Tossing and turning at night? Maybe you blame stress from work, or relationship problems, or the two million things that didn’t get done today. But your diet could be the culprit. Read on to make sure you are avoiding (and indulging in) foods that can help you get some quality sleep.

Serotonin, The Secret to Sleep

The science of good sleep is often chalked up to one culprit: serotonin. This neurotransmitter plays a role in controlling your sleep cycle, along with the hormone melatonin. Serotonin is what gives us feelings of calm and sleepiness. Ample amounts of serotonin can be just what a body needs to sleep well. B-vitamins and carbohydrates are essential ingredients for the processing of serotonin. And a little amino acid called tryptophan has skyrocketed to fame for its serotonin-production capabilities.

You Sleep What You Eat

A 2005 study found a causal link between tryptophan and improved sleep in insomniacs, and a big buzz was created by the fact that dietary intake of this amino acid worked just as well as supplements. Carbohydrates play an important role, as well, as they help transmit the tryptophan by prompting the release of insulin, which clears out the amino acids that compete with it. If you try dining on tryptophan-rich foods, together with carbohydrates, you can increase your body’s sleepiness.

Poultry + bread: Try chicken salad on whole wheat bread, or turkey with stuffing.

Shellfish + rice: Shrimp fried rice, for example, or paella.

F+ potatoes: A classic fish and potato stew would do the trick.

Beans + pita: Hummus and pita bread, or lentil dal and naan.

The presence of magnesium is also a bonus, as it helps with the body’s melatonin production. In a study by the Journal of Sleep Research, a connection was made between good sleep and water, theobromine, and potassium. So next time you go to bed, try a potassium-rich food such as a banana.

Foods To Avoid

Just as some foods may potentially induce sleepiness, there are foods that serve as roadblocks to that much-needed shut-eye. Beware of the following foods if you are having trouble sleeping well:

Chocolate: A triple no-no, thanks to the sugar, caffeine and tyrosine content. We all know what sugar and caffeine can do to our levels of alertness. And tyrosine is a stimulating amino acid, best avoided before bedtime.

Spicy foods: In addition to their pick-me-up kick, spicy foods can cause stomach problems. And an upset stomach can cause inability to sleep well.Energy drinks: duh.

Alcohol: This is counterintuitive, as you may know if you have ever felt drowsy after a glass of red. However, alcohol intake can prevent you from reaching normal levels of deep sleep.

A Vicious Cycle

Your lack of quality sleep could very well be contributing to your less-than-stellar dietary behavior, which then contributes to your sleep problems - a vicious interruption to your REM cycle. A recent study in the journal Physiology & Behavior linked poor sleep quality with increased snacking and a poor diet. Simply put, when you don’t get quality sleep, your body can crave energy-rich, junky foods, which can in turn have an adverse effect on your sleep patterns.

So take care to maintain a healthy diet, and try amping up your intake of ‘sleepy’ foods to help get some quality shut-eye.

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