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Do you dread bedtime because you spend hours tossing and turning? If you have difficulty falling asleep, or difficulty getting back to sleep,or wake up exhausted every morning, your diet may be to blame.
The nine foods often associated with insomnia include:
- Sugar and sweet foods
- Caffeinated drinks
- Large amounts of any liquids
- Any greasy foods
- Spicy foods
Researchers have now found that tossing and turning at night may have more to do with your digestive system than with your head. The US-based Mayo Clinic has found a link between insomnia and gastrointestinal disorders, including indigestion, heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
These other reasons why some people don’t sleep well are well-documented:
- Stress and anxiety
- Chronic disorders, including sleep disorders
- Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol
- Lack of exercise
What you eat, how much you eat and, most importantly, when you eat, may all contribute to the quality of your sleep, say researchers. Heavy eating, especially during the holiday season, can cause indigestion and heartburn. Try to slow down on greasy, sweet or spicy foods and avoid heavy meals close to bedtime.
Foods to avoid
Foods that are best avoided by those who have difficulty sleeping, include bacon, cheese, sugar, ham and tomatoes, among others. These foods contain an amino acid called tyramine, which releases a substance that stimulates the brain and keeps you awake.
Foods that help you sleep
The old remedy for sleeplessness, namely a glass of milk, does actually help. The reason for this, scientists say, is that milk contains an ingredient called tryptophan, which helps the body to produce melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone that helps you sleep.
Honey, turkey, egg whites and tuna also contain tryptophan and are recommended as late-night snacks for insomniacs.
Then, of course, there are those foods, drinks and stimulants that are more or less guaranteed to keep you from having a good night’s sleep:
- Stimulants like caffeine (cola, chocolate, coffee). Caffeine is best avoided two to six hours before bed time.
- Nicotine. Like caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant, so smoking before bed time isn’t recommended.
- Alcohol. The tradition of a ”nightcap” before bed time also causes sleepless nights. Alcohol is a sedative, so you’ll probably sleep better for an hour or so. However, specialists warn that the body processes alcohol quickly, so the effect soon wears off. This means remaining rest can be fragmented. You’ll wake up frequently. It’s best to avoid alcohol for at least two hours before retiring.
- Other fluids. Avoid drinking too much of anything shortly before bed time as doing so increases the likelihood that you’ll have to get up during the night to urinate.
There is much you can do to prevent heartburn. It is essential that you take action, as chronic reflux can actually damage your oesophagus. This part of your body is not protected against the corrosive action of stomach acids.
If you get heartburn frequently – many people suffer from it daily – it is essential that you follow the tips below with regards to changing your lifestyle and diet.
Fast food is fat food. Fatty foods such as hamburgers and pies can give you heartburn. Plan your daily meals, so that you are not starving while stuck between two appointments and fast food is the only option. Cut down generally on your fat intake.
Snuff it out. Stop smoking – do whatever it takes, whether it’s hypnosis, Smokenders, nicotine patches or therapy. Apart from worsening the symptoms of heartburn, smoking is bad for your health in general.
Scrap the late night snack. If you eat a packet of chips just before you go to bed, it has had no time at all to digest before you get into a horizontal position. You know what happens next. Allow at least three hours between your last meal and bedtime, giving your body time to digest the meal before you lie down.
Grill rather than fry. Throw away your frying pan! Grilled foods cut fat content.
Get fresh. Fresh fruit and vegetables are rich in fibre and healthy in general. It is also easy to take these to work with you. Get into a habit of keeping fresh fruit at home and munch on it when you feel the need to snack. (Tomatoes and onions can increase the acid levels in your stomach, so go slow on these).
Jeans too tight? Tight-fitting clothes around the abdomen make the job of your stomach difficult. The digestion process needs space and if your clothes fit too tightly, reflux may occur.
Don’t hit the bottle. Too much alcohol can cause heartburn very easily. Two units a day are recommended for men and one for women. (A unit is one beer, one glass of wine, or one tot of spirits). It is not a good idea for those who suffer from heartburn to drink nothing all week and then drink seven beers on a Saturday night.
Don’t spice up your life. Avoid spicy food as well as large quantities of salt and vinegar. Be on the lookout in restaurants and learn to ask about spice and salt content already added to pre-prepared foods.
Caffeine crisis. Caffeine is bad news to all those suffering from heartburn. Learn to drink less tea and coffee and opt for soda drinks that do not contain caffeine. Rooibos tea also does not contain caffeine and makes a pleasant alternative.
Take time out. Constant stress can affect your digestive process and cause higher levels of stomach acid to be produced, even when there is no food in your stomach. Learn to relax, do some yoga classes and take some time out for yourself.
Get moving. Exercise is good for your whole system and many people have found that their heartburn decreases once they switch to a healthier diet and they get some regular exercise. You do not have to do an Olympic training programme in order to get exercise – half an hour of brisk walking a day could make the difference.
Don’t gobble up. Eat your food slowly. The faster you eat, the harder your stomach has to work and the more likely you are to suffer from heartburn. Take breaks in between bites. Empty you mouth completely and wait a moment or two before you start on the next bite.
Don’t become a pillpopper. While there are many over-the-counter remedies that do work for heartburn, don’t lose sight of the fact that heartburn is your body’s way of telling you you should change your lifestyle. Rather than living on antacids, get to work on changing your diet and lifestyle, and make the heartburn disappear.