Make Sleep a Priority Chapter 18

Best Bets at Bedtime: Food

What and when to eat to get a better night's sleep.

Two amino acids found in many foods, tryptophan and tyrosine, can make a big difference in the quality of your sleep. Tryptophan helps your brain settle down and carry you off to dreamland. When you eat high-tryptophan foods such as milk, eggs, seaweed and many kinds of fish along with complex carbohydrates, the tryptophan can pass the blood-brain barrier. In the brain, tryptophan is the basic building block for serotonin, which is converted to the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Calcium also helps this conversion process along. Tyrosine is found in many of the same high-protein foods as tryptophan—eggs, soy, turkey and other meats. If you eat these foods without a side of carbs, the tyrosine will be more available to the brain than tryptophan. Its effect is to rev the brain up for more action, not to help it settle down.

A glass of milk and a few whole-wheat crackers or a bit of hummus and wheat pita should do the trick. Avoid sugary foods, which will cause your blood sugar to spike, and spicy foods which could give you heartburn. Keep night-time snacks small, and have them at least an hour before bedtime. You will likely feel more comfortable if you don't sleep on a full stomach. Also, a 2011 study from the University of Ioannina Medical School in Greece found that those who ate within an hour of bedtime had an increased risk of suffering a stroke.

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