For many of us with sleep problems the nights seem long and the days a time of irritability and tiredness. Getting a restful eight hours of sleep is something our body and mind needs and we deserve.
There are many ways to support the mind in getting the sleep we need. Relaxation from stress, a good sleep environment and the correct choice of foods we eat are but three such remedies. The third of these, the food and drink we consume before we go to bed, can have a major effect on the quality of rest we get.
We have all heard of foods that help us sleep and how eating certain things for lunch can slow down our work rate during the afternoon. Then there is the notion that eating turkey can, in some way, put us to sleep.
We have been led to believe that certain foods make us tired, while in actual fact what is happening is a chemical reaction within the body that is causing amino acids to affect our brain activity in such a way as to induce a sleeping mode.
The best example to explain this is the drinking of warm milk just before going to bed. When we drink warm milk, (I am not sure why it has to be warm!) the tryptophan it contains triggers the body to release melatonin, which is a natural sleep hormone. Some foods, it turns out help us sleep and others do the reverse.
The sleep inducing serotonin and melatonin are triggered in the body by the amino acid tryptophan, and serotonin is a neurotransmitter that slows down brain activity, like slowing down the electricity to the brain.
The nerve traffic to the brain slows down, your brain isn’t so’ busy’ and sleep comes much easier. Therefore, eating foods with more trytophan helps build more and more relaxing neurotransmitters and this helps make you sleepy.
Foods high on the glycemic index are not a good idea as they release sugar into the bloodstream which triggers insulin which does make us sleepy but the side effects are that it produces a weight gain and often does not produce the correct deep sleeping pattern. So, the best evening snacks are eaten before nine o’clock, are not high on the glycemic index and contain complex carbs, protein and some calcium. Calcium is a helper in that it helps the process along. Obviously, dairy foods like milk and cheese are very good candidates!
Bearing all this in mind, here are my top five evening snacks that help me with my sleeping problems:
1. Cottage Cheese: this is light, easy to use and comes in a variety of added fruit flavors. Dairy products contain the magic tryptophan but also have the calcium and low glycemic value.
2. Sugar Free Whole Grain Cereal with Milk: Again we have the dairy but this time with whole wheat cereal (whole wheat bread would have a similar effect) which is fairly low on the glycemic
index but will trigger some insulin production which again will induce sleep without the weight
3. Oatmeal Cookies and a Glass of Milk: by now you should be seeing the trend! The addition of oatmeal also helps a little with lowering cholesterol.
4. Half a Banana on Whole Wheat Toast: Bananas contain magnesium as you know but they also contain both melatonin and serotonin which will help us feel drowsy. The whole wheat toast will trigger some insulin production, as it is a carbohydrate, and this will also help sleeping without causing a weight gain. (…and also go a little way in lowering cholesterol.)
5. Chamomile Tea: okay this isn’t a snack but add an oatmeal cookie and you have a winner. Chamomile has a mild sedating effect and is well known among the sleeping problems crowd. The oatmeal cookie triggers insulin but has some other good side effects.
These are my five favorite snacks, and although I am not a doctor or trained nutritionist, I think they fit the “sleep inducing foods” bill without causing other bad side effects, besides which I really like them! Yes I did leave out turkey because how often do I have turkey around to use as a late night snack!
Remember also that light meals are preferred over heavy and to avoid, the spicy, the fatty, the caffeine and the alcohol. Also that it takes over an hour for the tryptophan induced amino acids to reach the brain so don’t leave it too late.
A little science and a sensible snack we really like, can really help with our sleep problems.