Sleep and Diet

Although sleep needs vary from one person to another, the optimal average is 7 to 9 hours. You can judge whether or not you're getting the right amount by how you feel the next day both too much and too little sleep leaves a person feeling tired and irritable.

Because growth hormones are released during sleep, babies, young children, and adolescents require more sleep than adults do.

Sleep researchers discount the common myth that older people require less sleep; instead, the amount of sleep that an adult needs remains fairly constant.

With advancing age, however, the nature of sleep changes and the incidence of sleep disorders rises. The degree of time spent in the deeper stages of sleep often lessens with age, and an older person is likely to awak-en more frequently during the night.

What makes us sleep is still not fully understood, but scientists know that a person's circadian rhythm is es-tablished shortly after birth and is apparently maintained by two internal oscillators that act as a body clock. Some natural chemicals in the body enhance sleep, and diet also plays a part.

Because hunger tends to disrupt sleep, a light snack at bedtime can promote sleep but too much food can cause digestive discomfort that leads to wakefulness.

Any food or beverage that contains caffeine can disturb sleep, although this is not true for everyone; some people can drink a cup of strong coffee before bed and promptly fall asleep.

Tryptophan, an essential amino acid, is among the natural dietary sleep inducers. It works by increasing the amount of serotonin, a natural sedative, in the brain.

This is why so many folk remedies for sleeplessness include warm milk, which contains tryptophan, with a teaspoonful of honey, a simple sugar. (Carbohydrates facilitate the entry of tryptophan into the brain.)

A turkey sandwich will provide another sleep inducing combination of tryptophan and carbohydrates. On the other hand, consuming a high-fat evening meal or eating foods that Promote Indigestion and Heart-burn can cause restless sleep.

Many herbs are said to be useful for inducing sleep; one of the most popular and reliable of these is valerian. Its qualifications as a sedative have been supported by research demonstrating that active ingredients in the valerian root depress the central nervous system and relax smooth muscle tissue.

Valerian that is brewed into a tea or taken as a capsule or tincture can lessen the time it takes to fall asleep and produce a deep, satisfying rest.

It does not result in dependency or cause a "hung-over" feeling, as some sleeping pills do. Other herbal remedies include teas made of chamomile, hops, lemon balm, and peppermint.

Role of Melatonin

A hormone produced by the brain, melatonin is instrumental in regulating the body's sleep-wake cycle. Researchers think that it may control the onset of puberty, a woman's menstrual cycle, mood, and the release of growth hormones.

In the U.S., melatonin supplements have emerged as one of the health-food fads of the mid 1990s, but they are not allowed in Canada. Melatonin can alleviate insomnia, although in some cases it has caused disturbed sleep.

When taken correctly, it can prevent jet lag, but the many other claims for melatonin for example, that it can prevent cancer, boost immunity. and forestall aging are unproved.

Melatonin appears to be safe when it's taken in small amounts to overcome a temporary bout of insomnia or jet lag.

But experts caution against taking large doses or long-term use because of melatonin's potential side effects, which include grogginess, depression, and sexual dysfunction.

Melatonin should not be taken by women who are attempting to conceive, pregnant, or breast-feeding; nor should it be administered to children or used by anyone with severe allergies, mental illness, rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune diseases, and lymphoma and certain other types of cancers.

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