Food: An Alternative to Drug Induced Sleep

brown nuts on black surface

Everyone needs to sleep. The average adult requires between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. But not everyone is capable of simply closing their eyes and attaining instant, restful sleep. A simple change of diet may be the simplest way to change from insomniac to revitalizing comfortable sleep. Before embarking on any major life style change regarding health, advice from a medical professional should be sought.

Dietary Enemies of Sleep

Some sleep inhibiting foods are fairly obvious and well known while others are less frequently mentioned.

  • foods containing caffeine
  • foods with high protein content
  • alcohol and other beverages too close to bedtime

Caffeine is a stimulant. It resides in many foods and supplements. While coffee is the beverage most people recognize as a source of caffeine, it can also be found in:

  • tea
  • cola soft drinks
  • energy/power drinks
  • chocolate
  • medications

Many medications contain significant quantities of caffeine as part of their makeup. It is important to read the labels of over-the-counter drugs and the information sheets that come with prescription drugs. If sleep problems exist, a patient should discuss the possibility of alternate medications with their health care provider.

Simply eliminating cola soft drinks may not be enough as many flavored soft drinks like orange, root beer, and crème soda also contain caffeine. Energy/power drinks contain caffeine and some do not list it as an ingredient. Even beverages marked decaffeinated may contain some caffeine. Some caffeine, in small quantities, is even showing up in bottled water. For a good night’s sleep, one should avoid caffeine containing foods and beverages after noon.

Foods with high protein content can also interfere with sleep. Protein-rich foods require more effort to digest and should not be eaten just before bedtime. Spicy food presents a similar problem with the addition of possible heartburn. This can disrupt the sleep pattern. A person should allow at least four hours after consuming a full meal before attempting sleep.

While alcohol may help a person fall asleep more quickly, it too has side effects later in the evening, such as headaches, nightmares, and less restful sleep overall.

For those having difficulty sleeping through the night, the elimination of beverages after 8:00pm is a definite must. It is difficult to get a truly restful sleep when it is interrupted by visits to the bathroom throughout the night.

Foods to Promote Sleep

If some foods are the enemies of sleep, then there must be some foods that promote sleep. Those foods contain one or more of the following elements.

  • tryptophan: an amino acid with a sedative like effect
  • magnesium: a muscle relaxant
  • melatonin and serotonin: sleep inducing hormones

List the following ten items and the reasons they can help with sleep.

  • almonds, which have both tryptophan and magnesium
  • bananas, which contain melatonin, serotonin, and magnesium
  • chamomile tea, which has a mild sedative effect
  • flax seeds, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, which act as a mood lifter
  • honey, which contains glucose which causes the brain to reduce the production of orexin, a neurotransmitter associated with alertness
  • milk, which contains tryptophan plus calcium, which helps the brain to metabolize the tryptophan
  • oatmeal, which contains melatonin to help induce sleep
  • potatoes, which contain tryptophan
  • turkey, which is an excellent source of tryptophan
  • whole wheat bread: a small slice with chamomile tea and honey causes the release of insulin, which helps with the processing of tryptophan.

The foods listed above can help with sleep. But don’t get carried away. Stuffing oneself with turkey at Thanksgiving may invariably lead to naptime, and the quality of the sleep will suffer because a big heavy meal is harder for the body to digest and will result in a less-than-comfortable sleep experience. If a person plans on eating a large meal, it should be completed at least four hours before going to bed. A small helping, or snack portion of almonds, banana, a cup of chamomile tea, or milk and oatmeal can help prepare the body for a restful sleep.

Eating is a balancing act. High energy and alertness enhancing foods are best eaten earlier in the day but not to excess or they may not clear out by evening. Foods that promote relaxation and sleepiness are best later in the day. Everyone must find the balance that is right for them.