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Published on October 24, 2011

Trouble Sleeping? Maybe It’s Time to Change Your Diet

In Brief

  • The things we eat and drink can affect how we function — especially the way we sleep.
  • Even though there is still a lot of research being conducted about foods and their effect on sleep, there is substantial evidence that foods high in protein and tryptophan can help to improve sleep.
  • High carbohydrate foods can also help people sleep, but this needs to be balanced with maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
  • Every person’s sleep patterns are different, so it’s important to know that foods can affect people’s sleep differently.

Sometimes, the things we eat can affect more than just our waistline. The things we eat and drink can affect how we function — especially the way we sleep.

“Even though there is still a lot of research being conducted about foods and their effect on sleep, there is substantial evidence that foods high in protein and tryptophan can help to improve sleep,” says Calvin Stafford, M.D., chief of the Section of Neurology at Taylor Hospital. “Tryptophan works by increasing the amount of serotonin, a natural sedative, in the brain. This, of course, causes us to become sleepier — which is why everyone loves a nap after Thanksgiving dinner.”

According to WebMD, here are a few tips about our diet and how it can affect sleep:

  • Eating too much or too little can disrupt sleep. A light snack at bedtime can promote sleep, but too much food can cause digestive discomfort that leads to wakefulness.
  • Alcohol is a double-edged sword. Small amounts of alcohol can help you fall asleep. However, as the body metabolizes the alcohol, sleep may become fragmented. Alcohol can worsen insomnia and also impair rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the time when the body is in its restorative phase. It can also dehydrate you, leaving you tired the next day.
  • Caffeine can disturb sleep. Any food or beverage that contains caffeine can disturb sleep in those who are sensitive to caffeine. It’s good to avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
  • Forget the fat. If you consume a high-fat meal in the evening or eat foods that you have found cause you indigestion and heartburn, your sleep can be disturbed and restless.
  • Drinking fluids too close to bedtime can cause problems. Avoid fluids after dinner to reduce the need to go to the bathroom during the night.
  • Milk promotes sleep. Milk, which contains tryptophan, is among the natural dietary sleep inducers.

“High carbohydrate foods can also help people sleep, but this needs to be balanced with maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” says Michael Weinstein, M.D., medical director of the Crozer-Keystone Sleep Center at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. “The best way to get a good night's sleep is to eat a healthy, balanced diet and to get exercise earlier in the day. Exercising too close to bedtime can be arousing. It’s important that people relax before bedtime and keep the bedroom stress free.”

“Every person’s sleep patterns are different, so it’s important to know that foods can affect people’s sleep differently,” says Asad Khan, M.D., medical director of the Crozer-Keystone Sleep Center at Brinton Lake. “If you are unsure if certain foods are negatively impacting your quality of sleep, keeping a sleep journal can be helpful. Write down the foods that you eat throughout the day, especially close to bedtime, and how you slept that night. Eventually, there will be a pattern of which foods affected your sleep.”

With three convenient locations in Delaware County, Crozer-Keystone’s sleep programs are accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which is dedicated to setting standards and promoting excellence in sleep medicine healthcare, education and research.

To schedule a prompt appointment with a Crozer-Keystone sleep specialist, call 1-888-SLEEP-03 (1-888-753-3703) or fill out a secure online form at http://sleepcenters.crozerkeystone.org.

 

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