How To Eat For a Great Night’s Sleep
Thank you to Dr. Davana Pilczuk of The Human Performance Group for this article. Dr. Pilczuk is an award-winning kinesiologist who specializes in human performance. She is a speaker, writer and consultant for Fortune 500 companies, sports teams and small businesses.
I love to sleep. Unfortunately, I rarely get enough. If you’re like me, the job, family, the household, and everything in between cuts into your sacred time for rejuvenation. To add insult to injury, as we age, sleep becomes much harder to get. The days of being a teenager who could fall dead asleep in five minutes and wake up totally refreshed 10 hours later, are gone. Then add in the long days of constant funeral planning and execution, and we are left with little to no time to wind down or get actual sleep.
How do you prepare for those important days in life when you’ve got to get a decent night’s sleep? Start by adjusting your diet. That might sound rather odd, but the foods we eat do either one of two things: help us or hurt us. Think about it. What you eat is either going to give you proper nutrition, energy and the materials needed to heal and strengthen the body, or it isn’t. We tend to forget that what we put in our mouth gets translated into chemical energy in our bodies and those cool chemical compounds in our foods can do amazing things for our health.
To start to sleep better, load up on cherries. Cherries are naturally high in melatonin, which is the hormone that helps regulate your sleep cycles. One study found that when people drank tart cherry juice, their melatonin naturally increased which lead to them sleeping longer and experiencing better quality of sleep within just one week (Howatson et al., 2012). If cherries aren’t in season, try buying cherry juice which can be found at most grocery stores in the juice isle. Be aware that cherry juice tends to be expensive and is very high in sugar, however, low sugar versions are made and are still just as effective.
A yummy prebedtime snack that will help knock you out is cheese and crackers. Cheddar cheese is high in tryptophan, which your body uses to help produce the mood-regulating hormone serotonin. This key hormone helps you feel calm and helps you fall asleep. Paired with carbohydrates like grains or fruit, the tryptophan is more readily available for the brain to use. So, before going to bed, have a bowl of cereal and milk, cheese and crackers, or cottage cheese and fruit. These carb-protein prebedtime snacks will help you fall and stay asleep.
Here’s another nugget: if you suffer from insomnia, you might be low in magnesium. This little essential mineral (essential means necessary for human health) is often low in people who have a hard time falling asleep. A simple magnesium supplement can do the trick, or you can eat foods naturally high in magnesium such as pumpkin seeds, spinach and almonds. Start adding these foods daily to your daily diet to improve your quality of sleep.
Finally, lay off the alcohol. Although alcohol helps you fall asleep, it doesn’t help you stay asleep or get good deep sleep. Alcohol tends to negatively affect our deep sleep cycles by keeping our sleep cyles more shallow, which leaves the body feeling restless and unfulfilled upon waking. If you like the occasional drink at night, that’s fine, but try to stop drinking alcohol about four hours before bedtime if you want a decent night’s sleep. If you must be on your game for something important, stop drinking alcohol 48 hours before your event.
As our bodies change with age, so does our ability to fall, and stay asleep. If your lack of sleep is truly affecting your quality of life, definitely see your doctor (primary care, neurologists and pulmonologist can all order sleep studies). Plus there is a multitude of health conditions that can affect your ability to get good sleep, so don’t put it off.
Sleep is one of the most, underrated aspects of wellness, yet the consequences are astounding to both your health and your performance in anything you do. If you want to start feeling better, look younger and think more clearly, change up your diet and focus on getting a great nights’ sleep.