What You Eat Can Sabotage Your Sleep
Experts tell why your daytime activities may be causing insomnia at night.
The list includes some major sleep bandits: caffeine and nicotine.
Caffeine late in the day is a no-no -- that includes items such as
chocolate, teas, and sodas. But it's not always obvious where caffeine lurks,
says Hunt, so make sure to check food labels.
"Everyone is aware that coffee can keep them awake; what they're not
necessarily appreciating is there's caffeine or related items in many other
things that they consume," he tells WebMD.
The National Sleep Foundation reports the effects of caffeine can cause
problems falling asleep as much as 10-12 hours later in some people.
Nicotine often falls below the radar screen when it comes to sleep
interruption, but it, like caffeine, is actually a stimulant. Research shows
that nicotine is linked to problems with insomnia. Hunt says smoking within a
few hours of bedtime should be avoided; better yet, don't smoke at all.
Spicy and acidic foods can also kill sleep efforts because they cause
heartburn. Heartburn is especially problematic for people with gastroesophageal
reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux. Why is eating these foods
close to bedtime such a concern? Lying down makes heartburn worse, and the
discomfort from heartburn hinders sleep.
But what about the old standbys -- such as drinking warm milk or having a
nightcap -- to lull us to sleep? Do they truly work?
Milk contains a substance called tryptophan. The body uses this substance to
make serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain. Serotonin helps control sleep
patterns, appetite, pain, and other functions but unfortunately doesn't contain
enough tryptophan to change our sleep patterns. However, Hunt says some people
say it works and doesn't knock trying it.
Alcohol is a tricky substance: It's an undercover sleep marauder. It's also
the most common self-medicated sedative, Hunt tells WebMD. Contrary to popular
belief, that seemingly harmless nightcap before bed may be relaxing at first
but has a rebound effect and can cause you to wake up in the wee hours of the
night. So if you want some quality shut-eye, it's best to just say no.
If worse comes to worst, a sleeping pill could help. Sleeping pills are safe
and effective in moderation. But doctors caution they are not a long-term
solution for insomnia but merely a Band-Aid for the symptoms. A doctor may
prescribe sleeping pills on a short-term basis for patients who are having a
stressful period in their life, such as coping with the death of a loved one.
Hunt also says natural remedies such as melatonin or valerian (sold in
health-food stores) may provide some relief. But check with your doctor first
-- some supplements can interfere with your regular prescription