And when it comes to extra weight, that's a good thing
There's some good news for all of us who are looking for yet another healthy rationale or grabbing a little more sleep each night. An MRI study carried out at Columbia University a few years back monitored the brain activity of two dozen men and women as they looked at photographs of different types of food. What the researchers found was that the participants who had less sleep – and who described themselves as sleep deprived– had a much stronger neural response to the food items that would universally be described as "junk food."
What the study concluded was that the less you sleep, the more you crave foods that are high in salt and fat. A later study in the journal Sleep, sponsored by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, confirmed that the poor food choices matter – but also found that there are other, unrelated physiological processes that make sleep-deprived people more likely to gain weight.
Foods that can help you sleep at night
Along with the reminder that most of us could use a better night's sleep, it's good to keep in mind that some foods can help you fall asleep faster. In a recent My Healthy Lifestyle newsletter we looked at some food items that can help you feel energized. These four tasty and healthy foods have the opposite effect:
Kiwi Fruit: Chinese researchers found that people who ate two kiwi fruits before they went to bed slept longer and reported a better night's sleep overall. According to the study, the sleep-supporting qualities of kiwis are related to their high concentration of antioxidants and serotonin, both of which aid our natural sleep cycle.
Oatmeal: By substituting what's generally a breakfast dish for a later night snack, you get the advantage of oatmeal's low calories and healthy carbs – which help clear amino acids from the blood stream, allowing the tryptophan (that naturally occurs in oats) to have its drowsy effect on you. And if you don't want to take the time to prepare the oatmeal you can blend the raw flakes (serious blending will give you a smoother end product) with a glass of warm milk. In either case, choose the old fashioned type of oatmeal over the instant variety.
Almonds: It turns out that magnesium-rich foods help you sleep (and may also reduce depression) and almonds, which require no preparation except chewing, are loaded with magnesium. Along with magnesium which enhances the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep cycle, almonds also contain tryptophan as a bonus.
Bananas: Just peel the skin and you have another great choice for a restful sleep. Like almonds, bananas contain tryptophan and magnesium. As a triple bonus, bananas also contain high concentrations of potassium that has been demonstrated to help relax muscles.
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