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How to Eat to Sleep

There are over-the-counter sleep aids, prescription medications, and techniques you can use to train yourself to have better sleep habits. But one area you may not have considered is controlling your sleep success through your food choices!

We like to joke about having to nap after a Thanksgiving turkey dinner, but there’s some truth behind that kidding. There really are foods that help you sleep – and some that keep you awake, so if you’re suffering from a sleep disorder, you’ll want to consider your food choices carefully!

Certain foods create a calming effect on your brain, while others rev it up for more activity. Turkey is a sleep-aiding food, because it contains tryptophan, an amino acid that your body uses to produce serotonin, which calms your brain and helps you sleep.

It’s kind of like sewing a piece of clothing – you can make a shirt without a needle, thread, and fabric. Your body needs tryptophan to help it create neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin, which result in a restful sleep.

When you combine tryptophan-laden foods with carbohydrates, it helps the body absorb it so that you sleep better. Regular high-protein diets can keep you awake if they’re no paired with carbs because proteins contain tyrosine, which wakes you up!

To leverage your food choices, try to pair proteins and carbs the way you want your body to work throughout the day. Choose higher protein meals in the morning and afternoon, and eat more carbs in the evenings closer to bedtime.

You can’t exclude the tryptophan because an all-carb meal will defeat the purpose, keeping you awake even more. If you can sneak some calcium into your evening meal, you’ll reap even greater rewards, since calcium helps the brain use the tryptophan.

Foods that are high in tryptophan include beans, chicken, dairy, eggs, hazelnuts, hummus, lentils, meat, peanuts, rice, soy, seafood, sesame and sunflower seeds, and whole grains. So a perfect evening snack might be whole grain cereal with milk or even oatmeal cookies with milk.

Full meals could include veggies with meat or chicken, chili and beans, or pasta with cheese. Just remember that when you over-indulge on a meal, it may cause you to not sleep as well – since your digestive system will be working overtime.

When you eat tryptophan, the sleep-inducing effects won’t take place immediately. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour for you to begin feeling drowsy, so eat early in the evening.

Aside from tryptophan, there are other foods you should be aware of in regards to how it affects your slumber, like caffeine for instance. Caffeine can be found in many products – even your over-the-counter cold medicine! It stimulates your nervous system, keeping you awake – even when you don’t want to be.

Keep a food journal to see how your nighttime meals affect your slumber. If you discover that certain foods keep you up at night, try to move those to the early menu of your day and reserve the evening for foods that are “sleep-friendly.”

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