CAIS: LeAnn Nickelson on Food & Sleep

I usually have no difficulty falling asleep…the first time. It’s the second time that’s tough…after I’ve woken up at 2 or 3 in the morning thanks to rumblings in my stomach from something eaten hours earlier. Perhaps the most personally practical session I attended at the CAIS brain institute was LeAnn Nickelson’s Brain-Smart Foots That Maximize Learning.

Yes, the session was about brain-smart foods, but as you may have read in my previous post, a sound night’s sleep helps to consolidate memories and, hence, learning. Therefore, it comes in handy to understand how what you eat can impact how your sleep.

Here are the sleep and nutrition tips shared by LeAnn. (Most of this is either direct-quoted or paraphrased from page 30 of her information packed handout.)

  1. Melatonin and serotonin are utilized in bringing about and maintaining sleep. Carbohydrates help produce serotonin, so try eating 1 to 1.5 ounces of a low-fat carb about 30 minutes prior to sleep. (9/1/08 I’ve been having an email exchange with a reader and have decided that this needs to be clarified. The snack should consist of complex carbs as opposed to simple carbs.)
  2. Avoid drinking caffeine after late afternoon.
  3. Exercise produces a surge in sleep hormones but be sure to finish with your exercise at least 4 hours prior to falling asleep. Exercise is beneficial for a number of reasons, including helping to work off stress, which may otherwise be a factor in promoting poor sleep.
  4. Alcohol and REM (the portion of sleep when you dream) are not compatible. Less REM is associated with more night awakenings and more restless sleep, so be sure to have your last drink more than 2 hours prior to bedtime, and keep overall alcohol intake to a low quantity.
  5. Those large dinners filled with fatty foods should be avoided, especially if eaten later in the evening. Heavy meals stimulate prolonged digestive action, which will make for a wakeful sleep. If you like large meals, try having them at breakfast and lunch, instead of at dinner.
  6. Spicy foods, which have been my sleep nemesis, and gas-forming foods can wake you up in the middle of the night if you have them at dinner. Again, try having them at lunch, instead of at dinner.
  7. Check that your body is getting its required quantity of vitamins and minerals.
  8. Set a bedtime ritual that helps program your body to expect sleep.
  9. And if the first tip doesn’t suffice, try a cup of warm milk at bedtime.

3 thoughts on “CAIS: LeAnn Nickelson on Food & Sleep

  1. Pingback: CAIS: David Eagleman on Sleep | Neurons Firing

  2. synapsesensations Post author

    Hi Martin,

    I did some research and found the following research that supports LeAnn’s tip of eating some carbs prior to bed time. It appears that how much in advance of bed the cards are eaten will impact the effectiveness of their promoting sleep. I hope this helps. If you find other info to the contrary, please feel free to share it here. Thanks!


    2/2007 ? Carbs May Help You Fall Asleep Faster

  3. Martin

    Your first tip seems a bit weird to me since carbs will raise the level of sugar in your blood. This will, in my experience, makes you less tired. Just look at what people who work night shifts do to stay awake: eat, drink, move about, splash cold water in your face, expose yourself to light etc, and avoid it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s