June 21, 2018
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Eating to improve your sleep

By Georgia Clark-Albert, Special to the BDN

Are there certain foods that can help you sleep? Does eating late at night interfere with sleep? There are some do’s and don’ts that can help improve your sleep. Some health care professionals don’t believe that there are any specific foods that can improve sleep, however, there is some research to support the benefits of adding certain foods to your diet and avoiding others.

Alcohol and caffeine can interfere with sleep for some people. The stimulating effects of caffeine can take about 8 hours to wear off. If you eat a large, high-fat meal late in the day it can make you uncomfortable and may cause heartburn if you recline shortly after eating.

Foods to help with sleep

• Cherries are one of the only foods that are a natural source of melatonin. Melatonin is a sleep-induced hormone triggered by darkness that controls the body’s internal clock to regulate sleep. Cherries are a good choice for a before-bed snack to help you sleep. When fresh cherries aren’t available, good substitutions are dried cherries or cherry juice. Grapes also contain melatonin but you need to eat more of them to get the same effect. Researchers who have studied cherries for their melatonin benefit recommend eating them about an hour before bedtime.

• There is evidence that warm milk really does work to aid sleep. Dairy products such as yogurt and milk contain good amounts of calcium — and there’s research that suggests that being calcium-deficient may make it difficult to fall asleep. Combining milk with a carbohydrate-rich food such as oatmeal or toast makes it much more effective.

• Bananas contain the amino acid L-tryptophan, which turns to 5-HTP in the brain and is then converted to serotonin and melatonin. It is also high in calcium, potassium and magnesium, all natural muscle relaxants.

• According to an article published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, most fish, and especially salmon, halibut and tuna, and great sources of vitamin B6, which is need to make melatonin. Other good sources of vitamin B6 are chickpeas, oats and fortified cereals.

• Foods that are high in carbohydrates, such as toast or oatmeal, can cause a spike in blood sugar levels. This requires the body to produce a surge of insulin to bring blood sugar back down. You feel a burst of energy then in a few minutes a crash (drop on blood sugar). This crash may be helpful at night, making toast or other high carbohydrate foods a good nighttime snack. Along with insulin comes a release of tryptophan and serotonin, two brain chemicals that promote relaxation.

• Kale and collards, two leafy green vegetables, are another way to get some calcium in.

• Whole grains such as bulgur and barley are rich in magnesium. Not consuming adequate magnesium can make it difficult to fall asleep, according to an article reported in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine.

For some people a snack before bed can promote sleep. For others, eating before bed may lead to indigestion and make it difficult to sleep. Experiment to see what works best for you — some cereal with banana and milk or just a banana, it all depends on your needs.

You’ll also sleep more deeply if you exercise regularly.

Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.

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