Eat Better, Sleep Better
You know what a difference it makes when you\’re well-rested. How much sleep you get can make or break your day and also your health. However, sometimes no matter how early you hit the hay, getting a restful sleep can be tough, especially as you age. There have been times when healthy sleep eluded me, but luckily I\’ve learned a few things about how to sleep well through simple changes in my diet, and now I\’m happy to say that it is rare that I don\’t catch a solid night of peaceful sleep.
About 70 million Americans experience sleep problems ranging from chronic sleep disorders to sporadic sleep troubles. Studies show that just one night of insufficient sleep can affect memory, productivity, and even the ability to carry on a regular conversation. As a writer, researcher, and humanitarian, with several radio interviews a week, I can\’t afford to not be at my mental peak, and chances are you can\’t either. Long-term sleep deprivation can have serious effects such as higher risk for high blood pressure, depression, heart attack, decreased immunity, obesity, and diabetes. As you can see, getting enough sleep should be as much a part of your health regimen as eating well and exercising. Fortunately, by making a few adjustments to your diet, you can improve the quality of your sleep.
Eating more plant carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains, can have a significant impact on your slumber. These foods help to produce a gradual, steady rise of blood insulin, helping the amino acid tryptophan enter the brain. Tryptophan—found in turkey and credited with causing post-Thanksgiving dinner grogginess—is used to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps induce sleepiness and improve mood. This also explains why a glass of warm milk before bed can help to improve sleep, as it provides a dose of tryptophan while also inducing a release of insulin.
Another way to shape your diet to enhance your sleep is to eliminate the foods and drinks that can disturb sleep. Caffeine—found in soda, coffee, some teas, and chocolate—will interfere with sleep if you ingest it within four hours of bedtime—sometimes even within six hours. Alcohol can cause drowsiness, but metabolizing the sugar can disrupt slumber and also cause body temperature to rise too much. Sugary foods eaten right before bed can also raise body temperature and leave you restless during the night.
Diet can also indirectly affect your sleep. For example, if you\’re overweight, you\’re more likely to experience sleep apnea and its symptoms of heavy snoring and interrupted breathing. Eating a lot of simple carbohydrates (sugary treats) and refined starches (white flour and white rice), which causes blood sugar to spike and fall, may cause an imbalance in the hormones that regulate metabolism, disrupting the body\’s natural rhythms and thus disrupting sleep.
It may not require a total makeover of your diet to reap the benefits of good sleep, but even some minor adjustments with these tips in mind can be helpful. The changes you make will not only improve your sleep but your overall health. Research confirms the importance of eating plant foods in maintaining health, improving immunity, and preventing disease. There\’s nothing to lose in making these changes—except your sleep troubles.