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Eating to Sleep Better

Many of us blame our difficulty sleeping on outside factors, when it is usually the result of our own poor food intake decisions. Because many individuals who are overweight or obese report having problems sleeping or sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, it is evident that these factors are somehow correlated. 1 An individual’s diet can have a great effect on his or her sleep pattern which can, in turn, affect your ability to exercise because of lack of energy. The viscous cycle can be avoided by getting more sleep and eating properly in order to do so.

Ever heard of drinking warm milk before bed? Certain foods help you sleep much easier, such as foods with Tryptophan like milk and other dairy products. Additionally, honey, seeds and nuts are Tryptophan-rich and assist in inducing sleep. 2 Carbohydrates also complement the Tryptophan in dairy products, so an ideal bedtime snack would be cheese and crackers and a small glass of warm milk or a small bowl of cereal with milk.

Avoid eating a large meal or spicy foods within four or five hours of when you plan to go to sleep. Doing this can cause those with acid reflux to experience nighttime heartburn and discomfort as the digestion process will be continued into sleep, which may result in the need for a trip to the bathroom. This discomfort can also be avoided with the use of certain pillows to elevate the upper body or with an adjustable bed. This reveals another reason to avoid having your last meal of the day as the largest. This is also because eating too large, too late in the day does not give the body adequate time to burn calories.

Avoid too much protein too close to bedtime. Heavy meats can help avoid hunger pangs at night, but will be harder to digest. They also inhibit transfer of Tryptophan to the brain, resulting in more alertness. 3

Alcohol should never be consumed to help you sleep. Although it may cause you to feel more tired as a big meal would, its negative effects don’t truly occur until the sleep cycle commences and it causes you to wake up more, have a headache and can increase the likelihood you will develop sleep apnea. 3

Avoid all caffeine within four to six hours of when you plan to go to sleep. This, quite obviously, has the ability to keep you up at night and disrupt the sleep cycle. Be aware of foods and drinks with hidden caffeine in them such as some over the counter medications. Many pain relievers, cough medicines, diuretics and weight loss pills tend to contain small amounts of caffeine that can have a large impact on your sleep. 2 Additionally, look out for foods and drinks that you wouldn’t associate with caffeine such as chocolate and tea that can still contain high amounts of sugar that will prevent you from sleeping.


1. National Sleep Foundation—Diet, Exercise and Sleep,

2. WebMD—Foods That Help or Harm Your Sleep,

3. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

Fall Asleep Quicker

The term “counting sheep” is a term referring to the action shepherds over a hundred years ago would perform of counting their sheep at the beginning and end of the day to ensure they had them all. The only connection to sleep I can see this having is that the activity was so monotonous that the shepherds would have to count the sheep in twenties and keep pebbles in their pockets to keep track of the number they had counted. This phrase has been passed down through generations as a remedy to insomnia and is almost always associated with sleep.

While most people today have retired the traditional psychological methods to go to sleep and turned to sleeping pills, there are still contemporary and natural methods that have been proven to help individuals get to sleep.

The biggest mistake people tend to make when attempting to fall asleep is trying too hard. Relaxation is the key to getting to sleep and having a restful sleep period.

Establish a Bedtime Routine

This is perhaps the easiest and most important aspect that can aid in difficulty falling asleep. Most children are encouraged to sleep through the nightly routine established by their parents. Replicate this activity by reading an enjoyable book with only a reading lamp on each night before bed. 1

Counting Beads

If you aren’t an animal person, counting beads on a strand might work as an interesting alternative to counting sheep. The idea behind counting beads is the same as that of counting sheep. Repetitive stimuli such as this have been shown to be soothing and inspire boredom. The exercise also tires the brain by causing you to use your right brain to see the image and your left brain to count. 2


Yoga’s whole purpose is to relax and exercise the entire body and mind. Therefore, light Yoga stretching is ideal for trying to fall asleep. Simple Yoga breathing exercises regularly before bed and very simple poses that relieve stress can lull one into sleep. Various yoga poses can relax the body and mind and don’t even require a mat or getting out of bed. 1


There is something entirely soothing about sitting in a rocking chair or lounging on a hammock. So soothing, in fact, that light rocking has been proven to help individuals fall asleep. In the same way that a baby is rocked to sleep by his or her parents, adults also appreciate and benefit from the rocking sensation. 2

Temperature Changes

Mark Twain was known to have practiced taking a hot bath and then lying on the cool bathroom floor to help fight his insomnia. Air and body temperatures have a great effect on individuals’ sleep cycle, especially REM sleep. This need for temperature regulation is typical and can be mocked by a cooling or gel infused mattress. Many people experience difficulty sleeping due to a mattress that is too hot or too cold. This is also why you may turn your pillow to the cold side for needed relief from body heat buildup in the mattress and pillow. 2

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This is simply done by tensing and relaxing muscles. Beginning with the toes, squeeze your muscle tightly for 5-10 seconds and releasing to relax for 15-20 seconds. Work your way up your body’s muscle groups and end with the eyes to sooth muscles and tire your mind. 1

Mental Imagery

This is a very popular method for relaxation and sleep. Simply imagine yourself in a relaxing situation or place such as lying on a beach, watching a waterfall or even simply listening to music. When you exercise all of your senses to fully imagine the situation the body and mind will become serene. 1


1. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

2. Carskadon, Mary A. Encyclopedia of Sleep and Dreaming. New York: Macmillan Pub., 1993. Page 149

Sleep Paralysis

Have you ever woken up unable to speak or move? If so, you are most likely part of the 40 percent of people who have sleep paralysis. 1

Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder that causes the body’s ability to move and speak to be paralyzed while falling asleep or while waking up. The disorder occurs in both men and women and is most often discovered during the teen years. Sleep deprivation is typically the reason people develop sleep paralysis. Additionally, it is thought to run in families and be associated with narcolepsy.

There are two types of sleep paralysis: occurring when falling asleep (hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis) and occurring while waking up (hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis). 1 A “paralyzed” state occurs during REM sleep (when most vivid dreaming occurs), making the body unable to move. True sleep paralysis occurs in the stage between the sleeping and waking states. It is due to the body and mind shifting between REM sleep and NREM sleep (non-rapid eye movement). If you wake up before the body shifts from REM (paralyzed sleep) to NREM sleep, you will likely experience sleep paralysis. 2

Sleep paralysis is commonly talked about in folklore and famous plays. While the concept and actualization of immobility and inability to speak is quite frightening, sleep paralysis does not usually last more than a minute at most. One individual recalled being in a state of sleep paralysis for 15 minutes after working a night shift five nights a week for eight months. 2 This further confirms that getting the adequate amount of sleep can benefit the quality of rest you have.

The first term for sleep paralysis was “nightmare” derived from the idea that a creature (called a mare) would come and sit on people in their sleep. Upon awakening, the “victim” would be terrified and unable to move as if something were sitting on his or her chest. This is referred to in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The disorder does not typically require treatment, but can be linked to other disorders that may be treated such as narcolepsy or bipolar disorder. Other treatment methods involve simply improving sleep hygiene by insuring you get the adequate amount of sleep, sleeping in a comfortable environment and watching what you eat or drink before bed.


1. WebMD—Sleep Paralysis;

2. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.