March 6th marks the beginning of Sleep Awareness week in the United States. And, you can bet, if a health issue has an entire week dedicated to awareness, such as Sleep does, then there may possibly be an epidemic of sleep issues in our country!
Sleep is such an important part of a person’s overall well being that just one sleepless night can affect how you or your child function in daily life. Many habits and environmental factors can contribute to a poor nights sleep. I am here to discuss one important element in achieving a fully restorative night of sleep, and that is Food!
If you were a child that grew up in the 70’s through the 90’s you may have heard the phrase “You are what you eat…” In fact, I remember a little song that would come on between Saturday morning cartoons that sang “You are what you eat from your head down to your feet!” (Here it is on youtube! Share it with your child….kind of catchy, yes?)
It was a message that was meant to bring awareness to children, of how the foods we eat affect every cell in our body. It is ironic that at this same time in the 70’s, food manufacturers started coming up with more ways to preserve and cheapen prepackaged foods. Coincidentally, there was also a rise in fast food chains. The chemical additives, loads of sugar, fats and oils that are consumed from these sources are big contributors to a multitude of health issues that correlate to a poor nights sleep. In just three decades in the United States we have developed a disconnect, between food and it’s role, in either promoting good health, or its ability to create sickness and, yes, even effect your sleep! This lack of food/health awareness is understandable due to the heavy marketing and accessibility of prepackaged, cheap fast food. It is all about awareness, of what and how you eat.
Once you are in awareness that FOOD has a MAJOR role in whether you or your child has a restful, restorative night of sleep, you can begin to implement simple changes. Here are some helpful things to think about when eating for a good nights sleep that can also influence you and your families overall health:
- Start to think of food as fuel for your mind and body rather than just something to quench your hunger. Do you want your fuel to be high octane, as what is used in a high performance vehicle? Or low octane fuel that makes your vehicle backfire and blow a lot of smelly smoke? (Once this is done, it becomes easier to prepare meals that contain whole foods *)
- Eat your final meal 3 hours before bedtime in order to allow the body to digest the food properly and prepare for rest ( i.e. 6 pm meal for 9:00 pm bedtime)
- Avoid sugars and sweeteners. This spikes blood glucose levels and makes excess energy available in the body = A RESTLESS BODY and OVERACTIVE BRAIN
- Avoid caffeine in coffee, sweet / unsweet tea, and dark chocolate
- Avoid Spicy food which can lead to heartburn as well as increase your core body temperature which is linked to poor sleep
- Avoid Alcohol- It may put you to sleep quickly, but it will negatively affect the amount of time spent in the REM state of the sleep cycle which is partially responsible for the restoration of the mind and body.
- Drink plenty of water during the day, but cut off two hours before bed to minimize sleep interruption due to a full bladder
FOODS THAT PROMOTE SLEEP:
Natural, unprocessed food is the original medicine and therefore there are nutrients (Vitamins and Minerals) in certain foods that can help promote sleep. Magnesium is an important mineral that helps your brain and muscles relax. Although you may think it is easier to take Magnesium in a pill, the body will absorb and receive all vitamins and minerals better when consumed from natural sources. You can consume Magnesium in dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, bananas, plain non-fat yogurt, avocados, fish, and beans. Planning dinner and dessert around these foods will help signal the body to relax and sleep.
All diseases, and or health challenges, contain certain aspects, which can be overcome by the improvement in one’s diet. Making just a few of these changes may be the key too not only improving one’s sleep, but also one’s overall health and wellbeing.
EAT TO LIVE…
* Whole Foods = Mostly plant based (raw, steamed, lightly sautéed vegetables) unrefined whole grain (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat breads and pasta) with a smaller portion of lean meats (Turkey breast, skinless chicken breast, fish.)