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Improve your snooze with these foods

Certain foods can hinder sleep, while other ones can help. Nutritionist Joy Bauer tells you how to get those 40 winks.
/ Source: TODAY

Recent studies show there's even more reason to get those eight hours of shut-eye — it can help you lose weight. Research indicates that people who are sleep deprived have lower levels of the appetite-regulating hormone leptin, which makes them hungrier, want to eat more and be at risk for weight gain. Nutritionist Joy Bauer visited "Today" to discuss foods that can help you sleep and to suggest ways you can get a longer, more restful night's sleep.

Foods to avoid

  • Caffeinated food/beverages, three to eight hours before hitting the sack. Caffeine is a mild stimulant that increases the activity of the central nervous system. Caffeine’s stimulant effect peaks in about one hour and then declines as the liver breaks it down. If you’re an occasional coffee drinker, you’ll tend to be more sensitive to the stimulant effects. So, if you go to bed by 11:00 p.m., you’ll have to stop your caffeine intake by 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. to avoid insomnia. Also, beware of some “energy” drinks, which incorporate “herbal” caffeine including guarana seeds, kola nuts, and yerba mate leaves.

Caffeine amounts in popular foods and beverages: Brewed coffee (8 ounces) = approx. 100 to 150 milligramsBrewed decaf (8 ounces) = less than 5 milligramsEspresso (1 ounce) = 40 milligramsBrewed tea, black and green (8 ounces) = approx. 50 milligramsRed Bull (8.5 ounces) = 80 milligramsPopular soda, diet and regular (8 ounces) = 25 to 45 milligramsChocolate (1.7-ounce bar) = 12 to 20 milligrams for popular brandsCaffeine amounts in over-the-counter medications:Vivarin = 200 milligramsNo Doz = 100 milligramsExcedrin = 65 milligrams

  • All liquids 90 minutes before going to bed. It takes about 90 minutes for the body to process liquids, so limit liquids of any kind for at least 90 minutes prior to bedtime if the need to urinate wakes you up in the middle of the night. This problem is especially common in older men.
  • Alcohol and nicotine. Do not use alcohol to help you fall asleep. Although alcohol may initially induce sleep, once it wears off, the sleep tends to be fragmented. Also, limit nicotine prior to bedtime, as it is a stimulant and will keep you up.
  • Heavy meals less than three hours prior to bed. Meals loaded with calories and fat rev up active digestion and can often leave you feeling uncomfortably full or, even worse, cause heartburn or aggravate a hiatal hernia.

How to improve your sleep

  • Eat a light snack before bedtime to help produce serotonin (the calming hormone). Try a light snack — 200 calories or less — that’s mainly carbohydrate with a touch of protein. Many scientists claim that by combining an ample dose of carbohydrate together with a small amount of protein (which contains the amino acid tryptophan) your brain produces serotonin, which is known as the “calming hormone.” And when we’re calm, we are certainly more apt to fall asleep.

Suggested bedtime snacks: 1 slice of whole wheat toast topped with 1 small slice of low-fat cheese1/2 cup healthy cereal topped with 1/2 cup skim milk1 banana with 1 teaspoon of peanut butter 1 rice cake topped with 1 tomato slice and 1 slice turkey breast

  • Regular exercise can increase your odds of getting a good night’s sleep. But avoid exercise within three hours of going to bed, as this will boost alertness and have a negative effect on sleep. Studies have shown that exercising more than three to six hours before going to bed has the most positive effect on falling asleep and staying asleep.

Sleep aid supplements

  • Melatonin has gotten a great deal of attention in the past few years because this hormone controls the body’s circadian rhythm — our internal 24-hour clock that tells us when to sleep and when to wake up. As we get older, we produce less melatonin, which may account in part for insomnia in older adults. I would not recommend supplemental doses without speaking with your physician first. Studies have not been conclusive in regard to its effectiveness, and these supplements may interact with other medications.
  • Valerian root is an herb believed to have a calming, relaxing effect on the body. It has been used for centuries to treat insomnia, mild anxiety and restlessness. The exact mechanism of action is unknown. However, it may act as a depressant to the central nervous system to produce a mild tranquilizing effect. As with melatonin supplements, first speak with your personal physician to find out if it’s an appropriate option — and certainly first try the other sleep inducers discussed above.