REM sleep, then the cycle starts over again with stage 1. We spend almost 50 percent of our total sleep time in stage 2 sleep, about 20 percent in REM sleep, and the remaining 30 percent in the other stages. Infants, by contrast, spend about half of their sleep time in REM sleep.
Sleep Snack #3: 6 oz nonfat Greek yogurt with 2 tbsp wheat germ
Nutritional bonus: Wheat germ is an excellent source of vitamin E and folic acid.
Sleep fact: The amount of sleep each person needs depends on many factors, including age. Infants generally require about 16 hours a day, while teenagers need about 9 hours on average. For most adults, 7 to 8 hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as 5 hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day. Women in the first 3 months of pregnancy often need several more hours of sleep than usual
Sleep Snack #4: 1/2 cup 1% cottage cheese with 1/2 cup pineapple
Nutritional bonus: Pineapple is an excellent source the trace mineral manganese, which helps with energy production and antioxidant defenses. Just one cup of fresh pineapple supplies 128% of the DV for this very important trace mineral.
Sleep Fact: Driver fatigue is responsible for an estimated 100,000 motor vehicle accidents and 1500 deaths each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The National Sleep Foundation says that if you have trouble keeping your eyes focused, if you can’t stop yawning, or if you can’t remember driving the last few miles, you are probably too drowsy to drive safely.
Sleep Snack #5: 3 cups air popped popcorn topped with 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese
Nutritional Bonus: Air-popped popcorn has only 31 calories per cup!
Sleep Fact: We typically spend more than 2 hours each night dreaming. Scientists do not know much about how or why we dream. Only after 1953, when researchers first described REM in sleeping infants, did scientists begin to carefully study sleep and dreaming. They soon realized that the strange, illogical experiences we call dreams almost always occur during REM sleep. While most mammals and birds show signs of REM sleep, reptiles and other cold-blooded animals do not.
Sleep Snack #6: 2 thin slices chicken breast rolled in lettuce leaves
Nutritional bonus: Chicken is a healthful meat which provides a significant amount of protein. A 3 1/2-ounce portion of roasted breast meat with skin has 197 calories, 30 grams of protein, 84 milligrams cholesterol and 7.8 grams fat (35% of total calories). To eliminate about half the fat, trim away the skin before eating the meat. It makes little difference in the fat content whether the skin is removed before or after cooking, but the meat is more moist and tender when cooked with the skin on.
Sleep Fact: REM sleep begins with signals from an area at the base of the brain called the pons. These signals travel to a brain region called the thalamus, which relays them to the cerebral cortex – the outer layer of the brain that is responsible for learning, thinking, and organizing information. The pons also sends signals that shut off neurons in the spinal cord, causing temporary paralysis of the limb muscles. If something interferes with this paralysis, people will begin to physically “act out” their dreams – a rare, dangerous problem called REM sleep behavior disorder. A person dreaming about a ball game, for example, may run headlong into furniture or blindly strike someone sleeping nearby while trying to catch a ball in the dream.
Sleep Snack #7: 1 piece whole wheat toast topped with a thin slice of low fat Swiss cheese
Nutritional Bonus: Opt for a low fat brand of Swiss and you’ll reduce fat by about 25%. Swiss cheese is an excellent source of calcium and a good source of protein.
Sleep Fact: Sleep apnea is a disorder of interrupted breathing during sleep. It usually occurs in association with fat buildup or loss of muscle tone with aging. These changes allow the windpipe to collapse during breathing when muscles relax during sleep. This problem, called obstructive sleep apnea, is usually associated with loud snoring (though not everyone who snores has this disorder). Sleep apnea also can occur if the neurons that control breathing malfunction during sleep.
Sleep Snack #8: 6. 1/2 cup hummus with 1/2 cup veggie crudités.
Nutrition Bonus: Chickpeas, the main ingredient of hummus, are a great source of soluble fibers. Soluble fibers may help lower cholesterol by “capturing” the cholesterol and “dragging” it away from the intestines.
Sleep Fact: A warm bath, reading, or another relaxing routine can make it easier to fall sleep. You can train yourself to associate certain restful activities with sleep and make them part of your bedtime ritual.
Sleep Snack #9: 6 oz. low-fat yogurt (avoid coffee flavor) topped with 2 tbsp granola
Nutritional Bonus: In the U.S., in order for a refrigerated product to be called “yogurt,” it must contain the active cultures Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. Researchers are studying the potential attributes of live and active culture yogurt in preventing gastrointestinal infections, boosting the body’s immune system, fighting certain types of cancer and preventing osteoporosis. More research must be done to establish a definitive link between live and active culture yogurt and these health effects, but the results to date are encouraging.
Sleep Fact: If possible, wake up with the sun, or use very bright lights in the morning. Sunlight helps the body’s internal biological clock reset itself each day. Sleep experts recommend exposure to an hour of morning sunlight for people having problems falling asleep.
Sleep Snack #10: 3/4 cup cooked oatmeal with 2 tbsp almond slivers
Nutritional bonus: Just a handful of almonds a day may help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Almonds are a naturally high source of vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and potassium. They are also high in protein and fiber.
Sleep Fact: If you can’t get to sleep, don’t just lie in bed. Do something else, like reading, watching television, or listening to music, until you feel tired. The anxiety of being unable to fall asleep can actually contribute to insomnia.
Sleep Snack #11: 2 thin slices lean turkey breast on 1/2 small bagel
Nutritional Bonus: Turkey is low in fat and high in protein. It is also a source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins
What to avoid: Some foods and beverages can interfere with a good night’s rest. The biggest offenders are caffeine and alcohol. Also, avoid eating large meals just prior to bed, as this may cause indigestion and discomfort that can keep you from falling asleep.
Caffeine – in all its forms. Most people know that caffeinated coffee or tea can interfere with sleep. Caffeine in these and other beverages acts as an “adenosine receptor antagonist.” Adenosine is a substance that promotes sleepiness. When you consume caffeine, it blocks the adenosine receptor to keep you from feeling sleepy.
Effects from caffeine can last from 8 to 14 hours. Be aware that chocolate, some pain releivers and even “decaffeinated” tea and coffee may contain varying amounts of caffeine.
Alcohol. Alcohol can make you drowsy, however it may also interfere with the quality of your sleep, causing you to sleep lighter and awaken more frequently. Alcohol often is thought of as a sedative or calming drug. While alcohol may induce sleep, the quality of sleep is often fragmented during the second half of the sleep period, causing you to wake frequently. If you’re not sleeping soundly, reduce or eliminate alcohol for several weeks to see if your sleep improves.
If you have trouble falling asleep night after night, or if you always feel tired the next day, then you may have a sleep disorder and should see a physician. Most sleep disorders can be treated effectively, so you can finally get that good night’s sleep you need.