We all know that diet and exercise are essential for weight loss, but did you also know that the amount of sleep you get each night also plays an important role? A study in the American Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine recommends that in order to maintain a healthy weight, adults should get between 8 and 9 hours of sleep each night. The rational behind this recommendation is that lack of sleep is thought to interfere with hormones such as leptin and insulin, which play a role in regulating appetite and body weight. Needless to say, lack of sleep may also result in one being too tired to exercise, as well as potentially turning to food to cope with irritation associated with poor sleep habits.
So what’s the big deal? Just go to bed earlier and you’ll be fine, right? Unfortunately, it might not be that easy. It’s reported that 50-70 million Americans suffer from insomnia on a regular basis. While engaging in regular physical activity can certainly promote better sleeping habits, there are also many common food remedies out there that are thought to help. The question is – do they really work? Read on to find out more about the research behind these common sleep remedies and find out if they might work for you the next time you’re experiencing a sleepless night:
Remedy #1: Sip on a mug of warm milk before bedtime.
The thought behind this common sleep remedy is that milk contains tryptophan; an amino acid also found it foods such as turkey. Previous research suggested that tryptophan releases serotonin from the brain, which results in one becoming sleepy. Unfortunately, science now shows that when tryptophan-rich foods like milk are ingested, they have little effect on sleep. The thought is that other amino acids present in the foods might compete to get into the brain, creating less of an effect that pure tryptophan would have. While warm milk at bedtime may help relax you, there is little evidence to suggest that it will help release sleep-inducing serotonin.
Remedy #2: Have a snack before bedtime.
It depends on when and what you eat. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that eating a meal rich in carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (think breads, rice, pasta, and cereals) at dinner may help you fall asleep faster at bedtime. The key here is to eat these foods a few hours before bedtime, which gives your body plenty of time to break them down and leave you feeling drowsy. Eating these foods right before bedtime will likely spike your energy, and the feeling of sleepiness won’t come around for another few hours.
Remedy #3: Sip on some herbal tea.
Teas containing chamomile, lemon balm, hops, and passionflower are all thought to relax the body and leave one feeling sleepy. In fact, you can find a lot of these ingredients in tea blends that actually suggest that they promote sleep. Unfortunately, these ingredients have yet to be evaluated in clinical trials in the American Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, so more research is needed on these herbal teas. The good thing behind these ingredients is that they are unlikely to have an opposite effect on sleep habits, so sip away! Just remember that lots of liquids before bedtime may result in lots of late night trips to the bathroom.
Remedy #4: Pop a “sleep supplement.”
Have you ever gone to the drug store looking for a supplement that helps promote better sleep? The shelves are full of them! The National Institutes of Health reports that these products are so popular, that 1.6 million people consider them to be tried and true remedies for insomnia. Unfortunately, there is little to no scientific evidence that suggests that these supplements have any effect on inducing sleep. The one exception is valerian root, however, there is still little research that suggests what exact formulation of valerian root is best. The ultimate recommendation: save your money on sleep supplements and wait until standardized formulations of valerian root become available.
Remedy #5: Indulge in a night cap.
While a glass of wine before bedtime may help you drift off to sleep faster, a bottle of wine before bedtime will likely make you wake up several times during the night. Excessive alcohol consumption is thought to suppress the REM (rapid eye movement) cycle of sleep, which is critical to feeling rested and rejuvenated in the morning. The bottom line: drink moderately (if at all), and avoid drinking right before bedtime.
Remedy #6: Avoid caffeine at all costs.
We all respond differently to caffeine – some of us can sip on coffee all day and fall asleep just fine, while others have cup in the afternoon and are up for the rest of the night. If you are sensitive to caffeine, you may want to limit your intake of all sources (not just coffee!). While the majority of us get our caffeine from coffee, we also get quite a bit from soft drinks, tea, and chocolate. The recommendation: if you are becoming less tolerant to caffeine, limit your major sources to the morning hours, or try cutting it out altogether.