Alternative and Integral Therapies
Food and Diet
Diet is especially important when treating sleep disorders, and it is essential to rule out food intolerances as a cause. In one study of infants, sleeplessness was eliminated by removing cow's milk from the diet and then reproduced by its reintroduction. See Food Intolerance for more information.
Certain types of food promote sleep while others inhibit it.
Foods to Eat
Foods such as bread, bagels, and crackers that are high in complex carbohydrates have a mild sleep-enhancing effect because they increase serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter that promotes sleep.
A glass of warm milk with honey is one of the oldest and best remedies for insomnia. Milk contains tryptophan which, when converted to seratonin in the body, induces sleep and prevents waking.
Lettuce has a long-standing reputation for promoting healthy sleep. This is due to an opium-related substance combined with traces of the anticramping agent hyoscyarnin present in lettuce. Lettuce should be an integral part of your evening diet if you are suffering from sleep disorders. The meal should also include legumes, peanuts, nutritional yeast, fish or poultry. These foods contain vitamin B3 (niacin). Niacin is involved in seratonin synthesis and promotes healthy sleep. Mixed with a little lemon juice for flavor, lettuce juice is an effective sleep-inducing drink highly preferable to the synthetic chemical agents in sleeping pills.
Foods to Avoid
The sensitivity to the stimulant effects of caffeine varies greatly from one person to the next. This is largely a reflection of how quickly the body can eliminate caffeine. Even small amounts of caffeine such as those found in decaffeinated coffee or chocolate, may be enough to cause insomnia in some people.
Avoid too many ingredients in a meal and too much food late at night.
If you want to fall asleep more easily, eat a high-carbohydrate snack and avoid high-protein foods in the hour or two before bed time.
In the evening, eat turkey, bananas, figs, dates, yogurt, milk, tuna, and whole grain crackers or nut butter. These foods are high in tryptophan, which promotes sleep. Eating a grapefruit half at bedtime also helps.
Avoid bacon, cheese, chocolate, eggplant, ham, potatoes, sauerkraut, sugar, sausage, spinach, tomatoes, and wine close to bedtime. These foods contain tyramine, which increases the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant.
Our digestive system slows at night. So, it is harder to digest late meals. Avoid heavy meals before bedtime.
How To Avoid Nocturnal Hypoglycemia
Nocturnal hypoglycemia (low nighttime blood glucose level) is an important cause of sleep-maintenance insomnia. When there is a drop in the blood glucose level, it causes the release of hormones that regulate glucose levels. These compounds stimulate the brain. They are a natural signal that it is time to eat.
Many people suffer from faulty glucose metabolism, either hypoglycemia or diabetes, because of overeating refined carbohydrates. Good bedtime snacks to keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the night are oatmeal and other whole grain cereals, whole grain breads and muffins, and other complex carbohydrates. These foods will not only help maintain blood sugar levels, they actually can help promote sleep by increasing the level of serotonin within the brain.
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