The holiday season is busy. We’re often juggling work, shopping, traveling, holiday decorating, cooking, cleaning and general merriment over the last few weeks of the year. With so much in the mix, it’s essential to ensure that you get enough rest.
Aside from being awake for the fun, getting enough sleep at night is also important for your health. The right food can be your secret ingredient.
About 90 minutes before you want to nod off, head for the kitchen and make yourself a sleepy-time snack. Keep it light (around 200 calories), so you don't overload your digestive system. Consider including one or two foods from the list below. These 10-food options will help relax tense muscles, quiet buzzing minds, and/or get calming, sleep-inducing hormones — serotonin and melatonin — flowing.
1. Bananas — They're practically a sleeping pill in a peel. In addition to a bit of soothing melatonin and serotonin, bananas contain magnesium, a muscle relaxant.
2. Chamomile tea — Chamomile is a staple of bedtime tea blends because of its mild sedating effect, which makes it the perfect natural antidote for restless minds and bodies.
3. Warm milk — It's not a myth. Milk has some tryptophan, an amino acid that has a sedative-like effect, and calcium, which helps the brain use tryptophan. Plus, there's the psychological throwback to infancy, when a warm bottle meant "relax, everything's fine."
4. Honey — Drizzle a little in your warm milk or herb tea. Lots of sugar is stimulating, but a little glucose tells your brain to turn off orexin, a recently discovered neurotransmitter that's linked to alertness.
5. Potatoes — A small baked spud won't overwhelm your gastrointestinal tract as it clears away acids that can interfere with yawn-inducing tryptophan. To up the soothing effect, mash the potato with warm milk.
6. Oatmeal — Oats are a rich source of sleep-inviting melatonin, and a small bowl of warm cereal with a splash of maple syrup is cozy -- and if you've got the munchies, it's filling, too.
7. Almonds — A handful of these heart-healthy nuts can send you snoozing because they contain both tryptophan and a nice dose of muscle-relaxing magnesium.
8. Flaxseeds — When life goes awry, and feeling down is keeping you up, try sprinkling 2 tablespoons of these healthy little seeds on your bedtime oatmeal. They're rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a natural mood lifter.
9. Whole-wheat bread — A slice of toast with your tea and honey will release insulin, which helps tryptophan get to your brain, where it's converted to serotonin and quietly murmurs "time to sleep."
10. Turkey — It's the best-known source of tryptophan, credited with all those Thanksgiving naps. (But that's modern folklore) Tryptophan works when your stomach's basically empty rather than overstuffed and when there are some carbohydrates around rather than tons of protein. Put a lean slice or two on some whole-wheat bread mid-evening and you've got one of the best sleep-inducers in your kitchen.
As the lead dietitian at University Medical Center New Orleans, Rosetta Danigole manages clinical dietetic operations. She is a member of the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition and belongs to the clinical dietitian practice group. She has been a dietitian for 36 years.