By Advocate Contributors
Originally published on Advocate.com February 28 2011 4:00 AM ET
One of the best ways to insure a peaceful night’s sleep is to quiet your brain before retiring. Calming your mind can help relax tense muscles and guide you peacefully into a healthy, restorative slumber. Food can play a major role in helping you accomplish this.
What you eat definitely affects how quickly you fall asleep and how restful that sleep will be. Some foods make you tired, while others rev you up. The key is understanding how to get your sleep-inducing hormones flowing.
“Everyone knows about tryptophan,” says Pete Bils, Vice President of Sleep Innovation and Clinical Research at Sleep Number, “it’s an essential amino acid. Tryptophan is a necessary component in the formation of serotonin and melatonin, which are important neurotransmitters in the sleep process. And since the body can’t produce it, we eat foods that contain it. You can find tryptophan in poultry, soy beans, some fish, eggs, legumes, and other foods.”
While eating a large meal right before bedtime isn’t recommended, as a large amount of food will interrupt sleep continuity, you shouldn’t go to bed hungry either. In fact, a nighttime snack can work wonders. Stick with foods high in carbs and low in protein, like hazelnuts and tofu or a peanut butter sandwich with ground sesame seeds. Bils says the ideal bedtime snack is a glass of milk and an oatmeal/raisin cookie because it provides complex carbohydrates, grain, fruit, and a little protein.
Keep in mind that it may take an hour or so for the tryptophan to reach the brain, so be sure to time your snack accordingly.
Bils’ other suggestion is keeping it balanced overall. “A balanced diet has been shown to be the best for sleep,” he says. “Most designer diets — for example, ones that focus on high protein or low carbs as the solution — are not conducive to producing quality sleep.”