Foods That Help You Sleepzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
The weather is cold and dreary. Your credit card bills with all of those wonderful holiday charges are just arriving in the mail. The Valentine's Day ads are just beginning, and they're just as annoying as they were in previous years.
It's no wonder you can't get a good night's sleep: You're too stressed or depressed, and your psyche needs a little soothing. Before you head to the medicine cabinet, why not take a peek at what's in your refrigerator?
Chances are, you're not the only one tossing and turning. Ninety-five percent of adults experience some form of insomnia at least once in their lives, such as the occasional difficulty falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, waking up too early or sleeping too lightly.
So here's your science lesson for the day: Foods rich in carbohydrates trigger the brain to release serotonin, a neurotransmitter that produces a feeling of relaxation. If you're looking to rest well, assemble a serotonin-enhancing snack such as graham crackers with honey, a slice of toast with jam or low-fat popcorn.
Tryptophan, an amino acid, promotes the secretion of serotonin making it an ally in the fight against insomnia. Poultry (especially turkey), tuna, oatmeal and dairy products (such as cottage cheese and yogurt) are good sources of tryptophan. So are fruits such as grapefruit, bananas, figs and dates. That glass of warm milk that people are always suggesting? Go for it: Milk contains tryptophan; plus the warmth may have a calming effect.
Some people swear by lavender or chamomile tea. The latter is the time honored European remedy for sleeplessness.
Comfort foods, the foods that remind you of the days when you were taken care of and didn't have to fend for yourself in the big bad world, are also a good idea. Whether it's cornbread or chicken noodle soup, recapturing that worry-free feeling of your childhood may be enough to get you to sleep.
So who are the bad guys in your fight to get some shut-eye? Foods containing the amino acid tyrosine or its derivative, tyramine, should be avoided. This means: No cheese, sauerkraut, eggplant, potatoes, spinach or tomatoes before bedtime. Meats such as bacon, ham and sausage are off-limits as well.
Tyramine can also be found in beer and wine. Alcohol is a bit deceptive in that it may make you feel drowsy (because it's a central nervous system depressant), but it will actually prevent you from sleeping tight. Alcohol is known to suppress rapid eye movement (REM), which is the phase during which most dreaming occurs. Less REM means a less restful sleep and more frequent awakenings.
Caffeine is another sleep-stealer, of course. Coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate fall in this category of no-no's. Some over-the-counter medications, bottled waters and chewing gum (yes, chewing gum) contain caffeine, so be on the lookout.
Carbonated drinks and gas-producing foods (such as cabbage, beans and grapes) can also lead to trouble. Spicy and MSG-laden products can cause heartburn, digestive tract upsets or nervous system disturbances that may keep you up.
In addition to consuming or avoiding certain types of foods, consider your eating practices. Got hunger pangs? Going to bed hungry is a bad idea because an empty stomach can cause fragmented sleep. That said, try to avoid eating large quantities of food within three hours of going to bed: doing so may prolong digestive action. And, not to sound like a nag, chew your food slowly and thoroughly. Eating too fast can cause abdominal discomfort.
The hectic American lifestyle has reduced the average night's sleep by 20 percent. To avoid becoming part of this statistic, carefully monitor your eating habits in the evenings and think twice before you raid the refrigerator during an SNL commercial break.
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