Sleep Disorders

Updated 11 August 2014

9 foods that keep you awake

If you have difficulty falling asleep, or difficulty getting back to sleep, or wake up exhausted every morning, your diet may be to blame.

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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 foodstuffs often associated with insomnia include:

  • bacon
  • cheese
  • sugar and sweet foods
  • ham 
  • tomatoes
  • caffeinated drinks
  • large amounts of any liquids
  • any greasy foods
  • spicy foods

It comes as no surprise that researchers have now found that all that tossing and turning may have more to do with your tummy, than with your head. Now, evidence from the US-based Mayo clinic has determined a link between insomnia and gastrointestinal disorders. These include indigestion, heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome.

The reasons why some people don't sleep well are well-documented and include:

  • Depression
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Medication
  • Chronic disorders, including sleep disorders
  • Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol
  • Lack of exercise

What you eat, how much, and most importantly, when you eat, may all contribute to the quality of your sleep, say the 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 near bedtime.

But the news is not all bad - many bowel syndromes can be controlled by means of lifestyle changes and medication.

Foods that insomniacs should avoid
Foods that are best avoided by those who have difficulty sleeping, include bacon, cheese, sugar, ham and tomatoes, among others. Scientists say they contain an amino acid called tyramine. This 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, is actually effective. The reason for this, scientists say, is that milk contains an ingredient called tryptophan that helps the body 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.

Definite no-nos
Then, of course, there are those foods (and drinks) 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 from two to six hours before bed time.
  • Nicotine. Like caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant, so smoking before bed time is not 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. Best is 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.

For those who have difficulty dozing off and staying dozed off for their required seven of eight hours, it might be an idea to find out where in your area there is a sleep clinic.

(Health24, updated January 2011)

(Picture: Woman eating pizza from Shutterstock)

 

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Sleep disorders expert

Neera Bhikha is a Neurophysiologist at SandtonMedi Clinic in Johannesburg. She specialises in Neurodiagnostic testing which includes EEG (routine and long term monitoring sleep studies), Polysomnograms, Nerve conduction studies/EMG studies.

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