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Healthy Eats and Repeat

Highlighting Food, Recipes, and Ideas for a Healthy Lifestyle

Sleep...From A to Zzzzz

As we finish trick-or-treating this autumn and move into the holiday season, many of us will become busier scheduling holiday get-togethers, coordinating travel plans to see friends and relatives, and digging out those favorite recipes for day-long cooking extravaganzas.

Did you plan sleep into your schedule?

Most adults – young adults and older adults – need 7–9 hours of quality sleep each night or about a third of your day. How does this compare to your current sleep habit? If you are like most American adults, you sleep less than 7 hours per night. And yes, that is not enough sleep.

Poor quality sleep or a sleep deficit puts us at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. It can also lower our immune response to colds or the flu. Not only does too little sleep make us moody and irritable, it increases the likelihood of developing depression.

Enough quality sleep:
  • keeps our skills and performance on tasks high (such as at work or in school)
  • puts us in a positive mood
  • helps us remember better
  • promotes better blood glucose control in persons with diabetes
  • is related to heart-healthy drops in blood pressure
  • raises the appetite-suppressor hormone, leptin (meaning we are less hungry)

Bottom line: get enough quality sleep for your physical, emotional, and mental health!

Turkey and Sleep?

Now, about those turkey dinners at Thanksgiving celebrations: does the tryptophan really make you sleepy?

Research shows that your body makes hormones that help you sleep, such as serotonin and melatonin. Some tryptophan can be converted to serotonin, but this story has more to do with carbohydrates and proteins.

Most protein-rich meals or foods – such as that Thanksgiving turkey – contain large amino acids, such as tyrosine, and smaller amino acids, such as tryptophan. (See FOOD SCIENCE HIGHLIGHT for more about amino acids.) A high-protein meal helps tyrosine and other large amino acids in the turkey move into the brain which makes us more alert.

On the other hand, a carbohydrate-rich meal – such as that side of mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie – allows available tryptophan – such as from the turkey you ate – to be preferred over tyrosine and move into the brain, stimulate serotonin, and promote sleepiness.

So, you need carbohydrates and proteins in order for smaller amino acids to cross into the brain to promote relaxation.

Since diet and exercise affect sleep, think about what tips below might help you.

  • Avoid caffeine
    • From coffee, tea, energy drinks, chocolate, and some other foods, the stimulant caffeine keeps your mind awake
  • Avoid alcohol before bed and limit other beverages
    • While alcohol can make you sleepy at first, it disrupts your sleep pattern making your quality of sleep suffer
    • Extra beverages in the evening may increase your need to urinate, causing you to wake up often
  • Avoid heavy or large meals at night
    • During sleep, your gastrointestinal (GI) tract moves slower than when awake. Any undigested food from a meal can cause discomfort and keep you from sleep
    • Heavily spiced meals before bed may upset those with indigestion or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
  • Exercise daily, but not 2-3 hours before bed
    • Exercise before bed wakes up the body and may make it harder for you to fall asleep

For lifestyle and environment tips to promote quality sleep, see WEB HIGHLIGHT 2.

If you still find sleep difficult, contact your doctor or an accredited sleep center.


Mix-and-Match Slumber

A sleep-assisting snack before bed may be helpful if you feel awake or alert. Try a food combination from the Mix-and-Match Slumber list.

Remember, extra calories – regardless of what time of the day they are eaten – will lead to weight gain over time.

  • 1/2 medium banana (mashed) spread over 1 slice whole-grain toast (Nutritional analysis: 120 calories, 2g fat, 25g carbohydrate, 4g protein)
  • 1/2 cup low-sugar whole-grain dry cereal and 1/2 cup 1% low-fat milk (Nutritional analysis: 110 calories, 2g fat, 17g carbohydrate, 6g protein)
  • 3 whole-grain crackers and 1 ounce reduced-fat cheese (Nutritional analysis: 110 calories, 4g fat, 10g carbohydrate, 8g protein)
  • 1/3 cup low-fat cottage cheese and 1/2 cup mango cubes (Nutritional analysis: 100 calories, 2g fat, 16g carbohydrate, 9 protein)

WEB HIGHLIGHT 1: How does your sleep knowledge stack up? Take this Interactive Sleep Quiz from the National Institutes of Health to see.

WEB HIGHLIGHT 2: For lifestyle and environment tips to promote quality sleep, see the National Institute of Health's "Your Guide to Healthy Sleep."

FOOD SCIENCE HIGHLIGHT: Amino acids: Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. An entire protein is made up of a strand of different amino acids. This is why protein-rich foods will contain different amounts of different amino acids.

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