Published July 11, 2012
You’ve heard the mantra a million times: get eight hours of sleep every night.
Chances are you scoff and say, "I could never do that. I have too much to do!"
But what about those who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? How can they get their eight hours? A good night’s sleep is the first step to having a productive day, every day. Furthermore, research has shown that people who enjoy restful sleep also enjoy better weight control. It might come as a surprise to you that despite the recommendation of not eating within two to four hours of bedtime, there are a few dietary habits that can aid you in falling and staying asleep.
First and foremost, refrain from drinking caffeine after 2 p.m. and limit, or better yet, abstain from, alcohol in the evening. Caffeine’s obvious effects can keep you from falling asleep even up to eight hours later, while alcohol will prevent you from having restful sleep. Try to eat a dinner abundant in protein, calcium and magnesium. Protein (especially egg whites, cheese, poultry and red meat), is rich in the amino acid L-tryptophan, which can be converted to serotonin and melatonin, two hormones associated with sleep. Calcium and magnesium are known to calm your mind and can be found in nuts (especially almonds), dairy, broccoli and chickpeas.
Drinking diluted tart cherry juice in the evening has also been shown to increase melatonin levels, increase total sleep time and sleep efficiency.
Eating dinner early (for example, between 5 and 7 p.m.), may cause you to become hungry by 10 or 11 p.m. Choose a snack that won’t fill you up or upset your stomach, like bananas, nuts or oatmeal/grains. Remember: Try not to eat new foods in the off chance your stomach reacts poorly. A salad consisting of fruit like (apples and pears) is known to calm the GI tract. Chamomile tea with ginger also aids digestion and settles the GI tract – just don’t drink too much that you have to wake up to use the bathroom throughout the night.
There are also measures you can take throughout the day to help your sleep-wake cycle. If you are a frequent flyer who suffers from jet lag or suffer from sleep deprivation in general, be cautious because sleep deprivation causes a drastic change in your metabolism. When sleep deprived, it is instinct to reach for comfort food to help you feel more normal. Instead, reach for fruits which fill you up without being too high in calories. Also, try to resume your typical daily routine despite the time zone differences.
Make sure to seek treatment for any health conditions you have that are related to food; acid reflux and heartburn are two good examples. Treating these conditions decreases the likelihood that they interfere with your sleep. Sleep apnea is another condition, although not food-related, that can lead to insomnia. One of the major causes of sleep apnea is being overweight or obese. Often, a reduction in weight can help alleviate those symptoms.
Finally, try to establish both sleep-wake and eating schedules. Instead of eating three big meals, aim for five smaller meals so you’re not ravenous when it’s time for bed. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Less variability in your waking hours and meals will help you become regimented and may even help you achieve those elusive eight hours of sleep.
Dr. David B. Samadi is the Vice Chairman of the Department of Urology and Chief of Robotics and Minimally Invasive Surgery at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. He is a board-certified urologist, specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of urological disease, with a focus on robotic prostate cancer treatments. To learn more please visit his websites RoboticOncology.com and SMART-surgery.com. Find Dr. Samadi on Facebook.