A good night’s sleep is one of the keys to more energy and better health. If you can’t fall asleep, or stay asleep – sleep deprivation can lead to physical and mental health issues such as dementia, sundowning and Alzheimer’s disease. Do you have a senior loved one having trouble getting to sleep? Adding the following foods may help combat their sleeplessness.
As we age, our sleep patterns may change. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “44% of older persons experience one or more of the nighttime symptoms of insomnia at least a few nights per week or more.”
It’s natural for our senior loved ones to need a little less sleep, or to wake up more during the night. But, if restless nights are causing problems during the day and you can’t attribute it to medication or illness, then you might want to try a little food therapy. A bedtime snack containing the right nutrients can help seniors – and the rest of us – calm the body, relax the mind and promote better sleep.
Sleep-Promoting Foods for Senior Nutrition
1. Nutrient-Rich Fruits
Many fruits contain minerals like potassium and magnesium, which help promote sleep by relaxing the muscles and calming the nervous system. Bananas are an excellent choice, and one that our Facebook users recommend, too. Besides being rich in both potassium and magnesium, they also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps induce sleep. Tryptophan is converted by the brain into serotonin and melatonin, says the U.S. News and World Report: “Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation; melatonin is a hormone that promotes sleepiness.”
Cherries are also a rich source of melatonin, and fruits like apples, apricots and peaches contain plenty of magnesium. So, if your loved one is having trouble sleeping – and tends to crave sweets – reach for the fruit bowl.
2. Complex Carbs
One of our Facebook users also suggested mashed sweet potato with honey as a good bedtime treat. Along with whole grains like oatmeal, popcorn, or even jasmine rice, sweet potato is a good source of complex carbohydrates, which can help increase levels of tryptophan. A small bowl of oatmeal or cereal, whole-grain crackers with a little lean protein (see below), and low-calorie, high-fiber popcorn are good choices. Oatmeal is especially good, says U.S. News, because it also has plenty of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and potassium.
3. Lean Protein
Lean proteins, too, are high in tryptophan, which increases serotonin levels and promotes good sleep. It’s the reason why we all end up in a turkey coma after Thanksgiving dinner. You don’t want to eat too much protein, or anything high in fat or deep-fried, but a dab of peanut butter on a banana, an egg on whole-grain toast, a little low-fat cheese on crackers, or a rice cake with lean turkey or fish can be satisfying and sleep-promoting snacks before bedtime.
4. Heart-Healthy Fats
It might seem surprising, but heart-healthy fats are another good choice for some nighttime eating. “Unsaturated fats will not only boost your heart health but also improve your serotonin levels,” says the Cleveland Clinic. Think avocados, peanut butter and other nuts. such as walnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios. Almonds, for instance, are full of protein, as well as magnesium, which promotes muscle relaxation. Just be sure to avoid unhealthy saturated fats and trans fats, which reduce serotonin levels and make sleep more elusive.
5. Warm Drinks
There’s a reason why mom always recommended that glass of warm milk at bedtime – milk, like other dairy products, contains tryptophan. “Plus, it’s a good source of calcium, which helps regulate the production of melatonin,” says U.S. News. Warm milk with a dash of honey is especially soothing. Decaffeinated herbal teas can also help, particularly relaxing herbs like chamomile or peppermint. Many people drink teas with added valerian root, an herb that has been used for centuries as a natural sedative. Avoid caffeinated beverages, though; even small amounts of caffeine can prevent sleep.
What Not to Eat Before Bed
A quick note on foods to avoid: some edibles (and drinkables) may seem like tempting nighttime treats, but may actually have a negative effect on sleep and rest. Here are a few tips for what NOT to eat before bed:
- Anything that tends to upset the digestive system, like greasy or spicy foods
- Eating too much before bed, as it may lead to indigestion and weight gain
- Eating large amounts of protein, which can be difficult to digest
- Excessive sweets: “Diets high in refined sugar can cause indigestion and trigger insulin surges that interfere with the hormones that affect sleep,” notes Dr. Oz
- Don’t drink caffeinated beverages (or eat too much chocolate!) for at least three to eight hours before bed
- Don’t use alcohol to try to fall asleep as it may initially make you sleepy, but it negatively affects the quality of sleep
- Limit liquids before going to bed, particularly important for older adults: “It takes about 90 minutes for the body to process liquids, so limit liquids of any kind for at least 90 minutes prior to bedtime if the need to urinate wakes you up in the middle of the night,” suggests nutritionist Joy Bauer on the Today Show