Eat Right, Sleep Better

What could you possibly have in common with Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe? If you toss and turn during the night, rather than sleep like a baby, you might be bedfellows with these famous insomniacs. And, you're not alone. Ninety five percent of adults experience some form of insomnia during their lives.

 Many people assume that insomnia refers only to chronic sleeplessness. They're wrong. Insomnia is any sleep problem, from occasional difficulties falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night to awakening too early or sleeping too lightly. While insomnia is a complex issue with numerous causes, Elizabeth Somer, RD and author of Eat Your Way to Happiness says that sometimes the answer to your sleep problems might start at the dining table, not in the bedroom. Elizabeth has a book signing event tomorrow at 7:00 pm at Powell's Books located at 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd in Beaverton.

1) Will a mid-day cup of coffee keep you awake?
Not only a mid-day cup of coffee or tea, but even a glass of cola or a chocolate doughnut contains enough caffeine to keep some people up at night. Caffeine can linger in the system for up to 15 hours, revving your nervous system and interfering with sleep. If you are a coffee drinker troubled by sleep problems, try eliminating caffeine. If you feel and sleep better after two weeks of being caffeine-free, then avoid caffeine permanently. You can try adding back one or two cups after the two-week trial, but cut back if insomnia reappears.

2) I've heard that a glass of wine just before bed can help you sleep. Is this true?
A nightcap may make you sleepy at first, but you'll sleep less soundly and wake up more tired as a result. Alcohol and other depressants suppress a phase of sleeping called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) where most of your dreaming occurs. Less REM is associated with more night awakenings and restless sleep. One glass of wine with dinner probably won't hurt; however, avoid drinking any alcohol within two hours of bedtime and never mix alcohol with sleeping pills!

3) What should you eat for dinner to help you sleep?
What and how much you ate for dinner could be at the root of your insomnia. Big dinners make you temporarily drowsy, but they also prolong digestive action, which keeps you awake. Instead, try eating your biggest meals before mid-afternoon and eat a light evening meal of 500 calories or less. Include some chicken, extra-lean meat or fish at dinner to help curb middle-of-the-night snack attacks.

Spicy or gas-forming foods also might be contributing to your sleep problems. Dishes seasoned with garlic, chilies, cayenne, or other hot spices can cause nagging heartburn or indigestion, while the flavor-enhancer MSG (monosodium glutamate) causes vivid dreaming and restless sleep in some people. Gas-forming foods or eating too fast cause abdominal discomfort, which in turn interferes with sound sleep. Try avoiding spicy foods at dinner time. Limit your intake of gas-forming foods to the morning hours and thoroughly chew food to avoid gulping air.


4) Is there a bed-time snack to help you sleep like a baby?
The evening snack might be the best alternative to sleeping pills. A high-carbohydrate snack, such as crackers and fruit or toast and jam, triggers the release of a brain chemical called serotonin that aids sleep. According to preliminary studies, a light carbohydrate-rich snack before bedtime may not influence how fast you fall asleep, but it may help some people sleep longer and more soundly.

5) What about a warm glass of milk?
Granted, milk is a good source of a building block, an amino acid called tryptophan, for serotonin. However, because milk is a protein-rich beverage it won’t affect serotonin levels. Any warm beverage, like a warm cup of milk, does sooth and relax, and provides a feeling of satiety, which might help facilitate sleep.

6) Why do some people wake up in the middle of the night and have to eat?
These mid-night snack attacks may be triggered by hunger or they may just be habit. In either case, your best bet is to break the cycle. Often these night-time eaters have eaten too few calories during the day. Night eating is reduced by 50% or more in some people when they increase their daytime food intake. In addition, stop rewarding your stomach by feeding it every time it wakes you up. Instead, read a book, drink a glass of water, or ignore the craving. It takes up to two weeks to break a mid-night snack habit.

7) What about other things besides diet?
Woody Allen's saying, "The lamb and the lion shall lie down together, but the lamb will not be very sleepy" is very appropriate. Stress is a common cause of insomnia. Often solving tensions and anxieties eliminates sleep problems. In addition, a major difference between good sleepers and poor sleepers is not what they do at bedtime, but what they did all day. Good sleepers exercise and use every opportunity to move. Physical activity helps a person cope with daily stress and tires the body so it is ready to sleep at night. In short, sleeping pills are a temporary fix, while a few simple dietary and lifestyle changes could do wonders for your snooze control.

Note: Some cases of chronic insomnia may require the help of trained personnel. A list of accredited sleep disorders clinics in your area can be obtained from the American Sleep Disorders Association, 604 Second Street, NW, Rochester, MN 55902 or call (507) 287-6006.  Or click here for more information. 


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