Monday, November 7, 2011

The Importance of Sleep

Written by Katie Kissane, U of H Dietetic Intern.

Getting enough sleep can be hard to do for most college athletes who have to balance school, practice, and social lives. Sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on cognitive function, mood, and reaction time. As an athlete, sleep deprivation can also have an impact on performance. Serotonin and growth hormone are released into the body while you sleep, both enhance mood and facilitate tissue repair. We all know that sleep is important, but sometimes it is hard to get the 7-9 hours a night recommended for most athletes. In addition, there is recent evidence that suggests getting extra sleep over an extended period of time improves athletic performance, mood, and alertness. Aside from prioritizing sleep and taking steps to ensure you get a restful sleep there are some things to consider changing in your diet to help with sleep as well.

What does food have to do with sleep?
Have you ever noticed feeling lethargic and tired after eating a large meal like thanksgiving dinner? There are several reasons for this including the action of the amino acid tryptophan. Foods that contain tryptophan cause sleepiness. Or maybe you have noticed after eating a food or beverage high in carbohydrate that you get a feeling of energy followed by a crash. High carbohydrate containing foods are rapidly digested and send a rush of sugar into the blood stream which the body responds to by increasing the release of insulin and subsequently causing the cells of the body to respond by pulling the sugar from the blood. This causes a crash in blood sugar and subsequent feeling of lethargy and sleepiness.
  • ·         Tryptophan is an amino acids that is converted to melatonin. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that regulates sleepiness. Tryptophan is found in foods like turkey, honey, milk, nuts, and eggs.
  • ·         A large meal at lunch can cause a post-lunch dip
  • ·         Caffeine is a stimulant that works by blocking the action of hormones in the brain that makes us feel sleepy. A strong dose of caffeine can stimulate the mind for a short time, and then cause a crash in alertness as the effect wears off. Be careful to consume caffeine too close to bedtime as its effect may persist for several hours. Cut out all caffeine from the diet about 4-6 hours before bedtime.
  • ·         Energy drinks contain caffeine, some amino acids, and a ton of sugar. These ingredients will give you an initial short-lived feeling of alertness followed by a crash.
  • ·         Alcohol can cause drowsiness and help you relax in the short term, but can disrupt sleep later in the night. It also keeps you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, which may cause you to wake up still feeling tired even with the 7-9 hours of recommended sleep. 
What to eat before bed to help you snooze?
A little food in your stomach might help you sleep. Try a bowl of cereal and milk, yogurt and granola, peanut butter and a banana or cheese and crackers. Remember to keep the snack small. Stay away from high-fat foods, research shows that people who often eat high-fat food before bedtime experience a disruption in sleep cycles. A heavy meal also activated digestion causing nighttime trips to the bathroom. Spicy foods may lead to heartburn. Avoid the less obvious sources of caffeine before bed such as chocolate, tea, and cola.

Warm milk with cinnamon and nutmeg
8fl oz 1 cup of whole or semi-skim (low fat) milk
10ml / 2 teaspoons clear Honey
pinch or ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon of cinnamon

Heat milk gently in a sauce pan, to just below the boiling point.  Do not boil or scald the milk.
Remove from the heat and whisk (beat) until frothy.
Stir in the Honey
Pour milk into a large mug and grate a light dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg over the milk.
Pair this with a piece of toast or some whole grain crackers and you have a soothing bedtime snack full of sleep enhancing ingredients.

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