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Can I Benefit Sleep by Changing Eating Habits?

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July 10, 2023 •  Emily Hicks Law, PLLC
Restful sleep is important to every human. If you’ve ever tended to a newborn or gotten up repeatedly in the night with caregiving duties, you know what a luxury a good night’s sleep is—and how tough it can be to achieve.
Did you know that adults over the age of 18, including those over 65, require a minimum of seven hours of uninterrupted sleep each night? Surprisingly, poor sleep quality may not be life-threatening, but it can have detrimental effects on the immune system of older adults, leading to increased illness, anxiety, and depression. In a recent article titled "Foods that can help older adults sleep better" from Seasons, it is suggested that making small changes to a senior's diet can significantly improve sleep for both the caregiver and the individual. Consider incorporating the following foods into your meal planning:
1. Oatmeal and milk: Oats are a great source of complex carbohydrates, which help stabilize blood sugar levels and promote better sleep. Cooking the oats with milk or soaking them overnight adds dairy, which is rich in essential vitamins and minerals such as D, C, B6, B12, calcium, and magnesium.
2. Yogurt and walnuts: Both Greek and regular yogurt contain tryptophan, an amino acid known for its sleep-inducing properties. Tryptophan is converted by the body into serotonin and melatonin, hormones that promote deep and restful sleep. Adding walnuts to the yogurt provides an additional dose of magnesium, which has been shown to improve insomnia in older adults.
3. Tart cherry juice and kiwifruit: Tart cherry juice not only helps reduce inflammation and alleviate pain caused by conditions like gout and osteoarthritis but also aids in the production of melatonin, a hormone essential for regulating sleep. Opt for unsweetened tart cherries, available in dried, frozen, or juiced forms. Kiwifruit can also be a sweet addition to promote better sleep.
4. Salmon and oysters: These seafood options are rich in vitamin D, which has been linked to improved sleep quality. Additionally, they contain omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient that helps regulate serotonin levels in the body.
5. Potatoes and lima beans: These foods contain sleep-inducing amino acids. They are also packed with phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin B6, all of which contribute to better sleep maintenance.
While incorporating sleep-promoting foods into your loved one's diet, it's important to be aware of certain foods that can disrupt sleep:
1. Alcohol: Alcohol can disrupt crucial sleep stages, leaving individuals feeling tired upon waking. It can also worsen symptoms of sleep apnea and contribute to sleepwalking episodes and memory problems.
2. Tomatoes: Tomatoes and tomato sauce contain tyramine, an amino acid that can stimulate brain activity and hinder falling asleep. Additionally, their high acidity can worsen heartburn.
3. Spicy foods: Spicy foods can contribute to insomnia and trigger acid reflux, which can be particularly troublesome at night.
4. Deli meats and cured cheese: These foods contain tyramine, which signals the brain to release norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that promotes wakefulness and alertness.
5. Chocolate: If possible, limit chocolate consumption to earlier in the day, preferably during lunchtime. Opt for dark chocolate, as it is the least processed and contains flavonoids, which act as antioxidants.
If insomnia persists as a chronic issue, consider keeping a caregiving journal to track your loved one's food and sleep habits. This may help identify any patterns or correlations between specific foods or medications and episodes of sleeplessness.
Reference: Seasons (Dec. 17, 2022) "Foods that can help older adults sleep better".
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