In the series of the articles I have been writing for this magazine, I have been mainly focusing on energizing food which improves the mental and physical performance, while not adding unnecessary inches to the trained and sculptured body. In addition to this, how to prepare healthy snacks and liquids have been discussed among other vital topics thought after by women.
In this article however, we will focus on another topic, which is at least equally important if not more crucial than the above-mentioned ones.
Sleep energizes people and makes them think clearer and in a more positive and brighter manner. In addition, sleep can also be considered as a method of mental and physical recovery while at the same time reliving stress build up during the day.
It is well-known and highly recommended to sleep around 7 or 8 hours a night in order to function at maximum capacity. From a personal point of view, I think that decreasing a little the number of slept hours will not cause any problems. However, exceeding this period can make us feel heavier and lethargic. We should also bear in mind that the time frame allocated for sleep is also important. Going to sleep earlier or later than we have to can also have a negative influence on our after sleep mood. For example, one will feel better even if he/she sleeps less during the normal night period as compared to sleeping more hours but in the day, morning, etc.
Research has shown that less or bad sleep during the night can affect our health. Sleeping 4 hours or less for several days can gradually affect our ability to perform complex tasks. This can also cause several changes in the immunological system, e.g. increase in CRP (C-reactive protein), which is a defense reaction indicator. Other surveys found social inequalities in sleep problems with less sleep recorded for people with low income and low education. A group in Munich and Ingolstadt had determined an influence of a chronic sleep disorder going along with severe sleepiness (narcolepsy) on the processing of emotional stimuli in the human brain. This last finding is a very important proof of the fact that disturbed sleep regulation affects our well being, reflex time and interaction with the environment.
Disturbed sleeping habits also affect of two important hormones, which have a direct effect on appetite and weight gain.
To date, no study has evaluated nocturnal levels of the two hormones, ghrelin and leptin, in primary insomnia patients. Ghrelin, a peptide secreted by the stomach, stimulates appetite and increases before meals. Leptin, which affects body weight and is secreted primarily by fat cells, signals the hypothalamus regarding the degree of fat storage in the body; decreased leptin tells the body there is a calorie shortage and promotes hunger, while increased levels promote energy expenditure.
In the study, researchers compared healthy sleepers with those suffering from chronic insomnia and measured the levels of the two hormones at various times throughout the night. They found that while leptin levels averaged out over the night to be roughly the same between the two groups, levels of ghrelin were 30 percent lower in insomnia sufferers.
On the face of it, a decreased level of ghrelin would seem to inhibit weight gain; it is an increase in ghrelin, after all, that stimulates appetite. Sleep loss leads to increased ghrelin and decreased leptin, a “double whammy” that stimulates appetite.
As a matter of fact, food can help when it comes to getting a solid sleep. The following 10 foods are known to stimulate sleep-inducing hormones like serotonin (an important neurotransmitter involved in the regulation of sleep, anger, aggression, body temperature, mood, etc.) and melatonin (melatonin regulates our body’s perception of night and day and stimulates sleep when night falls. People suffering from insomnia do not produce enough melatonin. Also, stress can reduce the level of melatonin produced by our bodies).
On the other hand, one should not forget to mention, that sleeping late will also disrupt the natural rhythm of melatonin, which negatively influences the both the quality and length of your sleep.
In addition, these foods have other positive side effects like relaxing tense muscle, calming stressed and heavily occupied minds, etc.
Bananas contain melatonin and serotonin which are practically some of the best sleep stimulating substances (such substances are frequently used in pharmaceutical industry). Furthermore, bananas contain magnesium which has a relaxing effect on muscles.
As probably a lot of us know from childhood, a glass of warm milk was the solution when we couldn’t fall asleep. The explanation for this would be that milk contains tryptophan, which is an amino acid that has a sedative effect. Moreover, calcium contained by milk helps the brain utilize tryptophan.
Chamomile is one of the oldest garden herbs which is considered a universal remedy in ancient Egypt. The plant is usually used for tea making and, as we all know, tea has a relaxing effect and is most often used for this purpose. Chamomile tea is generally known not only for its relaxing effect, but for its sedating effect as well, being in this way the perfect natural antidote for stressed minds and bodies.
Usually, sweet food products provide an extra quantity of energy to our bodies. When we think of extra energy, we definitely do not think of sleeping. However, recent studies have discovered that glucose (like the one contained by honey) can stimulate the brain to reduce the quantity of orexin. Orexin is a recently discovered neurotransmitter that is connected to alertness.
Potatoes clear away acids that can interfere with tryptophan amino acid. Baked potatoes can have an even greater sleep inducing effect if they are combined with warm milk when eaten.
Almonds nuts contain both tryptophan (sedative effect) amino acid and magnesium (muscle relaxing effect).
Oats are good for a good night’s sleep because they stimulate the production of melatonin.
Eating moderate quantities of bread will cause insulin to be released into the body, which helps tryptophan get to the brain where it’s converted to serotonin.
Turkey is a very good source of tryptophan. However, bear in mind that tryptophan is most effective when the stomach is basically empty, not full, and when there are some carbs in the stomach, not lots of proteins.
Flax seeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, acids that act as natural mood lifters. So, when feeling down is what’s keeping you up, these seeds should be considered as antidote.
Last but not least one should not forget to keep at least 90 minutes between the latest meal and the aspired bedtime, to avoid and prevent any possibility of indigestion and gastric reflux, which will definitely impair and hamper you from having the optimum quality of sleep we have been portraying in this article.