Do you toss and turn during the night instead of sleeping soundly? If so, your battle with insomnia might start at the dining table, not in the bedroom.
A cup of coffee or tea or a glass of cola are quick pick-me-ups that might undermine your sleep. Even small amounts of caffeine (like the amount in a chocolate doughnut) can affect your sleep, especially if you are sensitive to caffeine. Try eliminating all caffeine-containing beverages. If you feel and sleep better after two weeks of being caffeine-free, then avoid caffeine permanently. You can try adding back one or two cups after the two-week trial, but cut back if sleep problems reappear.
As for alcohol, a nightcap might make you sleepy at first, but in the end you'll sleep less soundly and wake up more tired. Alcohol and other depressants suppress a phase of sleeping called REM (rapid eye movement) during which most of your dreaming occurs. Less REM is associated with more night awakenings and restless sleep. One glass of wine with dinner probably won't hurt, but avoid drinking any alcohol within two hours of bedtime. And never mix alcohol with sleeping pills!
Sleep-Friendly Table Tactics
Big dinners make you temporarily drowsy but prolong digestion, which interferes with a good night's sleep. It's best to eat your biggest meal before midafternoon and have a light evening meal of 500 calories or less. Include some chicken, extra-lean meat or fish at dinner to help curb middle-of-the-night snack attacks.
Spicy foods can contribute to sleep problems: Dishes seasoned with garlic, chilies, cayenne, or other hot spices can cause nagging heartburn or indigestion. Avoid spicy foods at dinner. Gas-forming foods and hurried eating also cause abdominal discomfort, which in turn interferes with sound sleep. Limit your intake of gas-forming foods to the morning hours, and thoroughly chew food to avoid gulping air.
Bedtime Snacks: a Great Alternative to Sleeping Pills
A high-carbohydrate snack, such as crackers and fruit or toast and jam, triggers the release of a brain chemical called serotonin, which aids sleep. And although the traditional glass of warm milk, a protein-rich beverage, probably doesn't affect serotonin levels, the warm liquid soothes and relaxes you and makes you feel full, which might help facilitate sleep.
A new product on the market called 5-Hydroxy-L-tryptophan, or 5-HTP, is touted as a building block for serotonin, which is a mood elevator, brain stimulant, and sleep enhancer. However, since its safety is questionable and no optimal dose has been established, you're better off raising serotonin levels naturally with high-carbohydrate snacks.