Dine to Doze
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Many people are quick to embrace dietary solutions for a range of health problems. Naturally, when Lou Ann Weakley complained about insomnia and a friend suggested eating yogurt, she gave it a try. And it worked. Now, instead of tossing and turning in bed, Weakley gets up, tucks away several spoonfuls of yogurt, and she’s off to the Land of Nod. By Melany Klinck
According to popular wisdom, yogurt induces sleep because it’s rich in tryptophan, an amino acid also found in turkey, figs and nuts. Foods high in calcium, carbohydrates, B vitamins and magnesium are also touted as sleep enhancers.
But as easy as it is to find people to bear witness to the power of foods that promote sleep, sleep researcher Dr. William C. Orr says scientific proof for such claims is elusive. As president and CEO of Lynn Health Science Institute in Oklahoma City, Orr has studied sleep and digestion for more than 25 years. In his research, he has found that the link between diet and sleep has more to do with how much you eat and when you eat it than with the food itself. He has also found that solid food is more likely to make one sleepy after ingestion.
“To promote sleep, eat moderately,” says Orr. “Overeating is stimulating, and distention of the stomach can make you uncomfortable and prevent sleep.”
He also recommends you avoid hitting the hay until at least two hours after a big meal. This allows your stomach to empty sufficiently to prevent acid reflux or heartburn, a common cause of sleep disruption.
Eliminating certain foods from your evening meal, such as spicy dishes and tomatoes, also may reduce nighttime heartburn. “Chocolate is terrible for acid reflux because it decreases the pressure in the little barrier between the stomach and the esophagus,” says Orr. “The same is true of peppermint and garlic.”
Limiting caffeine and alcohol may alleviate insomnia, too. If you can’t live without your daily java, drink your last cup several hours before bedtime. As for alcohol, Orr says that while it does have a sedating effect initially, once it passes through your liver it produces a metabolite that acts as a stimulant. Thus, even a small nightcap can interrupt your sleep.
So what about Weakley’s yogurt cure? Orr says, “I would tell her, if it works for you, do it. But there is no scientific evidence that yogurt is sleep-promoting.”
For writer Melany Klinck, a late-night bowl of popcorn always seems to bring on the z’s.