If sleep eludes you, could it be the foods you're eating? Specific foods have been identified as the culprits in keeping people awake, especially when they are eaten close to bedtime. Avoid these foods, and you may fall asleep faster.
Lack of sleep leads to poor decision making, slower reaction times, and a higher chance of injuries. With fatigue, the body's natural reaction is to search for foods that will give short bursts of energy. These are usually carbs that digest quickly, such as sugary foods, cake, white bread, and other desserts. The sugary foods rear their heads at bedtime, when blood sugar rises and falls, making for an erratic sleep.
Most people know that caffeine and alcohol will interfere with falling and staying asleep. These are stimulants, and depending on sensitivity, even black tea and cocoa can affect your sleep. Other stimulants are chocolate and caffeinated sodas.
For some people, exercising close to bedtime can also act as a stimulant, although exercise generally leads to better and deeper sleep patterns. Timing is very individual, so you'll need to experiment with the best times to hit the gym. However, a gentle walk after dinner can be relaxing and beneficial for sleep, mood, and better circulation.
Aside from the well-known stimulants, other foods to avoid before bedtime include foods that take longer to digest. As food is digested, blood is diverted to the intestines to aid in digestion. These include red meat and large meals with fat. If you're not used to high fiber foods, start slowly during the day and taper off during the evening until your body gets adjusted. Otherwise, you'll be awakened by the extra gas.
Foods with a substance called tyramine may particularly affect falling asleep. These foods are not harmful, and only need to be avoided by people taking MAOI drugs for depression, or those who are intolerant of this amino acid derivative. Tyramine intolerance may appear as a trigger for migraines or other headaches. There is no specific test for tyramine intolerance, and the best way to identify it is by a food log and eliminating those foods for at least a month.
Tyramine triggers the release of adrenaline and other hormones, which are part of the "fight or flight" response. As a result, blood pressure and heart rate rises. These physical reactions will interfere with falling asleep.
Specific tyramine foods are the following:
Any aged or hard cheeses
Smoked meats and fish
Fermented foods such as pickles and sauerkraut
Red wine and tap beer
Soy products such as tofu and soy sauce
Fruits: Raspberries, figs, red plums, and bananas
Avocados and tomatoes
The older the food, such as aged foods, or even overripe fruits, the more they release the tyramine compound. For best results, avoid these foods two hours before bedtime. Usually, eating them with dinner is fine; just don't eat them after dinner. These are not bad foods, or foods that will cause any illness, except as mentioned for people on MAOI drugs or those with tyramine sensitivity.
What can you eat before bedtime? In general, eat an early, light dinner. After dinner, if you're still hungry, look for fruits such as dates and oranges; nuts and seeds; or popcorn. Try to avoid tyramine-rich foods, take a light walk, and enjoy a restful sleep.