Health Habits: Eating for Zzz’s

Did you know that according to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night? The National Institute of Health shares that sleep serves multiple purposes for the human body.  Sleep repairs the body on the molecular level, which provides energy and positively impacts intellectual function, mood, and alertness. We like to think that rest gives us energy, but did you know that what you eat affects your sleep?  While it is not the only thing affecting sleep, it is an important component of sleep.

Ever wonder why after consuming a big Thanksgiving dinner we all just feel like taking a nap?  This is because of an amino acid called tryptophan.  Food containing protein, such as chocolate, dairy products, red meat, eggs, fish, poultry, chickpeas, nuts, and seeds are broken down into amino acids.  Tryptophan is an essential amino acid needed by the body to form serotonin and melatonin.  In short, the body needs tryptophan, serotonin and melatonin to get quality sleep.  Activity in the body occurs from chemical reactions.  Tryptophan is the amino acid that sets off the chemical chain of events for the neurotransmitter, serotonin to be produced.  The hormone, melatonin is made when serotonin is present.  Starting to see the connection now?

As mentioned earlier, food is one component to sleep.  Sleep, food and exercise are interconnected.  We already know that certain food is needed to produce serotonin.  What if we do not meet our protein needs?  Chances are that sleep may suffer.  Perhaps sleep is suffering due to stress from a looming work-related deadline. Sleep deprivation can negatively impact food choices or lead to lack of exercise because of sleepiness.  When one component of this interconnected chain is broken, the symbiotic relationship suffers.  Poor food decisions are more likely to occur when we lack sleep. While there is more than one factor affecting sleep, food is an important one.  Sleep is not the only process in our body that is affected by food.  There are thousands of processes taking place in our body, which is why its imperative to get the recommended amount of nutrients.  Protein is needed for tryptophan, but also for growth, cellular processes, muscle repair (do not forget that your organs fall under this category), and DNA synthesis.  

While we rest at night, the body can maximize efforts to repair itself.  To help the body maximize its efforts, be sure to eat tryptophan-containing foods throughout the day.  For example, start the day with eggs on avocado toast, milk and fruit.  Enjoy a chocolate cherry smoothie for a snack, followed by a tuna sandwich on wheat with a small salad.  Have chocolate covered banana bites for an afternoon snack and a 3-oz. sirloin steak with vegetables for dinner.  Depending on how early you eat in the evening, you may want a glass of milk with celery stalks and hummus before bed, or cottage cheese with strawberries.  These are all wonderful choices to give your body the tryptophan it needs to help guide you to sleep.  For more help with food choices, reach out to your dietitian.


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