Fatty, high-protein foods. We all know how important it is for good heart health to ease up on saturated animal fats, but doing so can also help the state of your adrenal glands–important not only for good sleep but also for your overall health. Red meat contains high levels of the amino acid tyrosine, which causes the adrenal glands to pump cortisol through your body. This hormone is part of the fight-or-flight reaction that prepares us to face or run away from danger–and certainly puts us in a heightened state that’s hardly conducive to falling and staying asleep. “Under normal circumstances, your adrenal activity is at its highest when you wake up and then descends throughout the day so it’s at its lowest ebb before you go to sleep,” says Taylor. “To promote good sleep, you need to support this adrenal rhythm with the foods you eat.” And for most that means turning the typical American diet upside down. Because high-protein foods stimulate the body, eat them in the morning and at midday, suggests Taylor. For dinner, steer clear of meats and other high-protein foods that will spike your adrenal glands and opt for vegetables and plant-based sources of protein instead.
Caffeine. While you may think that morning cup of joe or two won’t interfere with your ability to wind down later in the day, think again. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that affects the central nervous system. Although most doctors say it takes between four and seven cups of regular coffee a day to hinder sleep, caffeine–like red meat–revs the body up. “Caffeine can overstimulate the adrenals, which actually compounds fatigue as it wears off,” says Kravich. If you must have your morning cup, eat something nutritious with it and add milk or soy milk to dull the negative effects of the caffeine.
High-sugar, empty-calorie sweets. “Think of cakes and cookies as the other end of the spectrum from whole grains,” says Taylor. “Sweets give you quick energy followed by a crash,” she says. “Because the energy you get from sweets isn’t long and sustained, odds are you’ll wake up because you’re hungry.” Instead of typical desserts, opt for fruit or even some healthy fats and whole grains, such as a quarter of an avocado spread on whole grain toast. “Healthy fats are satisfying, and they calm the nervous system,” says Taylor.
Cold foods. Even during the hot summer months when you might be craving cold foods, such as salads, smoothies, and ice cream, do keep in mind that they’re not necessarily the best for promoting sleep, says Taylor. “When you eat cold foods, your body has to work hard to bring the food’s temperature up to your body temp,” she says. “If the food has been cooked, your body doesn’t have to spend as much energy breaking down the food, which is ideal for evening meals when the goal is to help your body unwind and work less.” Instead of a cold salad, for example, steam veggies and eat them at room temperature with a good olive oil drizzled on top.
Monica Bhide is a Dunn Loring, Virginia�based food writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Food & Wine. Her book, Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen, was released this month by Simon & Schuster.
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