By Advocate Contributors
Originally published on Advocate.com March 04 2011 4:00 AM ET
Having trouble sleeping? While insomnia comes in various forms — inability to fall asleep, difficulty staying asleep for sufficient stretches of time, waking up too early in the morning — its effects can make your waking hours unpleasant.
There are many causes for sleeplessness, but before you seek the advice of an expert to help determine the cause of your lack of rest, try making some simple dietary modifications.
Avoiding foods and drinks with caffeine is an obvious choice, as it helps to activate the central nervous system, which in turns revs up your brain. Pete Bils, Vice President of Sleep Innovation and Clinical Research at Sleep Number, suggests avoiding caffeine (in the form of coffee, energy drinks, soda — even chocolate) altogether after noon. “Caffeine has a half-life of about six hours,” he says, “so if you consume a large espresso at 3 p.m., half of it is still coursing through your body when you’re getting ready for bed. Although you may be able to fall asleep, your body will miss out on some of the restorative benefits of sleep.”
Another suggestion is to avoid spicy foods around bedtime. Not only does your digestive system begin to slow as you lay down to sleep, those spicy peppers in your stomach can cause acid-reflux, which is a major sleep antagonist.
Keep in mind that alcohol, despite its tendency to make you tired, produces many sleep-impairing effects. It provides an adrenaline boost as well as impairs the transport of tryptophan to the brain, thus disrupting your serotonin levels. Interestingly enough, according to Bils, a recent University of Michigan study showed that alcohol consumption increases sleep disturbances in woman more so than men.
Lastly, beware of foods that are high in sugar and refined carbs. These can raise your blood sugar levels, causing bursts of energy that will keep your brain — and you — from getting that peaceful and restorative sleep that’s so crucial to good health and well being.