Foods that help to get a good night’s sleep

Not getting a good night’s sleep can lead to many physical and psychosomatic diseases. Obesity, raised blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, insomnia (sleeplessness, caused by long time habit of not getting proper sleep), headaches, irritation, aggression and violent behavior can all be caused by lack of proper sleep.

Lack of proper sleep could be due to, work or home related stress, and also improper eating habits. Improper eating habits means not eating on a specified time daily and also not eating the kind od foods consistent with one’s age, gender and activity level.

The hormones that influence sleep or the lack of it are Serotonin, Melatonin and Adrenalin. Serotonin and melatonin are two hormones that are sleep-promoting hormones. These are produced from tryptophan which is a branched chain amino acid. Cortisone and adrenaline are the hormones that negatively affect sleep. Adrenaline increases activity level and is responsible for body’s fight or flight response and therefore delays sleep. Cortisone is a hormone released by the adrenal gland in response to stress it  elevates blood pressure and prepares the body for a fight or flight response.

Foods like kidney beans, peas, beans, cashews, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame, etc. are the foods that are high in tryptophan and therefore, induce feeling of sluggishness and sleep.  Also, foods that are rich in certain vitamins and minerals which aid in the production of serotonin and melatonin, like dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and oil seeds, soybean, yogurt, cheese, banana, fish and meat. These also deactivate the production of adrenaline.

To improve sleep, one should eat dinner minimum 2 hours before bed time, as this is the time required for the food to reach the duodenum (small intestine) and most of the initial digestion process is complete and the nutrients are now ready for absorption.

The dinner should comprise of 40 percent of protein foods such as meats or pulses and legumes, 20 to 25 percent of high fiber food such as vegetables and salads and 35 percent carbohydrates that is whole grain cereals, roots and tubers.

One can have milk, green tea or lemon tea before bed as these have certain vitamins and minerals which act as muscle relaxants and induce better sleep. Calcium in milk is responsible for the deactivation of adrenaline and production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Green tea contains an amino acid theanine, which has been proved to reduce stress and induce restful sleep.

However, it is better to avoided highly caffeinated green or black teas. One must also avoid fried food and high fat food, highly caffeinated drinks, like tea, coffee and carbonated beverages, before going to bed, as these may increase the production of adrenaline. Also, exercising is best advised about 3 hours before sleep as it increases the flow of adrenaline and causes wakeful state. It is best to exercise early in the morning or early evening when the stomach is empty and the blood circulation can be directed towards the exercising muscles.

These days people are in a habit of remaining awake till late and may need a snack post dinner. Although it is better to avoid snacking post dinner, but at times it is important to avoid acid production.  The best post dinner snacking options are nuts, roasted soy products, fruit yogurt or fruits as they help in  production of serotonin and melatonin, which are sleep inducing hormones . also these have the minerals and vitamins which behave like muscle relaxants, thereby, promoting  good sleep. One can also have milk or green tea.

It is best to either listen to a relaxing music or to watch anything which will not increase aggression or increase the production of adrenaline. Watching intense scenes and horror movies may cause increased stress, blood pressure and heart problems. These may cause a spurt in the adrenaline and cortisone levels, which may disrupt the normal sleep cycle.

The best routine would be to eat 2 -3 hours before bedtime, listen to relaxing music or do some light reading. One can also meditate or listen to spiritual music before going to sleep.

Proper Sleep also improves the immune system and helps the body fight diseases and reduce stress. Also, serotonin and melatonin are mood elevators and have a key role in maintaining mood balance.



Contact: Nutritionist in Delhi

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