Sleep Promoting Diets

What should I eat and drink to get a better night's sleep?
I see all sorts of sleep-promoting diets on the Internet.

Other than alcohol and caffeinated beverages, no food or beverage has a clear-cut effect on sleep.

Theories about food and sleep involve such factors as blood sugar levels, hormones, and various brain chemicals. High-carbohydrate foods are often suggested for sleep, because they are supposed to allow more tryptophan (an amino acid) to get into the brain; tryptophan is converted into the brain chemical serotonin, which helps promote sleep. In contrast, a high-protein diet supposedly has the opposite effect. A high-fat diet also tends to result in poorer sleep, at least according to one recent study.

Despite common beliefs about various foods - turkey or warm milk as sleep promoters, for example - research has come up with confusing and contradictory results. Foods (and meals) are complex mixes of nutrients that may have opposite effects on sleep, and the effects may vary from person to person, possibly for genetic reasons.

According to Dr. William Orr, and expert on sleep at the OKlahoma University Health Science Centre, "I am not aware of studies showing the effectiveness of a specific diet promoting sleep. There's nothing across the boar that's convincing."

Here's some obvious advice if you're having trouble sleeping.

  • Don't eat a large meal two to three hours before going to bed.
    A full stomach can be uncomfortable and can promote heartburn. If spicy or fatty foods (or some other food) seem to cause nighttime heartburn, don't eat them in the evening.
  • Avoid, or at least limit, alcohol.
    It can help you fall asleep more quickly, but later it disrupts sleep, especially restorative deep sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine for at least three hours before going to bed.
    Some people may need to avoid it for eight hours before bedtime.

From the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, April 2009

Published by: Therapeutic Pillow