"The Healthy Geezer" answers questions about health and aging in his weekly column.
Question: Which foods are the best for a bedtime snack?
Answer: Eating a small snack a few hours before bedtime may help you sleep by preventing hunger from waking you. However, there are no snacks that guarantee to put you to sleep.
Milk, herbal tea and other comforting remedies help a bit at bedtime because they make you feel more relaxed. However, there is no evidence that they are sleep-inducing.
Some people say that cereal with milk, peanut butter on toast, and cheese with crackers are good bedtime snacks because they combine carbohydrates with protein.
The theory is based on the fact that tryptophan, an amino acid, makes you sleepy. Proteins make tryptophan. And carbs make tryptophan more available to the brain.
Studies done on the sedating effects of tryptophan needed up to 15 grams of tryptophan to create an effect. You would need to eat more than a pound of turkey to get just one gram of tryptophan. That nap you take after Thanksgiving dinner is caused by packing in too much food, not the tryptophan in the bird.
To get a good night's sleep, it is more important to avoid some foods. Here are some foods you should sidestep: high-fat foods, garlic-flavored and highly spiced foods, alcohol, caffeine, and any beverages before bed.
Here are some pointers to help you get better sleep:
Go to sleep and wake up at the same time, even on weekends. Sticking to a regular bedtime and wake time schedule helps keep you in sync with your body's circadian clock, a 24-hour internal rhythm affected by sunlight.
Try not to nap too much during the day—you might be less sleepy at night.
Try to exercise at regular times each day. Exercising regularly improves the quality of your nighttime sleep and helps you sleep more soundly. Try to finish your workout at least three hours before bedtime.
Try to get some natural light in the afternoon each day.
Don't smoke cigarettes to help you sleep. The nicotine in cigarettes is a stimulant.
Create a safe and comfortable place to sleep. Make sure there are locks on all doors and smoke alarms on each floor. A lamp that's easy to turn on and a phone by your bed may be helpful. The room should be dark, well ventilated, and as quiet as possible.
Develop a bedtime routine. Do the same things each night to tell your body that it's time to wind down.
Use your bedroom for sleeping, not daytime activities. After turning off the light, give yourself about 15 minutes to fall asleep. If you are still awake and not drowsy, get out of bed. When you get sleepy, go back to bed.
Try not to worry about your sleep. Some people find that playing mental games is helpful. For example, tell yourself it's five minutes before you have to get up and you're just trying to get a few extra winks.
If you are so tired during the day that you cannot function normally and if this lasts for more than 2 to 3 weeks, you should see your family doctor or a sleep disorders specialist.
If you would like to read more columns, you can order a copy of "How to be a Healthy Geezer" at www.healthygeezer.com.
All Rights Reserved © 2014 by Fred Cicetti