This relatively new research focuses on leptin and ghrelin, two metabolic hormones that scientists discovered only during the last decade. When we eat, leptin signals that the body is satisfied, while ghrelin stimulates hunger. Researchers speculate that if we have enough leptin to suppress the secretion of ghrelin, we'll sleep through the night without awakening to eat. "They act in see-saw fashion, counterbalancing each other," says Culebras. "If the balance is thrown out of order, it may result in subtle signs that awaken us."
To achieve this hormonal balance, people with sleep disorders may find eating a snack before bedtime helpful. But some rules apply. First, eat only a light snack, not a heavy meal. The digestive system slows down while you sleep, so eating too much can make you uncomfortable, cause GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease, when food or liquid travels backward from the stomach to the esophagus, causing heartburn), or even cause you to choke while asleep.
A good choice is to include protein which is more difficult to digest. This stays in your digestion system longer making you feel fuller throughout the night. Good choices include a small bowl of cereal and milk, says Culebras. Beware of foods containing caffeine, including less obvious choices such as certain sodas and chocolate. Even decaffeinated beverages contain a small amount of caffeine; so do some medications.
Here's a list of great foods to eat to promote a good night's sleep. If you have issues with wheat, do be sure to get grains that are gluten-free.
- Whole Grain Graham Cracker Topped With Cottage Cheese And Sliced Kiwi This carb and protein duo lulls you to sleep. Cottage cheese is a surprisingly good source of protein, which helps create the sleep-promoting amino acid tryptophan. Crackers have carbohydrates that boost tryptophan's availability to the brain.
- Ham And Cheese Roll Up A small slice of cheese and one slice of tryptophan-packed ham will only set you back around 100 calories, enough to stop late-night stomach rumbles, but not so much that it will pack on the pounds.
- Handful Of Walnuts Walnuts are rife with melatonin—and eating them has been proven to increase levels in your blood, according a study in Nutrition. That's just the thing you need to improve your sleep-wake cycle, so you can drift off with ease.
- Whole Grain Toast With Almond Butter One tablespoon of almond butter offers up a good dose of magnesium; deficiency of the mineral has been linked to insomnia and muscle cramps, which can disrupt sleep.
- A Cup Of Soup with Protein Easy on your digestive system, warm liquids are inherently calming.
- Banana Smoothie with Nut Butter A blend of banana, nut butter, and low-fat milk, this smoothie supplies vitamin D and calcium. These two nutrients have been associated with decreased odds of having problems falling and staying asleep.
- Cottage Cheese with Natural Peanut Butter Cottage cheese is ideal before bed because it includes lots of casein protein, which releases slowly into the body. This ensures a steady supply of amino acids through the night. Adding natural peanut butter to this snack increases digestion time, enhancing the snack's ability to control hunger.
Also remember the good ol' standby of your favorite cereal and milk can fight off hunger blues during the night. by offering you filling whole grains and milk protein. Remember to also include some type of protein into your bedtime snack to stimulate promotion of sleep by keeping you fuller longer.