In case you’re not already familiar with the statistics, roughly one in three Americans aren’t getting enough sleep. Many who are sleep deprived point to common problems as the cause of their insomnia. citing issues such as snoring, nightmares and acid reflux as reasons for their restlessness. But how do you put an end to these seemingly small, yet stifling, sleep problems?
The answer could be your daily diet. “Food provides the nutrients needed for the production of neurotransmitters that regulate sleep,” says Dr. Ana Krieger, director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill-Cornell Medicine.
Listed are the six easy dietary do’s that will help solve your sleep problems:
1. Balance your plate to avoid nightmares.
Consuming a balanced meal of proteins, fats and carbs will help stabilize blood sugar levels ahead of bedtime, says Maya Bach, a licensed dietitian nutritionist, and owner at River North Nutrition in Chicago. This stability will help prevent spikes and crashes in blood sugar that can disrupt your energy levels and mood. A dip in blood sugar at night can cause nightmares and other odd bedtime behavior, like crying out in your sleep.
2. Pair protein with carbs to fall asleep faster.
Proteins like turkey, roasted soybeans and milk are high in levels of an essential amino acid called tryptophan. Tryptophan is a key component of serotonin, a chemical that promotes relaxation when it’s released in the brain.
Pairing proteins high in tryptophan with a starchy carb or whole grain may help prime the body for sleep, Bach says “The surge in your blood sugar after eating carbs stimulates tryptophan’s sleep-inducing properties in the brain,” she says.
3. Curb snoring by staying hydrated.
Snoring affects a whopping 90 million American adults. In some cases, dehydration may be the culprit behind snoring, according to Georgia Giannopoulos, dietitian and manager of Be Healthy, an employee-focused health program at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. To help prevent this, she recommends being mindful of your hydration throughout the day (try downloading an app to help). You can also keep a glass of water at your bedside as a reminder to start hydrating when you wake up in the morning.
4. Skip the booze to sleep soundly.
Drinking alcohol may make you feel drowsy at first, but research suggests you may end up with lower quality sleep overall. “In some cultures, alcoholic drinks are commonly used to facilitate sleep,” says Dr. Krieger. “[But] alcohol intake close to bedtime has several downsides; it acts as a muscle relaxant that worsens snoring and may trigger sleep apnea, and also leads to a chemical disruption of sleep.”
5. Eat a light dinner to avoid acid reflux.
Try paring down for your final meal of the day, Bach says. “Consuming less food later in the day may help reduce bloating, discomfort and possible acid reflux some of us experience when we consume too much food at one meal,” she says. Avoid spicy, acidic foods and instead opt for low-acidic foods before bedtime, like lean proteins such as baked chicken and poached fish, and green veggies like broccoli and asparagus.
6. Keep a food diary to find hidden offenders.
Because not all bellies are created equal — what works for the majority may not work for you — tracking what you eat could solve your food/sleep related mysteries. “If someone has a pattern of difficulty sleeping, keeping a food and sleep diary may be beneficial in helping spot if certain foods are affecting sleep,” Giannopoulos says. Hint: This includes caffeine!