Eating for sleep

Improve sleep by eating right

Two of the most important things we need to sustain life are food and sleep. We need to eat. We need to sleep. But when does food interfere with sleeping?

First, a little basic science.

Proteins are the building blocks of tryptophan, an essential amino acid in our diet that our body uses for many things. Tryptophan helps to create the hormones melatonin and serotonin, both of which help us to relax and sleep. When we eat carbohydrate-containing foods, the tryptophan contained in them is more available for our brain to use.

When we eat foods that are high in protein without eating a carbohydrate as well, our bodies produce tyrosine, which stimulates our brain, making it more difficult to sleep.

So the ideal bedtime snack is one that contains higher levels of carbohydrates and calcium, with medium-to-low levels of protein. When you’re planning a bedtime snack, keep in mind that it takes about an hour for tryptophan to reach your brain and work its magic. If you really need a snack, try to eat it at least an hour before bedtime.

Sleep-happy bedtime snacks you can enjoy any night of the week:

  • A small bowl of oatmeal or other whole-grain cereal
  • A banana
  • Peanut butter on a cracker
  • Half a turkey sandwich
  • A few cubes of low-fat cheese
  • Hazelnuts
  • A glass of milk with an oatmeal and raisin cookie…and you can add a teaspoon of honey to your milk

But wait.

It’s not time for bed yet, and you’re trying to decide what to eat for dinner. As with your bedtime snack, opt for a meal that combines protein with carbohydrates.

What you eat has quite an effect on how you sleep later on. The goal is to calm yourself rather than stimulate yourself. So when there’s a choice, pick foods that contribute to helping you sleep.