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Eating Right to Promote Sleep

Insomnia can occur for many reasons, including stress, health problems and change of lifestyle. A well-balanced diet helps the body function well, makes you fall asleep faster and deeper. Some foods promote sleep, while others may affect the sleep pattern. If you are having a trouble sleeping, you need to pay attention to what you eat.

Eating too much or too late can delay the emptying of the stomach leading to physical discomfort when lying down. The evening meal should be light and finished 3 hours before bedtime.
For those who often get an upset stomach, gas or abdominal distention, they should limit the amount of heavy, fatty and spicy foods consumes.
Caffeine is a stimulant that keeps you from sleeping, so limit the consumption of coffee, cola, tea, sodas and chocolate. Avoid drinking coffee in the late afternoon and evening. Remember that some medications also contain caffeine such as those for headache.
Limit the amount of liquids after dinner, as a full bladder will often wake you up during the night.
Although alcohol may make you feel sleepy, but it also disturbs brain functioning leading to less restful sleep and frequent awakening.
Smoking seems to have a calming effect, however, nicotine is actually a brain stimulant and can cause sleep problems.
Some people may be sensitive to flavor enhancers and preservatives, e.g., monosodium glutamate (MSG), which can cause stomach upsets, headache and other reactions. These substances are found in some processed foods and Asian foods, so avoiding these foods may help you sleep better.
Nocturnal hypoglycemia (low blood glucose at night) is an important cause of insomnia, especially for those who eat too many refined carbohydrates. A bedtime snack can keep the blood sugar level steady throughout the night; suitable foods are crackers, whole grain cereals or breads.

Generally, people may react differently to the same food, you have to experiment and learn your own "trigger" foods.

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), one's physical constitution varies from person to person, and all aspects of a person's lifestyle including work, relationships and daily habits can affect it. Eating according to your body type will help achieve overall health and improve your ability to get a restful sleep.

TCM views insomnia a manifestation of a shen (spirit) disorder that always accompanied with heart disharmony, because the heart is the residence of the spirit. Food and herbs that nourish the heart help calm the mind and ease insomnia. These include longan aril, jujube seed, mulberry, Chinese arborvitae kernel, schisandra, reishi mushroom, lotus seed, poria, lily bulb, wheat and barley.

Chinese arborvitae kernel Schisandra Sour jujube seed

People under emotional stress usually have an overly active mind; they have to disperse the stagnated liver and smooth qi (vital energy) flow in relieving emotional strain, so as to encourage both body and mind to sleep. Good foods for this are oranges, tangerines, celery, daylily, jasmine, rose bud, chrysanthemum, white plum flower, and dried tangerine peel/pith. Frozen foods and foods with a sour flavor impede the qi flow of the body, and thus should be limited.

In addition, mentally demanding jobs and prolonged stress exhaust the fundamental substances of the body, lead to under-nourishment, further increasing the severity of insomnia. Foods and herbs like angelica root, fleeceflower root, wolfberry, carrot, spinach, animal liver, litchi, red dates, grape, meats, fishes, mushrooms, ginseng and longan aril can be used to replenish the storage of qi and blood. Since individuals who have trouble sleeping are also likely to have digestive problems, ingredients like Chinese yam, red dates, poria, coix seed, pilose asiabell root, largehead atractylodes rhizome, lotus seed, hyacinth bean and hawthorn fruit should be added to overcome this. Sometimes, People who have had major illness may have sleep problems during recovery. They could use these foods to restore the unbalanced state to harmony and promote sleep as well.

Elderly people tend to wake often and early due to poor circulation and atherosclerosis in the brain. They need to take care of their brains and improve the blood circulation. Foods that help to lower blood lipids and blood pressure are seaweed, laver, hawthorn fruit, black fungus, mushrooms, garlic, onion, lotus leaf, lotus plumule, celery, water chestnut, and salted whole jellyfish. Herbs like tall gastrodia tuber, Sichuan lovage, acorus, selfheal fruit spike, cassia seed, achyranthes root, and chrysanthemum can be used to make medicinal dishes to improve brain function.

Chronic painful conditions usually interrupt sleep. When people also have a sore back, cold limbs and a pale complexion that indicate a tendency of yang deficient, they are recommended to eat more warming foods (which are yang foods) like mutton, chives, cherry, eels, onion, animal kidneys, walnut, chestnut, shrimps and beans, so as to enhance the overall body functioning and help ease the pain. Furthermore, based on the nature of the pain, tonic herbs like dodder seed, psoralea, astragalus root, peach kernel, cistanche, rhemannia rhizome, red sage root and notoginseng can be used to make medicinal dishes for improving local circulation and relieving pain.