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Can The Way You Eat Affect Your Sleep?

Melatonin producing cherries and walnuts

Sleep. We all love it, but many of us don't get enough of it. I start many a day with "Are you *naughty word* kidding me?!" but swearing isn't the only side effect of sleep deprivation. It can affect your memory, concentration, ability to make good decisions, induce sugar cravings and emotional eating (and therefore weight gain) by messing with your appetite hormones, and put you at an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. Sleep deprivation can even lower your immunity.


So what can we do, aside from taking prescription medications that come with their own list of side-effects?

Enter melatonin, a hormone that helps you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and is naturally produced from the amino acid tryptophan. Melatonin is an import part of your sleep cycle, and its release is stimulated when your eyes detect a low level of blue light. In an ideal world, your melatonin levels would peak in the first half of the night, and then slowly diminish so that you can awake refreshed.

So what about melatonin supplements? Do they work? Are they safe?

Depends. And depends.

They work for some, and not for others, and come with their own list of warnings. They aren't recommended if:

  • you need to be alert

  • you're pregnant, breastfeeding, or have certain medical conditions

  • you're already taking something that causes drowsiness, or may interact with it

The good news is that you can increase your melatonin naturally, and here's how:

  • Eat foods that contain melatonin. Small amounts of melatonin are found in tomatoes, walnuts, cherries and strawberries. While the evidence is limited right now on the impact these foods have on your melatonin levels, it can't hurt, right?

  • Eat tryptophan containing foods. You can eat tryptophan so your body has the building block amino acid for melatonin production. Foods high in tryptophan include poultry (e.g. turkey and chicken), eggs, seeds (e.g. pumpkin and sesame), cheese, and beans (e.g. kidney and mung).

  • Reduce blood sugar fluctuations throughout the day by avoiding too many added sugars and artificial sweeteners, and steering clear of naturally high glycemic foods.

  • Limit regular intake of caffeine, and stop it altogether past 12:00 noon.

  • Get some sunshine every day, ideally 20 minutes or more. Exposure to bright light during the morning or midday is an important way to help your body set your sleep-wake cycle.

  • Exercise every day, preferably earlier rather than later. Exercise can help improve sleep, but for some people, exercising in the evening can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

  • If you need some light after dark, dim those bulbs. Or better yet, use red/amber bulbs to minimize the blue light entering your eyes.

  • Stop looking at screens. This includes TVs, computers, ebook readers, and tablets. If you must use these at night, get an app to block those blue rays.

So if you having difficulty sleeping, and find yourself going through the 5 Stages of Grief when the alarm goes off every morning, consider tweaking your diet to see if it helps.

Until next time, take care of you, the same way you take care of those you love. ❤️

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