Oct. 8, 2012 at 9:53 AM ET
"Sleep is the new sex," Dr. Nancy Snyderman said on TODAY Monday.
It's true many of us don't get enough shut-eye. "There are times you think, 'Do I want sleep or do I want exercise?'," Snyderman said. "I would argue that sleep is restorative and will put years on your life, more than anything else."
So what's a good medication-free way to get a nice, deep sleep? Thanks to popular culture (not to mention that infamous Seinfeld episode), many of us still believe certain foods -- like turkey and wine -- can put us out like a light.
But TODAY diet and nutrition editor Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D, Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS), says getting a good night's sleep is much more about what you don't eat before you hit the hay.
"You want to avoid high fat meals or eating a lot of food before you go to bed because digestion interrupts comfortable sleep," she says. "You should also avoid highly spiced foods because when you lay down, you may have reflex."
Sugary foods are also bad before bed, says the author of The Real You Diet, whether in the form of fruit or something else (we're talking to you Cherry Garcia). Alcohol and caffeine (i.e., coffee, tea, soda or even chocolate, if you're sensitive), are also before-bed no-nos.
In fact, Fernstrom says you should curtail all caffeine consumption after 3 p.m.
How much time should you leave between dinner and bedtime?
"In a perfect world, you should have three hours from dinner before going to sleep," she says. "Although many people have a snack that can help relax them."
Interestingly, bedtime snacks -- which many people swear by -- can help induce sleep. But not because of any biological factors.
"There's nothing that will help you get to sleep immediately," says Fernstrom. "It's more the behavioral part of it -- the warmth, the settling down."
The best sleepy-time snacks are palatable, comforting, warm and around 150 to 200 calories, she says, and should be consumed no closer than a half hour before you go to bed. Her suggestions:
Caffeine-free tea or sugar-free hot chocolate. Fernstrom says something that you sip slowly, with your feet up, will generally help you relax.
A handful of dry cereal or slice of whole wheat toast. "Starch is typically good because it's low in fat and has a soothing quality. Most people don't want to crunch on raw vegetables before bed."
Graham crackers.Low in fat and moderate in sugar, these puppies are fairly low in calories and may bring on warm, fuzzy childhood memories -- and zzzzs.
Yep, warm milk."Warm milk doesn't put you to sleep because of its biological effect," says Fernstrom. "It puts you to sleep because of the soothing effect. Someone will say, my mom used to bring me hot milk and read me a story. You sip it slowly and you automatically have a down time before going to sleep."
It’s Healthy Week! Learn the small steps you can take in your life to go healthy and "like" us on Facebook! And then follow up on Twitter twitter.com/healthyatnbcu
More from TODAY Health: