If you’re ever told that drinking a glass of warm milk can help you sleep, don’t laugh. There is some science to back this home remedy. Carbohydrate-containing foods like milk, cereal or a slice of toast provide the brain with an amino acid called tryptophan. The brain uses tryptophan as a building block to manufacture a neurotransmitter called serotonin. And serotonin has been shown to facilitate sleep, improve mood, diminish pain and even reduce appetite.
Since I don’t often recommend snacks after dinner, especially for clients who are trying to lose weight, this recommendation is not intended to make you gain weight. Eat something small or drink a glass of low-fat milk or soy beverage. Try it for a week. If your insomnia has not improved, look at other factors that may be disrupting sleep.
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If you’re feeling depressed or irritable, try a high-carbohydrate meal that contains very little protein. The more protein you eat, whether it’s chicken, meat or fish, the more amino acids will be available to compete with tryptophan for entry into the brain. Remember that we want to let tryptophan into the brain so it can be used to produce serotonin. Try pasta with tomato sauce, a toasted whole-grain bagel with jam or a bowl of cereal with low-fat milk.
If you’re suffering from fuzzy thinking, make sure your breakfast includes some carbohydrates—be sure to eat breakfast, period. Studies in both children and adults have shown that, compared to breakfast skippers, individuals who eat the morning meal score higher on tests of mental performance that morning. The speed of information retrieval, a component of memory, seems to be most affected by breakfast skipping.
Breakfast foods like cereal, fruit, yogurt and whole-grain toast supply carbohydrates, that, when converted to glucose in the bloodstream, the brain cells use for energy. After a night of sleeping we wake up with low blood-glucose levels that need to be replenished.