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Foods for a good night’s sleep



Both of my parents are having a hard time sleeping. Are there any foods that can actually help them sleep?




Your parents aren’t alone: about one in six Americans seeks help for sleep problems, and in total they are spending more than $84 million dollars on over-the-counter sleep aids every year. But what about food? Is grandma onto something with her warm glass of milk before bedtime?


Research findings about what foods really help you sleep – and to what effect – are mixed. Scientists seem to know more about what not to eat, says sleep researcher Michael Grandner at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Sleep and Respiratory Neurobiology. The easier question is: what are the things to avoid?  Grandner answered this question by tracking the diets and sleep patterns of 459 women in the national “Women’s Health Initiative” and found that women who ate a diet high in fats slept less than those who don’t.


Now back to your question. Here is a list of foods most frequently associated with a good night’s sleep by credible nutritionists and physicians:


Almonds. “Almonds contain magnesium which promotes both sleep and muscle relaxation,” according to Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers. In addition, “They supply proteins that can help maintain a stable blood sugar level while sleeping.” 


Cherries.  Fresh, dried or tart cherry juice can help you fall asleep faster. Those little guys are packed with melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy naturally. A handful of cherries before bed time along with those almonds make a great bedtime snack. (Eating cherry pie doesn’t count!)


Milk and Dairy. Grandma probably was right about that warm glass of milk. It contains the amino acid tryptophan that the body uses to make serotonin which, in turn, slows nerve traffic to your brain. And the calcium helps the brain use the tryptophan to also produce melatonin. Cottage cheese and cheese also possess the calming effect that you feel with warm milk. Add some honey to milk or yogurt for an added bonus, as honey is known to stabilize blood sugar levels and contributes to the release of melatonin.


Oatmeal. Clinical nutritionist Stephen Dorlandt considers oatmeal the granddaddy of sleep-inducing foods. “Oatmeal is warm, soft, soothing, easy to prepare, inexpensive and nourishing, and is rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and potassium – the who’s who in nutrients known to support sleep.” Just don’t add sugar or maple syrup.


Banana. If you want to relax your muscles, a banana’s nutrients of magnesium and potassium will do just that. Banana also has tryptophan, which will activate natural hormones of serotonin and melatonin for a good night’s sleep. Slice it and place it on top of oatmeal or blend it into a smoothie by adding milk with some crushed ice. 


Cereal. Dr. Dalton-Smith, an internist who teaches courses on health, nutrition, and disease progression at the Davenport University in Michigan recommends a small bowl of cereal before bed because “The complex carbohydrate-rich foods increase the availability of tryptophan in the bloodstream, increasing the sleep-inducing effects.” Whole grain cereals, such as Grape-Nuts, corn flakes, or Total, are best. If you don’t want cereal then try a snack of graham crackers or vanilla wafers (and of course, you’ve got to dip them in milk).


Tea. A cup of chamomile tea can be very soothing because of its antispasmodic effects that relax muscles. Decaffeinated green teas contain theanine, a naturally occurring amino acid that is known to quiet down neurotransmitters to the brain. Boost the tea’s sleeping powers by using honey rather than sugar.   


What should your parents avoid? We all know that caffeine is at the top of the list but did you know that its effects can be felt up to twelve hours later? Drinking coffee and tea in the early and mid-afternoon can disturb even a late-nighter’s sleep. For a restful night’s sleep steer clear of spicy, heavy, and high-fat dinners, avoid alcohol (that night cap blocks deeper stages of sleep), don’t “dine after nine,” and stay away from sugary snacks. Do not drink too many liquids or take diuretic pills before bedtime as your bladder will be waking you up throughout the night.


Hopefully, something on this “Lullaby Menu” will bring your parents sweet dreams. But if the problem persists, they should keep a sleep journal and share it with their primary care physician. It could be a sign that something else is going on and should be addressed.





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