Washington - Sleep. Oh, to sleep. A good night’s sleep is often a struggle for more than half of adults. And for the occasional insomnia, there are good reasons to avoid using medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription.

We’ve all heard about home remedies such as warm milk, camomile tea with honey, or a shot of bourbon or brandy as a nightcap. On the internet you can find claims about all kinds of foods that help with sleep: fish, cherries, lettuce, miso, yogurt, bananas, almonds, eggs, edamame, pineapple, jasmine rice, potatoes, cereal, to name a few. Is this just click-bait for insomniacs staring at their screens at 11.30pm? What does the science say?

Michael Grandner, a sleep researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, says the best way to start adjusting your diet is to eliminate foods that interfere with sleep. “The obvious one is caffeine,” he says, “but people forget about it.” They’ll drink a fizzy drink at dinner or have a cup of coffee with dessert. Caffeine typically stays in the body for four to six hours, he says, “but some people are more sensitive and the effect might last twice that long.”

Alcohol is also bad for sleep. While it may make it easier to doze off, it makes your sleep more shallow, Grandner says. “It suppresses REM sleep early in the night, which can lead to REM rebound later,” which can wake you up. Also, as alcohol is metabolised, one of its by-products has stimulant action. Grandner also says to avoid nicotine, large meals and spicy foods at dinnertime.

Are there any foods that promote sleep? There is some science behind these supposed dietary sleep aids, but it’s piecemeal at best. For example, turkey contains tryptophan, which is a building block for serotonin, a chemical involved in sleep. But there’s nothing special about turkey, because all meat contains tryptophan – as does warm milk.

Further, tryptophan is a big molecule that has trouble crossing into the brain, so improving your sleep is not as simple as eating a tryptophan-rich food and getting more serotonin. And, serotonin has multiple functions in the brain, including some that promote wakefulness, so more serotonin does not automatically mean better sleep.

Studies that found a tryptophan effect relied on doses that would require eating about 500g of meat at a sitting, Grandner says. “If you’re eating so much food to get the tryptophan effect, you might suffer the too-much-food effect.”

Other foods, most notably tart cherries, contain melatonin, which does affect sleep. Still, melatonin is not necessarily a sleep aid, says Wilfred Pigeon, a sleep researcher at the University of Rochester. “Studies show it has a very minimal impact on insomnia. On the other hand, melatonin is a wonderful circadian rhythm shifter.”

If you’re a night owl whose body prefers to sleep from 2am to 9am but you have to wake up at 7am every day, melatonin may help you alter your sleep schedule. Pigeon and Grandner say to get that effect, it would be best to take melatonin at supper rather than at bedtime – and that lower doses (1.5mg to 3mg) are better. That allows the substance to work with your body’s internal clock, starting the long wind-down process that is tied to sundown.

Pigeon conducted a small study with a tart cherry juice that had been developed as a sports drink. The participants – 16 elderly adults with chronic insomnia – reported less wakefulness during the night (by an average of 17 minutes) and more total sleep time (eight minutes) when they drank the juice.”It was not a huge effect,” Pigeon says.

Indeed, the participants still had significant sleep disturbance after two weeks on the tested juice. But Pigeon says the effect was nonetheless on par with what some studies have found with the herbal supplement valerian and with melatonin in pill form.

What about other remedies?


B vitamins, calcium and magnesium can be linked to some biochemical processes involved in sleep. But merely eating them does not mean the nutrient goes directly to sleep pathways in the brain.

A review of studies testing foods on sleep confirms the inconsistency of food as a way to promote sleep. One study might show that milk helps, but the next finds no effect. The same for chamomile tea, B6 and magnesium. That said, sleepy-time foods don’t have any worrisome side effects. And the ritual of drinking something before bed may be conducive to sleep, Pigeon says. – Washington Post


Face the early light and lose weight

We all know how hard it is to get up when the alarm clock jolts us out of a deep sleep. But here’s something that might help you crawl out of bed.

Exposure to natural light in the morning can help you lose weight – without calorie counting or stomach crunches. Research conducted by North Western University in the US says those getting up to 30 minutes of daily exposure had a significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than those who had most of their light exposure later in the day.

The scientists found that morning light lowered BMI independently of the number of calories eaten or exercise taken.

But is it really that easy?

Neurologist Phyllis C Zee, author of the report believes it is. “If a person doesn’t get sufficient light at the appropriate time of day, it could desynchronise your internal body clock, which is known to alter metabolism and can lead to weight gain,” she says.

No one knows why this is the case, but one theory involves Vitamin D. London nutritionist Dr Sarah Schenker says the body makes Vitamin D through sunlight on the skin – just 20 minutes should give you your recommended daily intake. She says: “Certainly if Vitamin D is implicated with hormone production then it may well impact on weight loss.”

This is reason enough not to go back to sleep. – Daily Mail