As Scott mentioned in his comment to my first post in the Sunday sleep series, eating too close to bedtime encourages insomnia. I’d like to go into a little more detail about food and sleep, today.
Going to bed on a full stomach will certainly disrupt your sleep, as well as your digestion. Eating sweets just before bed may help you get to sleep after the sugar rush slows down, but then the drop in blood sugar will disrupt your sleep later in the night.
So how can food help you sleep better? First I need to talk a little about brain chemistry. Melatonin, as I mentioned in my Sleeping in the dark post, is one of the most important brain chemicals for sleep. It is made from serotonin, an important antidepressant chemical, that helps us feel calm. Serotonin is made from tryptophan, an important amino acid we get from protein.Most protein foods have plenty of tryptophan, including beans, nuts and seeds. Other sources are oats and spinach.
One reason eating sweets helps you sleep is that the increase in insulin causes the body to extract the tryptophan, making it available for serotonin production. However, as I said, eating sweets will have negative effects in the long run.
Here are the steps to using food to help you sleep:
Eat plenty of protein and other tryptophan rich foods every day.
Avoid simple and processed carbohydrates, such as sweets, pasta and white bread.
Have dinner four to five hours before bed.
Have a carbohydrate snack about two hours before bed. This snack needs to be small and high in fiber and/or a small amount of fat, so it is released slowly in the blood stream. A small potato with the skin on, a half serving of oatmeal, or a slice of whole grain bread with butter are good options.
Eating this way will encourage serotonin production in the evening, leading to a peaceful sleep.