Monday, June 16, 2008


One of the best natural sedatives is tryptophan, an amino acid component of many plant and animal proteins.

Tryptophan is one of the ingredients necessary for the body to make serotonin, the neurotransmitter best known for creating feelings of calm, and for making you sleepy.

However, the trick is to combine foods that have some tryptophan with ample carbohydrate. That’s because in order for insomnia-busting tryptophan to work, it has to make its way to the brain.

Unfortunately, all amino acids compete for transport to the brain. When you add carbs, they cause the release of insulin, which takes the competing amino acids and incorporates them into muscle…but leaves tryptophan alone, so it can make its way to the brain, be converted to serotonin, and cause sleepiness.

Serotonin-producing bedtime snacks should be no more than 200 calories and should be eaten at least 30 minutes prior to bed.

Here are a few great ideas:

Bedtime Snacks for Adults

6-8 oz container of non-fat, flavored yogurt topped with 2 tablespoons low-fat granola cereal
Sliced apple with 1-2 teaspoons natural peanut butter
3 cups low-fat popcorn – sprinkled with optional 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese

Bedtime Snacks for Teens

One cup healthy cereal with skim milk
Low-fat granola bar
Scoop of vanilla or strawberry low-fat ice cream

Bedtime Snacks for Children

1/2 cup low-fat vanilla pudding
1/2 banana with 1-2 teaspoons peanut butter
One cup skim milk with a bunch of grapes (or other fruit)

What not to eat/drink before bed

Caffeine - It should be obvious, but you should avoid caffeinated drinks and foods - coffee, tea, many soft drinks, and chocolate - several hours before bed. Caffeine is a natural chemical that activates the central nervous system, which means that it revs up nerves and thought processes. For people who are sensitive to caffeine, that excitation is not pleasant, making them feel jittery and slightly ill. If you drink caffeinated drinks too close to bedtime, chances are it will keep you awake. Of course, what "too close" means is totally individual. Sensitive people should stop drinking caffeine at least eight hours before bedtime (that means by 3 p.m., if you hit the sack at 11 p.m.). You can play with your particular timing...just don't experiment on a night when you absolutely must get a good night's sleep.

Alcohol - Although many people use alcohol to help them relax before bed, the effects can wear off, so they wake up in the middle of the night. Over time, alcohol-induced sleep becomes less restful, so sleepiness will become a constant fact of life. I'm not saying you need to give up alcohol, but don't use it like a sleeping pill; and if you have insomnia, I strongly recommend omitting alcohol for a few weeks to see if your sleep problem resolves.

Large Meals - Eating a huge dinner, or even a large before-bedtime snack, may make you feel drowsy, but the sleep won't necessarily take. When you lie down and try to sleep, your digestion will slow down, make you feel uncomfortable, and possibly keep you awake. I recommend eating a dinner that has no more than 600 calories (and optimally at least three hours before bed).

Stop liquids 90 minutes prior to bed - The single best piece of advice I can give to those of you who wake up in the middle of the night to visit the bathroom is to not drink water or fluids within 90 minutes of bedtime. It takes that long for your body to process liquid of any type. If you must drink to take medication, take a small sip. If the medication requires a full glass of water, take it earlier in the evening if possible



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