Oprah Presents Six Foods (Other than Coffee) that Keep You Up at Night

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Can’t sleep at night? You aren’t alone – sleep disorders are an increasingly concerning problem. Although you may follow the standard advice to help improve your sleep (no afternoon or evening coffee, quiet bedroom environment), Oprah says there may be some foods you are eating that contribute to your inability to get some shut-eye at night.

About ten percent of the US population suffers from insomnia and the condition could potentially become a huge public health problem as it can lead to conditions such as obesity, work issues due to a drop in personal productivity, and safety issues as we are more prone to accidents.

Insomnia is also a costly problem. According to Borge Sivertsen, a senior researcher with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, sleep disorders cost the US $63.2 billion each year. Dr. Sivertsen says that insomnia sufferers are often major health care users, leading to an increase in social costs. "When you feel bad, you will try every treatment there is. There is an overconsumption of alternative methods amongst insomnia sufferers. They often consume too much alcohol and visit their GPs, psychologists, physiotherapists, and chiropractors more often," he said.

In addition to the medical or alternative treatments available, you may want to take a peek into your normal diet. Six foods may be contributing to your sleep problems, but the good news is that Oprah has some solutions for you.

Cut out the fatty foods.
There is a strong relationship between obesity and insomnia. Some studies find that those who do not get adequate sleep are prone to excess weight gain. But a new study turns that around, finding that pre-existing obesity can also get in the way of a good nights’ sleep.

Johns Hopkins researchers presented data at the 2012 American Heart Association Scientific Studies that show that overweight or obese individuals who lose weight through diet and exercise can improve sleeping problems such as insomnia, fatigue, sleep apnea, and restless sleep. The improvements in sleep quality that came about through weight loss also reduce reliance on prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids.

“The key ingredient for improved sleep quality from our study was a reduction in overall body fat and, in particular, belly fat, which was true no matter the age or gender of the participants or whether the weight loss came from diet alone or diet plus exercise,” said study author Kerry Stewart, a professor of medicine at John Hopkins in a statement.

Cutting out high-fat, high-calorie junk food can be just what you need to improve sleep cycles. A study from Northwestern University found that because the hypothalamus in the brain controls both sleep/wake cycles and hunger/satiety, mice fed a high-fat diet were more prone to having both health conditions such as the metabolic syndrome and sleep issues.

Instead of snacking on French fries, potato chips and fried mozzarella sticks, try appetizers such as edamame – boiled soybeans – that are high in magnesium. Some studies correlate magnesium with improved sleep quality because it may help produce a sense of calm in the brain.

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Veggies are good, but Be Selective
Cruciferous vegetables are an incredible source of nutrition-rich antioxidants which can protect the body from many conditions, including possibly cancer. But if you eat raw broccoli or cauliflower too close to bedtime, you may have stomach unrest that could lead to sleep problems.

Save the crudite for lunch or an afternoon snack, and instead, before bed, eat a filling, nutritious banana. Bananas contain tryptophan, magnesium and potassium which can help improve sleep.

Cut out Cured Meats
Yet another reason to avoid bacon, pepperoni, and sausage. Not only might they contribute to conditions such as COPD (a common lung disease) and certain cancers, they also contain high levels of tyramine, an amino acid that boosts secretion of brain stimulants that may interrupt your ability to fall asleep.

Instead, on your nighttime sub sandwich, try turkey (tryptophan!) on a whole wheat bun.

Save the Chocolate for Earlier in the Day
You avoid coffee at night because of the caffeine, but do you have a small piece of chocolate before bed as a treat or comfort food? Remember that it contains caffeine too. Dark chocolate in particular, although good for your heart, can contain as much caffeine as a can of Red Bull!

An alternative heart-healthy bedtime snack is a trail mix of walnuts, almonds and dried tart cherries. All three are good food sources of melatonin, a hormone that promotes restful sleep.

Shun the Sugar
Ice cream and candy may also contribute to nightmares. The short term sugar boost may be the factor that sends your mind racing as you are trying to fall asleep. Again, a more healthful snack (such as the trail mix above) may be better for keeping those sleep demons away.

Could Decaf Be Just as Much of a Problem as Regular?
You know to shun caffeine, so for a warm evening beverage, you choose a decaf latte for the warm milk. But a 2007 Consumer Reports study found that the amount of caffeine in a “decaf” coffee shop beverage sometimes contained 3 to 12 milligrams of caffeine, just enough to interrupt your sleep. A decaf cup of joe from Dunkin Donuts had 32 milligrams – as much caffeine as a 12-ounce bottle of soda.

A better choice may be hot tea. While there's no conclusive proof that chamomile tea will put you to sleep, it's been used for thousands of years as a natural calming remedy.

Resources:
Oprah.com: Six Foods That Keep You Awake at Night
"Tired, But Awake: Sleep Disorders Lead To 253 Million Days Of Sick Leave A Year In The United States Alone." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 4 Nov. 2012. Web.
"Losing Belly Fat Boosts Sleep Quality." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 7 Nov. 2012. Web.
7 Nov. 2012.

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