Niagara Gazette

Web Extra

April 17, 2014

To sleep well, you may need to adjust what you eat and when

Sleep.  Oh, to sleep.  A good night's sleep is often a struggle for more than half of American adults.  And for occasional insomnia, there are good reasons to avoid using medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription.  

We've all heard about home remedies such as warm milk, chamomile tea with honey, or a shot of bourbon or brandy as a nightcap. On the Internet you can find claims about all kinds of foods that help with sleep: fish, cherries, lettuce, miso, yogurt, bananas, almonds, eggs, edamame, pineapple, jasmine rice, potatoes, cereal, to name a few. Is this just click-bait for insomniacs staring at their screens at 11:30 p.m.?  What does the science say?

Michael Grandner, a sleep researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, says the best way to start adjusting your diet is to eliminate foods that interfere with sleep. "The obvious one is caffeine," he says, "but people forget about it."  They'll drink a soda at dinner or have a cup of coffee with dessert. Caffeine typically stays in the body for four to six hours, he says, "but some people are more sensitive and the effect might last twice that long."

Alcohol is also bad for sleep.  While it may make it easier to doze off, it makes your sleep more shallow, Grandner says. "It suppresses REM sleep early in the night, which can lead to REM rebound later," which can wake you up. Also, as alcohol is metabolized, one of its byproducts has stimulant action. Grandner also says to avoid nicotine, large meals and spicy foods at dinnertime.

Are there any foods that promote sleep? There is some science behind these supposed dietary sleep aids, but it's piecemeal at best. For example, turkey contains tryptophan, which is a building block for serotonin, a chemical involved in sleep. But there's nothing special about turkey, as all meat contains tryptophan - as does warm milk.

Further, tryptophan is a big molecule that has trouble crossing into the brain, so improving your sleep is not as simple as eating a tryptophan-rich food and getting more serotonin. And, serotonin has multiple functions in the brain, including some that promote wakefulness, so more serotonin does not automatically mean better sleep.

Studies that found a tryptophan effect relied on doses that would require eating a pound of meat at a sitting, Grandner says. "If you're eating so much food to get the tryptophan effect, you might suffer the too-much-food effect."

Other foods, most notably tart cherries, contain melatonin, which does affect sleep. Still, melatonin is not necessarily a sleep aid, says Wilfred Pigeon, a sleep researcher at the University of Rochester. "Studies show it has a very minimal impact on insomnia," he says. "On the other hand, melatonin is a wonderful circadian rhythm shifter."

So if you're a night owl whose body prefers to sleep from 2 a.m. to 9 a.m. but you have to wake up at 7 a.m. every day, melatonin may help you alter your sleep schedule. Pigeon and Grandner say that to get that effect, it would be best to take melatonin at dinnertime rather than at bedtime - and that lower doses (1.5 to 3 milligrams) are better than higher ones. That allows the substance to work with your body's internal clock, starting the long wind-down process that's tied to sundown.

Pigeon conducted a small study with a tart cherry juice that had been developed as a sports drink. The participants - 16 elderly adults with chronic insomnia - reported less wakefulness during the night (by an average of 17 minutes) and more total sleep time (eight minutes) when they drank the juice than when they drank cherry Kool-Aid, which did not contain the melatonin and other phytonutrients found in the sports drink.

"It was not a huge effect," Pigeon says. Indeed, the participants still had significant sleep disturbance after two weeks on the tested juice. But Pigeon says the effect was nonetheless on par with what some studies have found with the herbal supplement valerian and with melatonin in pill form.

What about other supposed remedies? Dairy is a good source of calcium, and nuts and grains contain magnesium. Miso soup, fish and yogurt contain B vitamins, such as B6.  

"These are all molecules important in sleep and sleep regulation," Grandner says.  

That means that B vitamins, calcium and magnesium can be linked to some of the biochemical processes involved in sleep. But merely eating them doesn't mean the nutrient goes directly to sleep pathways in the brain.

A comprehensive review of studies testing foods or nutrients on sleep confirms the inconsistency of food as a way to promote sleep. One study might show that milk helps sleep, but the next finds no effect.  The same for chamomile tea, B6 and magnesium.

That said, sleepy-time foods don't have any worrisome side effects. And the ritual of drinking something before bed may be conducive to sleep, Pigeon says.  "Anything that is soothing or relaxing can help."

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Web Extra
  • NIA iPad pals art 1 120613 Has the iPad lost its swag?

    The company reported this week that sales of its sleek, pricey tablet were down 19 percent from last quarter and 9 percent year-over-year. CEO Tim Cook tried to reassure investors that Apple's new partnership with IBM to sell its devices to IBM's corporate customers will help make iPads ubiquitous in the workplace. "This isn't something that worries us," he said of the iPad sales decline. But the numbers are disappointing no matter how you spin them.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Facebook continues moneymaking trend

    Facebook seems to have figured out - for now at least - the holy grail for all media right now: how to make money selling mobile ads.

    July 25, 2014

  • Police Brutality screen shot. Technology plays key part in battling police brutality (VIDEO)

    Allegations of police brutality are nothing new -- as long as there has been law enforcement, citizens have registered claims that some officers cross the line. But in the last few years, the claims of excessive force are being corroborated with new technology from cell phone cameras, police dash-cams and surveillance videos. 

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Arizona's prolonged lethal injection is fourth in U.S. this year

    Arizona's execution of double-murderer Joseph Wood marked the fourth time this year that a state failed to dispatch a convict efficiently, according to the Constitution Project, a bipartisan legal group.3

    July 25, 2014

  • Vader Darth Vader is polling higher than all potential 2016 presidential candidates

    On the other hand, with a net favorability of -8, Jar Jar is considerably more popular than the U.S. Congress, which currently enjoys a net favorability rating of -65.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 2.00.42 PM.png VIDEO: Train collides with semi truck carrying lighter fluid

    A truck driver from Washington is fortunate to be alive after driving his semi onto a set of tracks near Somerset, Ky., and being struck by a locomotive, which ignited his load of charcoal lighter fluid.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • An oncologist uses scorpion venom to locate cancer cells

    Olson, a pediatric oncologist and research scientist in Seattle, has developed a compound he calls Tumor Paint. When injected into a cancer patient, it seems to light up all the malignant cells so surgeons can easily locate and excise them.

    July 22, 2014

  • mama.jpg What we get wrong about millennials living at home

    If the media is to be believed, America is facing a major crisis. "Kids," some age 25, 26, or even 30 years old, are living out of their childhood bedrooms and basements at alarmingly high numbers. The hand-wringing overlooks one problem: It's all overblown.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Expectations too high for a rehabbing Woods

    Tiger Woods finished near bottom last weekend at Royal Liverpool, drawing out his drought of major tournament wins. Despite the disappointing showing, Woods' return to form remains a matter of when, not if.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • 110720 Walmart.jpg Wal-Mart to cut prices more aggressively in back-to-school push

    Wal-Mart Stores plans to cut prices more aggressively during this year's back-to-school season and will add inventory to its online store as the chain battles retailers for student spending.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

Featured Ads
House Ads
AP Video
Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Raw: Palestinians and Israeli Soldiers Clash Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kerry: No Deal Yet on 7-Day Gaza Truce Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow Gaza Residents Mourn Dead Amid Airstrikes Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp Cumberbatch Brings 'Penguins' to Comic-Con Raw: Air Algerie Crash Site in Mali Power to Be Restored After Wash. Wildfire Crashed Air Algerie Plane Found in Mali Israel Mulls Ceasefire Amid Gaza Offensive
Opinion
House Ads
Night & Day
Twitter News
Follow us on twitter
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Front page