Can’t Sleep? It Could Be Your Diet

Foods fo sleepWe’ve all heard various theories about which foods and drinks to consume before bedtime in order to assure a good night’s rest—like warm milk, hot toddies, or chamomile tea. But one of these three is actually not a good choice. Here’s a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for pre-slumber snacking.

1. DO have a high-carb, low-protein snack.

Complex carbohydrates help increase the production of serotonin, which slows your nerve activity and helps you produce the melatonin that regulates sleep. Have some oatmeal, a whole-grain bread, or quinoa.

2. DO NOT say “yes” to that nightcap.

Those few glasses of wine might make you feel sleepy, but they’re actually counterproductive. Even if alcohol initially helps you fall asleep, it can keep you from staying asleep and getting the good-quality rest your body needs. Alcohol in any form can also make snoring worse, which means your partner can’t sleep, either.

3. DO eat something with magnesium and/or potassium.

Studies show that magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant, and even a mild magnesium deficiency can keep the brain from settling down enough to ease into sleep, while a lack of potassium can keep you from staying asleep. Try magnesium-rich green leafy vegetables, bananas, or nuts and seeds like almonds or pumpkin seeds. Potassium-rich foods include sweet potatoes, avocadoes, and bananas. Better yet, choose a snack that combines both essential minerals—like half a banana, spread with almond butter.

4. DO NOT eat a big steak dinner.

Protein is filling, but it slows digestion. That means your body is working hard to digest  your meal, rather than working to do what you want it to—easing you into sleep. If you really want steak or another high-protein meal, try eating it for lunch instead of dinner.

5. DO find yourself some tryptophan.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid formed during the digestive process, and it helps the body produce serotonin. In fact, the tryptophan in turkey is thought to be the reason everyone gets tired after a big Thanksgiving meal. Have a little turkey, or a glass of warm milk. (Yes, Grandma was right about that, although I recommend nonpasteurized goat’s milk, warmed through but never boiled.) Or combine a tryptophan source with a complex carb, like hummus and pita chips. Bananas are good sources of tryptophan, magnesium, and potassium, and almonds have both tryptophan and magnesium.

6. DO NOT drink (or eat) caffeine after lunch.

If caffeine is what gets you going in the morning, then it makes sense that it’s also what could be keeping you up at night. Studies show that caffeine should be avoided at least eight hours before bedtime, but it depends on the person, and many people should avoid caffeine altogether. This includes coffee, many teas, cola drinks, Mountain Dew, Jolt, and Red Bull. Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs contain caffeine, too, so talk to your doctor if you’re taking something that’s keeping you up. (See “Can’t Sleep? Your Prescriptions Could Be To Blame”.) And step away from that dark chocolate—just one ounce contains the same amount of caffeine as ¼ cup of brewed coffee.

7. DO eat some cherries.

Amazingly, cherries are one of the few natural sources of melatonin, which is essential for sleep. Tomatoes, radishes, and ginger are also known to contain small quantities.

8. DO NOT indulge in a high-fat meal.

Besides the obvious reasons for not eating a lot of fat, a meal like a bacon-cheeseburger or chili-cheese fries can definitely keep you awake. As your body works to process it all, it doesn’t have the time or the energy to worry about helping you fall asleep.

9. DO sip a cup of hot herbal tea.

Decaf tea made with chamomile or motherwort can help calm the nerves and make it easier to fall asleep. (I like to recommend the Soothing Caramel Bedtime® tea from Yogi®, which can be found at your local health food store.) The effects of these herbs haven’t been scientifically proven, but some experts think that the routine itself—curling up with a hot cup of tea before bed—is soothing enough to promote sleepiness.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, try some of these do’s and don’ts, because even a slight change in your diet can affect your sleep quality. However, if dietary changes are not enough, please call my office for a free consultation to learn how we can help.

Damiana Corca is an Acupuncture Sleep Specialist in Boulder and Denver, Colorado. She is helping people sleep better by offering sleep treatments locally. Damiana is also available for phone sessions and clinical support for your local acupuncturist.