Your pattern of eating will also affect the way you sleep. The body has natural biological rhythms that allow it to anticipate large meals by providing enzymes before the food arrives to aid digestion. However, many people are out of step with these natural rhythms and the result is heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux, which occurs when acid escapes from the stomach and travels back into the esophagus or mouth. Shift workers are particularly prone to this condition as their natural biological rhythms are perpetually disrupted.
The timing of your meals is important. If you eat too soon before going to bed your metabolic rate and body temperature will increase when they should be decreasing. This makes it harder to get to sleep. It is wise not to eat a large meal within two hours of bedtime. The best routine is to have a large meal during the day and a small meal or snack in the evening. Early afternoon is a good time for a nap; the body temperature is high enough to allow the metabolic rate to slow down and drowsiness to take over. This is also the reason why we often feel sleepy after eating a large lunch.
Experiment with your food intake to determine the optimum size meal to have in the evening. If you fall asleep easily but awaken several hours later, it may be due to low blood sugar. In this instance, try a light bedtime snack of complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal, wholegrain cereal, or a small chicken sandwich. Chicken and complex carbohydrates increase the level of serotonin in the brain. Adequate serotonin levels promote deep, restorative sleep. Also, a glass of warm milk 15 minutes before going to bed will soothe your nervous system. Milk contains calcium, which calms the nerves and helps you relax.
THE “SLEEP HORMONE”
Foods that contain a substance called tryptophan, which is converted to an amino acid called L-tryptophan, promote sleep. Tryptophan is subject to various changes by enzymes making the L-tryptophan produce a brain chemical called serotonin. Serotonin is essential for sleep and has been called the “sleep hormone.”
Here are some tips to encourage your body chemistry to aid sleep:
1. Eat foods high in tryptophan:
Eat these foods during the day to aid restful sleep and to encourage the release of sleep hormones.
Foods high in tryptophan include: Milk, eggs, meat, nuts, beans, fish, and cheese. Cheddar, Gruyere, and Swiss cheese are particularly rich in tryptophan.
2. Eating to get to sleep
If you have trouble getting to sleep when you first go to bed, eat a high-carbohydrate meal two to four hours before bedtime. You can also include a little food high in fat in the meal as well. This will increase the release of serotonin immediately before going to bed.
Foods high in carbohydrates include: Cereals milk, cakes, candy, sugar, ice cream, dates, figs, chocolate, cakes, fruit pie, potatoes, spaghetti, honey, and jam.
3. Eating to stay asleep
Some people get to sleep but then awaken during the night. To overcome this problem the serotonin needs to be released later in the night. Eat a snack of high carbohydrates combined with some fats immediately before going to bed. Banana is a good food to include as it digests more slowly and releases the appropriate chemicals later in the night. Similarly, a warm milky drink at bedtime works very well as milk is high in tryptophan.
Foods high in carbohydrates: see above.
Foods high in fats: cream, high-fat cheese, meat, saturated margarine, butter, peanut butter, nuts, sausages, milk chocolate, and butter.