Food for thought: The ABCs of food and sleep

Have you ever found yourself tossing and turning in the night or feeling groggy and tired throughout your day? If so, you probably aren't getting all the rest your body requires. According to the National Institutes of Health, insomnia is a very common complaint among seniors. The NIH also found that a lack of sleep or disturbed sleep is linked to a number of health risks and senior wellness concerns, including an increased risk of falling, placement in nursing homes and even higher mortality rates.

Proper sleep is an essential part of aging well, and many may not even realize that their actions, including the foods they eat, could have an impact on the ability to sleep through the night. If you've ever found yourself having a hard time sleeping after eating a big meal or having dessert right before bed, it's likely that your food is the cause of the interruption. To get a better night's rest, here are some of the top foods you should avoid before bed:

Alcohol
If you enjoy wine with dinner, there's no reason to cut it out completely in order to sleep well. However, overdoing it can be disruptive to the body's natural sleep cycle. While alcohol is a depressant that can make you feel fatigued, it also has a reverse effect that may keep you awake through the night. You might be able to fall asleep quickly, but alcohol can upset sleep cycles about three or four hours later, meaning you will have a less restful night.

If you're hoping to get a refreshing night of sleep, consider avoiding that glass of wine with dinner, or at least be sure not to indulge too much. In addition, some people may think that alcohol can help them get to sleep sooner, but many end up developing a dependency that prohibits a good night's rest. Not to mention, the muscle relaxing qualities of alcohol can make snoring worse.

Big meals
In general, it is best to avoid eating a large meal right before bed, as your body will need to continue working hard to digest all that food. Eating a big portion of something can keep you awake and upset your body's natural rhythm. If you're craving something right before it's time to hit the hay, eat a small portion or snack size so you will be able to fall asleep more easily. When it comes to the foods you munch on later in the evening, you should not only avoid big portion, but spicy foods as well. Heartburn and acid reflux from spicy foods can interfere with your shuteye.

Chocolate
While many love a nighttime snack just before bed, chocolate usually contains caffeine that will keep you awake longer. Even a small amount of caffeine can make a sensitive person jittery and upset the natural sleep cycle. Some studies suggest that a few bites of chocolate may not have a major impact on your ability to fall asleep, but if you already suffer from insomnia or another sleep disorder, steer clear of chocolate at least a few hours prior to bed. Besides chocolate, skip any foods containing caffeine, including after dinner coffee, espresso or green tea.

Foods to help you fall asleep
If you're a late-night snacker, there are a few foods that may actually help you to drift off to sleep. Next time you find yourself searching through the pantry or fridge for something to eat before bed, opt for one of these foods:

  • Bananas: These fruits contain many nutrients, including potassium and B6, which is essential for your body to make the sleep-inducing chemical melatonin. Bananas are a perfect snack that can help you get more restful sleep.
  • Cherries: These small fruits contain melatonin, which is a natural chemical that helps control and regulate your body's internal clock. Dried cherries and tart cherry juice may also have the same effect. Eat these about an hour before bed for the full sleep boost.
  • Milk: You might have memories of someone preparing warm milk for you before bedtime as a youngster, but the act is more than just an old wive's tale. Drinking a glass of milk – warm or cold – may help you fall asleep faster. While there is some dispute over the evidence of milk's effect on sleep, it's worth a try.

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2014-06-01T02:18:00+00:00 May 2nd, 2014|Health Conditions, Senior Health & Wellness|Comments Off on Food for thought: The ABCs of food and sleep