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Five foods that will help you snooze - By Lisa Turner

It has been a sleepless several nights for me, mainly because of troubling events. But it made me start thinking about food, and how it's intimately connected to our patterns of sleep. If you can't sleep, and life is calm and happy, maybe it's something you ate -- or didn't. The foods we eat can dramatically affect how much, and how well, we snooze. Some calm and relax, some wake up the nervous system, and some just downright wire you for the night.
What you should eat for deeper sleep depends partly on your patterns. If you toss and turn before drifting off but then doze soundly for the rest of the night, you might benefit from adding slow-burning carbs (beans, sweet potatoes, berries) to your evening meal to prompt the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that promotes calm.
If you zonk out quickly but wake up a few hours later, you might be suffering from blood sugar fluctuations. I've tried a high-protein snack before bed -- a handful of walnuts, a spoonful of almond butter, a small cube of cheese -- and these tend to keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the night.

Focus on foods with soothing nutrients, like magnesium, which helps relax muscles and calms the body and B vitamins, key in the production of serotonin and other brain chemicals key to sleep. Trytophan, an amino acid that's needed to make sleep-inducing serotonin, is especially effective when it's paired with complex, slow-burning carbs.

And banish foods that stimulate the body and disrupt sleep.

Caffeine's the worst, and its effect can last up to 10 hours, so steer clear of coffee, tea, sodas, chocolate and other foods that contain caffeine after lunchtime. Some other foods have a similar sleep-disrupting effect.

Avoid these five sleep saboteurs:
Sugar. It's the worst; it prompts the brain to release stress hormones that block sleep, and causes blood sugar fluctuations that can wake you in the wee hours.

Chocolate. In addition to caffeine, it's high in theobromine, a stimulating plant compound.

Red wine contains sleep-disrupting alcohol, as well as tyramine, an amino acid that increases the brain's levels of stimulating neurotransmitters.

Aspartame is worse than sugar; like monosodium glutamate (MSG), it encourages the release of excitatory nerve transmitters that can keep you up all night.

Spicy foods like garlic, ginger and hot peppers are way too warming and stimulating to eat before bed.

For better, faster and deeper Zs, ease yourself into sleep with these soothing snacks...
Turkey has the highest levels of tryptophan. Chicken, seafood and soybeans are close seconds. Soothing snacks: a slice of turkey and a few avocado cubes, rolled up in a lettuce leaf; a small bowl of beans plus a couple of grilled shrimp.

Yogurt and other dairy products are also rich in sleep-prompting tryptophan. Soothing snacks: a blueberry and flax seed smoothie; a small bowl of yogurt with chopped walnuts and strawberries; a few whole-grain crackers spread with soft goat cheese.

Almonds and other nuts and seeds are rich in both tryptophan and nerve-calming magnesium. Soothing snacks: half an apple cut into wedges and spread with almond butter; a small dish of blackberries sprinkled with chopped cashews.

Beans and soy are high in B vitamins and magnesium, as well as tryptophan. Soothing snacks: a small dish of hummus with red pepper strips and celery for dipping; a quarter cup of black beans with a slice of avocado.

Spinach and other leafy greens like chard, kale and collards, are loaded with both magnesium and B vitamins. Soothing snacks: a small bowl of chopped kale with feta cheese and almonds; a handful of spinach with turkey cubes.

What foods help you snooze? I'd love to hear about your favorites. Please post your comments below, and may all your dreams be sweet.

Lisa Turner is a widely published food writer with five books on health and nutrition, and hundreds of magazine articles. In addition to writing books and magazine articles, Lisa combines 20 years of yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices to help her clients explore emotional issues behind their eating habits. Currently, she's a faculty instructor at Bauman College of Culinary Arts and Nutrition in Boulder, Colorado, and hard at work on her next book. Visit her websites at http://www.thehealthygourmet.net/ and InspiredEating.com.

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