If you’re like me and have insomnia (and aren’t a fan of sleeping pills), you do all you can to avoid certain staying-awake triggers.
You might do things like refrain from drinking coffee by early afternoon and no electronics before bed. In addition, you make warm milk (I add sugar and vanilla—yum!), put a pouch of lavender next to your pillow (hoping the scent will waft into your dreams), turn on an app that sounds like classical music mixed with rain—all in hope of getting some sleep before going to work in the morning.
Though some sleep is better than no sleep, we all strive to get deep REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, all night long – not an hour here, awake a couple hours, then another hour or two there.
1. No Caffeine – That Includes Chocolate!
I know this should be a no-brainer, but the time of day you consume your last cup of coffee or caffeinated soda makes a huge difference. Plus, having chocolate counts! Some insomniac friends have given up coffee altogether (after all, even decaf has approximately eight percent caffeine), while others stop drinking it by noon or early afternoon.
The good news is, you can experiment for yourself week-to-week: Chart how much caffeine you had and at what times of day, how quickly you fell asleep, and how long you slept (continuous or up every couple of hours).
Also, soda drinkers out there, the carbonation from it won’t help (especially if you are prone to indigestion), so best to curb your consumption earlier in the day.
Chocolate-lovers, I haven’t forgotten about you. Did you know that a 1.55-ounce Hershey’s milk chocolate bar has approximately 12 milligrams of caffeine, equivalent to about three cups of decaffeinated coffee?! And that goes up to 20 milligrams of caffeine for a Hershey’s special-dark bar, which is like drinking a half an ounce of espresso! So, avoid chocolate, at least a few hours before bed!
2. No Alcohol
Yes, your grandparents may have raised you with the perception that an after-dinner/before-bed drink is okay—what’s a little nightcap going to do? Keep you up at night, that’s what.
“I love good wine, but I certainly notice adverse effects on my sleep if I overindulge,” said David Katz, M.D., director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and EatingWell advisor. “So I am careful about alcohol intake, both by drinking a moderate amount and by drinking with a meal several hours before bedtime.”
3. Limit The Refills
Perhaps you have a bladder of steel and don’t think water or milk will wake you up in the night, but the older we get, the more likely this is to happen.
Try limiting the amount of liquids you drink for a few hours before bed. This will help reduce the chance of bathroom breaks. Again, you can try this for yourself and see how it affects your sleep.
4. No Greasy, Fatty, And Spicy Foods
When whipping up that snack, I don’t mean make a pizza or other grease and fat-laden food. Grease and spicy foods can cause heartburn, and none of us want to be awake with that.
5. No Chicken Or Beef
Foods rich in protein, like chicken, lessen the speed of digestion. So, your body tries to digest instead of trying to go to sleep. Therefore, stick to eating a chicken- or beef-oriented meal a few hours before bed, not minutes before. Your well-rested self will thank you later.
What You Should Eat: Carbs
Yes, this article is about what food and drinks to avoid in order to sleep better, but a growling stomach doesn’t encourage sleep, either. I’m not saying eat a huge bowl of pasta, but a snack (like an apple, orange, banana, or cherries). Experts recommend having carbs, which will increase serotonin, which will make you sleepy. “I think that by triggering serotonin, it relaxes me a little,” said Ellie Krieger, dietician and host of the Food Network’s “Healthy Appetite,” who eats an apple or some crackers before calling it a night.
Cherries naturally have melatonin, so experts promote having some before bed. Others believe in the powers of bananas. Bananas have magnesium, melatonin, and serotonin, so they should help aid your eyes in staying closed.
And still others, like this Prevention article, say it’s best to mix carbs and protein (containing tryptophan) and to have something like a cup of whole grain cereal with fat-free milk. Just one of the two may make you sleepy, but having both is more of a guarantee, they say.