Over time, a lot of theories have been proposed on the effects of our diet on sleep. It has been extensively researched and proven that what we eat can actually affect sleep.
Sleep is one of the most important needs for living things. Sleep is a major requirement for optimal maintenance of a constant internal environment and overall body health. Without sleep, the body tends to break down both mentally and physically. Lack of sleep can cause moodiness, depression, sluggishness etc.
Sleep is regulated by certain centers in the brain known as sleep centers. These centers are usually regulated by certain chemicals known as neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters act, like signals that tell the brain what to do, for instance when to sleep and when to be awake. Some of these neurotransmitters or their precursors are found synthesized by the body while some others can be consumed from food.
It might just be that meal you had during the day that’s giving you insomnia at night!
Sometimes you could get a little worried about not being able to get a few more needed sleep at night. It could just be something that has to do with your diet. Certain foods are sure to interfere with your sleep.
What to avoid
Coffee before bed is a big NO if you sure do want to get some good sleep. The caffeine contained in coffee is a brain stimulant; it acts on the brain to stimulate the wakefulness centres of the brain.
Nicotine is often less emphasized when it comes to sleep interruption, but just like caffeine, it’s actually a stimulant. Research has shown that nicotine is linked to problems with insomnia.
Foods that upset your stomach, such as fatty foods, fried foods or spicy foods, are best avoided before sleep because they are sure to disrupt sleep. Spicy and acidic foods can interrupt sleep more especially when taken before going to bed because they could cause heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux) which in turn brings about sleep discomfort.
What to eat
In as much as certain foods disrupt sleep, there are just about a handful of foods that could promote better sleep. For example, foods containing the amino acid tryptophan which is a building block a chemical serotonin can cause sleep or drowsiness and at the same time promote good sleep.
Turkey is a well-known tryptophan containing food. There are also other foods such as eggs, chicken, fish, avocado and nuts which also are rich in tryptophan. Carbohydrates also are said to make tryptophan more available to the brain, so if you are trying to get something like a light snack before bed, you could as well consider one that is rich in carbohydrate.
Milk and banana are also rich in the tryptophan. So, a cup of banana and milk smoothie could just be that perfect sedative you need to get a good sleep!
Tryptophan and sleep
Tryptophan (also called L-tryprophan) is an essential amino acid. It is known as the building block of “serotonin” which is a hormone that is associated with sleep, control of sleep patterns and other mood functions.
Serotonin is majorly found in the gut system about 90%, while minute quantities are found in the brain. This is so because serotonin does not pass through the blood-brain-barrier (BBB) in the brain so instead the brain makes and uses its own serotonin. However, what does pass through your blood-brain-barrier is tryptophan, and since tryptophan is a precursor of serotonin, eating foods high in tryptophan content can help increase the amount of serotonin synthesized in the brain.
Specific dynamic action (SDA)
The specific dynamic action of food is the amount of energy required by the body to breakdown food substances that are further absorbed into the bloodstream. The SDA differs from one class of food to another. For instance, proteins usually have the highest energy expenditure, so for a protein-rich meal, the body spends more amount of energy breaking down the food and thereafter we are left feeling weak and drowsy. Protein rich meals in general are good sleep promoters.