Soporific Foods

Jessica Harlan by Jessica Harlan | December 3rd, 2009 | No Comments
topic: Health & Wellness, Healthy Eating

Not being able to sleep is the worst feeling in the world. I should know, I’ve been experiencing insomnia for the past couple of weeks, lying awake for what seems like hours. I’m loath to try sleeping pills, so of course I’m exploring every other option. Nothing seems to help, not even a few drops of herbal tinctures like Rescue Remedy, or a sachet of lavender tucked into my pillow.

Lately, I’ve been looking into my kitchen for the solution, and thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I’ve found that there are quite a few foods and drinks I can try out that might lull me to sleep.

Everyone knows that the turkey we eat on Thanksgiving usually sends us into a food-induced snoozefest. It’s thanks to the amino acid tryptophan. But it’s not just turkey that contains tryptophan.

“Sleepers are tryptophan-containing foods, because tryptophan is the amino acid that the body uses to make serotonin, the neurotransmitter that slows down nerve traffic so your brain isn’t so busy,” according to Ask Dr. Sears. Tryptophan-containing foods on the site include cheese, milk and other dairy products, soy products like tofu, seafood, whole grains, eggs and beans.

Impact Lab has a list of 10 sleep-inducing foods, which contains a few surprises. Who knew that the magnesium in bananas acts as a muscle relaxant? Or that the glucose in honey will signal to the brain that it should turn off a neurotransmitter linked to alertness? As a bonus, the site has a recipe for “Lullaby Muffins,” which contains these soporific ingredients, as well as milk, applesauce and whole-wheat flour. (But, no turkey, which is probably a good thing.)

According to a sleep disorders Web site, complex carbohydrates can help the sleep-challenged, since the body produces serotonin as it breaks them down. Pasta, cereal, brown rice and potatoes are all good examples of complex carbohydrates. I’m not so sure, however, about the site’s recommendation to eat lettuce with your meal, which it claims has opium-like properties, or drinking lemon juice, which it says contains natural versions of the same ingredients found in prescription sleeping pills.

And finally, one of my favorite healthy-eating Web sites, The World’s Healthiest Foods, cautions that not only what we eat, but when we eat it, can have an impact on our sleep. Eating too close — and too much — before bedtime causes our circulatory system, stomach and pancreas to become more active. What’s more, our digestive system works best when we’re upright, so lying down while it’s trying to do its job doesn’t allow gravity to help our food along its path through our digestive tract. WH Foods suggests that it’s best to eat the largest meal earlier in the day, when the released nutrients and energy can help out our bodies during an active and busy day, and instead eating a small dinner about four hours before bedtime.

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