My husband is the consummate internet sleuth. Lately, he’s been reading far and wide about some of our different food fascinations. This week’s interesting topic has been insomnia, sleep, and foods. This is particularly interesting to me because I’m in a season of not sleeping very well at night. I know that I’m not alone in this, so I wanted to share some of Dave’s findings with you all.
Recently I’ve been having trouble sleeping well. Again.
I go to bed exhausted and wake up the same with some variation on a story involving insomnia: Boy goes to sleep and lies awake for hours before his mind gives up and joins his body in sleep…or… boy sleeps soundly for 3 or 4 hours and then is wide-eyed and wide awake from 2 AM until he finally just gets up… at 4 AM, 5 AM, 6 AM. Sad, sad Story.
I have always needed what I considered a lot of sleep. However, according to the research I’ve been doing, I’m in the norm in needing 7 or 8 hours sleep to function well. I can make do with less but after a few days, it catches up with me and I become less productive and less fun to be around.
You may be wondering, what this has to do with anyone’s kitchen. Good question. I’m finding that a lot of factors influence sleep and that some of those factors are food-related. There are other things, stress, being overweight, snoring, and apnea, that can seriously affect your rest, but for now, let’s focus in on food…
Overeating, simply eating too much, can keep you from sleeping well, but there are also many specific foods that can keep you from sleeping. Some of these contain an amino acid called Tyramine that causes the release of norepinephrine. Here are some foods to avoid if sleep is a problem for you:
- Alcohol – Yes, a glass of wine or a night-cap can help you relax. Alcohol can, however, dehydrate you and, interestingly, make you have to go to the bathroom more often. Some people find themselves restless and sleepless in the middle of the night after a drink or two.
- Spicy and acidic food – A number of foods can cause heartburn or acid reflux in some people. Some of these can be peppers, spicy foods, tomato sauce, chili, and pizza. I like spicy food. (I like Pizza. *sigh*)
- Energy drinks – well duh!
- Chocolate (bummer, eh?) – Actually, anything with caffeine will be a problem. I didn’t really have a problem with caffeine keeping me awake until I was in my 30’s. It certainly does now.
- Preserved or smoked meats – These can leave you wired because they contain Tyramine (mentioned above).
It turns out that some foods help you sleep too. I found this welcome news for a weary soul. Some of these foods help with the sleep equation because they contain tryptophan, which gets converted to 5-HTP in the brain. The 5-HTP in turn is converted to serotonin (a relaxing neurotransmitter) and melatonin, a chemical that helps your body regulate sleep. Melatonin and serotonin help us both relax and get to sleep.
Here are some of the helpful foods:
- Fresh and dried Cherries – Cherries are a natural source of melatonin.
- Bananas – Bananas are a good source of potassium and magnesium which are natural muscle relaxants. They also contain tryptophan.
- Toast and Oatmeal – Food heavy in carbohydrates trigger insulin production, which helps induce sleep. Oats also have plenty of melatonin.
- Warm milk – Milk also contains tryptophan. It’s also high in calcium, which promotes sleep. And, hey, it’s comforting.
- Thanksgiving turkey dinner! (I couldn’t leave that off the list. Most of us have felt the strong pull of a long nap after a big Thanksgiving dinner!)
I’m just discovering the tip of the iceberg right now. I know there’s a lot more out there. It’s not easy to separate out the folk wisdom from the snake oil sales pitches from the actual science. I’ll leave the quackery alone every time, but I’m actually interested in some of the folk wisdom floating around out there. People have been tossing and turning in pursuit of a good night’s sleep for…well…milennia! It’s worth the time it takes to research this though. I’d rather have a bowl of oatmeal than take a sleeping pill!