How You Sleep is What You Eat
Are You having problems feeling sleepy when you want to be alert and vice-versa? Perhaps you need to look at your diet, as it may be the culprit. The
brain's state of sleepiness or alertness, calmness or anxiousness is said to be
determined by messengers in the body called neuro-transmitters.
One of these which is called serotonin helps us feel calm and relaxed.
Researchers have found that eating large amounts of carbohydrate foods, such
as sweets, potatoes and grain products increases brain levels of serotonin.
High-protein meals or snacks, consisting mostly of meat, on the other hand,
tend to cause brain levels of serotonin to remain low.
A French study that varied the amount of carbohydrate fed to subjects
found that an intake of carbohydrate with an equal serving of
protein products did not cause drowsiness. But when very large
amounts of carbohydrate were provided without protein, subjects
reported feeling drowsy. This drowsiness occurred even after
exercise which normally causes people to feel more alert.
We can take advantage of these findings to determine when
to stay alert or to get some sleep. A snack that is largely
carbohydrate-based may relax us and make it easier for us to fall
asleep. On the other hand, when you are trying to stay awake, a
balanced meal that includes protein (meat, chicken, fish, dairy
products or dried beans) as well as modest portions of grains,
vegetables and fruit is more likely to help than loading up on a
huge platter of meatless pasta.
Some experiments suggest that the effects may vary
depending on the particular carbohydrate foods chosen. The
ability of carbohydrates to increase brain serotonin involves a
rise in insulin levels in the blood when carbohydrate is eaten.
Large carbohydrate portions, or those that cause a faster rise in
blood sugar such as sweets, potatoes, bread, refined cereals will
cause greater increases in serotonin (and sleepiness). Fruit and dried beans
contain carbohydrate that raises blood sugar more slowly, and so would not be
expected to raise serotonin levels as high.
But what about good nutrition? Eating to stay alert just means including
some protein in our meals. However, do not overeat grain products just
because they are fat-free. By including plenty of high-fiber fruit or vegetables
in meals, blood sugar and insulin will rise moderately, and serotonin level in
the brain will not jump dramatically.
Nevertheless when it comes to getting a good night's sleep, studies clearly
show that it is more than just what we eat. Some people are very sensitive to
caffeine in coffee, tannin in tea and even to soda pops, even when it is
consumed as early as 5.00 p.m. Other people find that the key to a good night's
sleep lies in establishing a routine pattern of pre-bedtime behaviors, keeping
a consistent bedtime, getting regular exercise, and learning relaxation
techniques. If you are extremely sleepy throughout the day, check your eating
patterns. Do not try to compensate for lack of sleep at night by eating protein
and scraping by on caffeine; adequate sleep is essential.