Insufficient sleep isn’t just an annoyance, but a well-known and recognized public health problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “an estimated 50 to 70 million US adults have sleep or wakefulness disorders.” Chronic insomnia can cause car crashes and work accidents and errors. It is also associated with other health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and weight gain. Some cancers and a reduced quality of life are also linked with sleep disorders. Making sure to get enough sleep is crucial to living a healthy lifestyle.
The National Institutes of Health makes the following sleep recommendations:
· School-Aged Children – 10 hours of sleep each night
· Teens – 9 to 10 hours of sleep
· Adults – 7 to 8 hours of sleep
Many adults are getting far less than these recommendations, with many adults reporting less than 6 hours of sleep each night. So what can we do to sleep better? Believe it or not, the things we eat or drink can help give us energy or help us sleep better at night.
Certain foods contain an amino acid, one of the building blocks of protein, called tryptophan. Foods with tryptophan can make you feel drowsy and sleepy after eating them. Other foods, namely carbohydrates, increase tryptophan levels in the brain, which also makes you feel sleepy. Foods that are high in tryptophan include:
· Pumpkin seeds
· Peanut butter
Try to consume a snack that contains these foods within 2-3 hours of bedtime. A couple of good options include a handful of nuts and seeds, or a few crackers with peanut butter.
Both warm milk and chamomile tea are thought to help induce sleep. Chamomile teas and essential oil extracts are widely regarded as a mild sedative and sleep-inducer. Using warm milk to fall asleep, on the other hand, isn’t backed up by research; however, many people use it with favorable results. It is believed that drinking something warm is very soothing and relaxing, which may in itself be what is causing sleepiness. Try having a cup right before bedtime to see if it works for you!
What to Avoid
Many people use alcohol to help them feel sleepy before bedtime. Drinking alcohol at bedtime though can interfere with your ability to fall asleep, as well as your ability to get a restful sleep. That glass of wine can initially help you fall asleep, but it may wake you up, and keep you up, later in the night. Try to avoid all alcohol for at least a few hours before bedtime.
Caffeine is also a well-known stimulant and can keep you from falling asleep. If you’re a big coffee, tea or soda drinker, cut back or switch to decaf by early afternoon, or even the late morning if you still have problems sleeping.
Spicy or acidic foods can sometimes cause heartburn or reflux, so eating them at night—before you lay down to go to sleep—can worsen symptoms and make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Making a few of these changes should help, but if getting enough sleep continues to be a problem, it may be helpful to check in with your doctor for further recommendations or formal sleep evaluation.