Eating to Sleep

August 26, 2010 at 6:42 am 6 comments

I have often reflected on my inability to fall asleep and hoped that as I grew older I might fall prey to those little cat naps I often caught my parents indulging in.  No such luck for me and my insomnia has only gotten worse as I’ve aged.  In my Boomerhood, I have tried some of the typical remedies recommended by friends – aerobic exercise during the day (not shortly before going to bed), warm milk, decaffinated tea, and while it was in vogue, tryptophan.  None of these seem to affect me and as such, I read with great interest a recent article in the Washington Post, “More Foods Hinder Than Help Sleep,” by Jennifer LaRue Huget

Ms. Huget researched foods that might help individuals sleep better and rather than find that wonderous substance that might send me off to dreamland, I did learn what to avoid!

First and foremost, it seems I have to change my diet. Based on research conducted by Dr. Michael Grandner (University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Sleep and Respiratory Neurobiology), the biggest culprit associated with getting less sleep is fat. In tracking the diets and sleep habits of women enrolled in a 15-year study, the more fat the women ate, the less they slept. No more late night chocolate chip cookie binges, coffee cake, or ice cream for me! Another finding, if eating fat stops you from sleeping, being fat also affects your sleep. Grandner is quoted, “People who are obese sleep less and report that the sleep they get is not as good.” He relates this to the possibility that some obese individuals may have undiagnosed sleep apnea or that the hormones that control feelings of hunger and being full are disrupted when sleep is disrupted.

A few items to avoid:
• Caffeine
• Spicy foods
• Alcohol – it disrupts the sleep cycle by delaying the onset of and
   shortens REM sleep (restful sleep)

Another medical professional quoted in the article, Dr. Christine Gerbstadt, mentions that melatonin, a hormone that has sleep-inducing properties, is found in red and white wine, but rather than risk alcohol’s interference with restful REM sleep, one might benefit from eating red grapes with the skin on to get a little boost of melatonin.

Both doctors stress that foods such as milk and herbal tea may help by making one more relaxed, they are calming foods, and ingesting calming substances might enhance a person’s ability to fall asleep by reducing anxiety. However, Dr. Grandner says, “when it comes to calming foods, there are a number that may have calming effects, but honestly the evidence suggests that it is mostly placebo.” In other words, if you believe that having a warm glass of milk calms you down enough to go to sleep, you may just fall asleep!

In addition to eating or drinking recommended substances, I’ve tried other suggested methods to help myself fall asleep – read a boring book (my problem with this remedy – no book is boring to me!), listen to soothing music on a personal disc player or iPod (calming music makes me nervous), watch television, engage in a repetitive non-stressful task such as folding laundry, and most of the time I’m still wide-eyed and wondering if I’m ever going to fall asleep. Personally, deep breathing associated with yoga (pranayama) has helped to slow me down and get my mind to focus on something other than the problems of the day, what I want to accomplish tomorrow, etc. Practicing yoga breathing has allowed me to relax and while I may not fall asleep, at least I generally don’t become more anxious about my lack of sleep.

Working in a library certainly has its advantages and I have checked out several of our excellent collection of books on insomnia and sleep disorders. Here’s a small sampling of titles to get you started if you wish to do some reading on the subject:

Do you have trouble falling asleep?  Have you found any techniques or remedies that work for you?  Please post a note below and share your experiences!

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6 Comments Add your own

  • […] Eating to Sleep « LINK Logs […]

  • 2. Torrance Library  |  August 27, 2010 at 2:48 am

    For a list of tips to help improve sleep hygiene, try the site
    The 16 suggestions listed may assist in developing healthy habits of good sleep!

  • 3. john  |  September 10, 2010 at 3:44 am

    The 16 suggestions listed may assist in developing healthy habits of good sleep!
    Health, Fitness, Medicine

  • 4. Poly Drum Handling  |  September 20, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    To live healthy life, healthy food, regular exercise and enough daily sleep are primary requirements.

    • 5. Torrance Library  |  September 24, 2010 at 5:50 am

      Simple sage advice! – thank you for your comment

  • 6. Cure Panic Attacks  |  September 21, 2010 at 3:26 am

    I have found that white noise generators work very well for me. Also, if nothing else is available, a medium sized fan running, or possibly an air conditioner running in fan only mode.


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