Friday, July 27, 2007

Trouble Sleeping? Food Might Help

People with insomnia will try most anything to get to sleep. The endless tossing and turning can be agonizing, so why not try a sleep medicine to get some severely needed rest? Well, because the solution may be much easier than that. Next time you just can’t seem to sleep, try opening the refrigerator for relief instead of the medicine cabinet.

While we tend to overlook it, we all know that food can make us sleepy. After eating a big turkey dinner, it’s hard to do anything but lie down and take a nap. This is because of a chemical you’ve probably heard a lot about in recent years: tryptophan. So what exactly is tryptophan? It actually allows your body to produce an amino acid called L-Tryptophan. This amino acid is essential in the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin. These help slow down the nerve traffic in your brain, relax you, and allow you to think less and sleep more.

While you’ve already felt the relaxing powers turkey has, you probably aren’t too happy about the prospect of eating turkey before bed every single night. Well, the good news is that turkey isn’t the only source of tryptophan. This chemical is found in dairy products, soy, meat (especially poultry), nuts, fish, beans, eggs, hummus and most other high-protein foods. Eating a small amount of these foods shortly before bed time can help you sleep soundly.

The problem with many of the foods that contain tryptophan is that they also contain an amino acid called tyrosine. This produces chemicals that perk you up and make you more energized. Eaten alone, these acids will counteract each other produce no significant effects in either direction. The key to getting rest is to eat other foods that will allow you to utilize the tryptophan and not the tyrosine. Excellent foods for accomplishing this effect are carbohydrates. They encourage your body to produce insulin which “ties up” the tyrosine and allows the tryptophan to reach the brain without competition. Just be sure to avoid too large amounts of carbs and simple sugars. You can produce too much insulin; causing you to wake up not long after you’ve fallen asleep.

Another way to get the full benefit of tryptophan is to eat foods that will increase your brain’s absorption of this amino acid. The best way to do this is with calcium. And we already learned that dairy products are a great source of tryptophan. This is why our mother’s always gave us a warm glass of milk at night to help us rest; because it works.

So, if you just can’t seem to settle down and get to sleep, try a late night meal containing nature’s sleeping pill: tryptophan. Just remember not too eat too much at night or you’ll likely wake up a few hours later. The most effective plan is to have a moderately sized dinner and a small snack an hour or two before bed. If you eat the right foods at bedtime, you’ll bed drifting off to dreamland in no time.

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