According to a recent poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 65 percent of Americans say they experience sleep problems, such as difficulty falling asleep, waking during the night and waking feeling groggy, at least a few times each week. The poll, which targeted 1,000 people across the country, found that nearly half, or 44 percent of those with problems, say they grapple with them almost every night. Every single night? That's just unacceptable.
At Food Matters NYC, my team and I have long promoted the idea of kitchen as cure -- fridge as pharmacy. In other words, instead of rushing off to ask your doctor for an Ambien prescription, I suggest heading straight for your kitchen.
Bottom line: You can solve your sleep problem by "treating" it nutritionally. I do it for my private clients every day, and the results are staggering. But if you (like most people), scrape together your meals without the help of a private chef, don't worry. I'll show you how to get the same great results on your own.
To help support a night of restful, restorative sleep, the most important thing that you can do is fill your dinner plate with foods that contain tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that makes serotonin -- a neurotransmitter that slows down nerve traffic to the brain. And slowing down that traffic is precisely what you need in order to drift off.
No doubt, you've been hearing about this essential ingredient for years. Perhaps on Thanksgiving, when stuffed family members, dozing off before dark, blamed the tryptophan in turkey for their sudden, crushing fatigue. But to really get the benefits of tryptophan, you'll need to pair it with foods that work in concert with it -- maximizing its positive effects.
One of these "assistants" is calcium, which helps the brain turn tryptophan into melatonin. An ideal evening meal would include complex carbohydrates, protein and some calcium. Not too complicated, right? But just in case you're wondering what that would look like on your dinner plate. Here's a sample menu, to help you visualize:
• Sesame Roasted Chicken with Quinoa,
• Kale and Shiitake Mushroom Salad with a Honey Almond Soy Vinaigrette.
Here's how I came up with this menu: First of all, roast chicken is a great source of protein, and it's fairly low in fat. Fat doesn't just make you gain weight, overindulging in it has also been proven to disrupt sleep cycles by making your digestive system work overtime.
Meanwhile, quinoa is both a complete protein and a complex carbohydrate. What's more, it's high in magnesium, which aids in the fight against leg cramps (a common sleep foe) and helps the body process calcium more efficiently. Kale scores high marks across the board. It's an excellent nondairy source of calcium and delivers an additional dose of magnesium.
And though many nutritionists will tell you not to eat late at night, there's new science that says it's okay to break that rule. In fact, if you are plagued by insomnia, you might actually benefit from a late night snack. Only caveat: We're not talking Ben and Jerry's.
I've come up with what I think is the perfect before bed treat. It works so well that one of my clients has taken to calling it nature's Xanax. I call it Kudzu Pudding. Kudzu is a root vegetable that has a very calming effect on the body. You can buy it in powder form at your local health food store.
What's great about using it in cooking is that it acts as a thickening agent and is really easy to work with. I like to cook it with low glycemic fruits like apples. It's a delicious desert and an effective tool toward winding down.
Here's how to make Kudzu Pudding: Start with 1 cup of applesauce in a small saucepan. Add 1 tablespoon of kudzu root powder. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens -- about 3 minutes. That's it! Allow it to cool before eating -- then make a beeline for bed.
So if you're not getting enough shut eye, why not head to your kitchen cabinet rather than your medicine cabinet? You'll be surprised how just a few tweaks to your diet can help you get your Zs.
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