Do You Have a Sleep Disorder? Discover The Best Foods to Promote Sleep


By April McCarthy

Guest Writer for  Wake Up World

Sleep disorders are conditions that affect how much and how well you sleep. The causes range from poor habits that keep you awake to diagnosed conditions that disrupt your sleep cycle. If you don’t feel rested in the mornings, one of many sleep disorders could be responsible.

Our internal clock, or circadian rhythm, controls when we sleep and wake and plays a role in other biological processes as well, such as temperature regulation and hormone production. During the biological night, we experience changes in hormone levels, body temperature and the propensity to sleep. But sometimes disruptions in these variables can causes sleep problems.

A strong relationship exists between workplace daylight exposure and workers’ sleep, activity and quality of life. In 2010, 38 percent of U.S. adults said they were sleeping less than they were just five years earlier. Americans now average seven hours in bed per night, and close to 60 percent now report they have trouble sleeping at least a few nights every week.

Recently, scientists have also come to recognize that sleep is regulated by different systems. The knowledge that we have two roughly parallel forces guiding our need for sleep has opened the bedroom door to multiple ways of treating insomnia.

Where insomnia is concerned, we’re our own worst enemies. No matter how sleeplessness starts, it easily gets locked in place by our own behavior. All of the tactics people usually resort to in order to feel better after a bad night — napping, sleeping in, going to bed early — tend to undermine the body’s natural inclination to right itself after a short bout of insomnia.  As a result, the most powerful attack on the monster of insomnia is to do nothing at all. The first and best approach to sleeplessness is to let the sleep homeostat right itself, without making any behavioral attempt to compensate.

Not surprisingly, nutrition is an important factors in maintaining healthy sleep cycles. But before we look at the best (and worst) foods that promote a good night’s sleep, let’s look at some of the causes and affects of sleep disorders.

The Dangers of Poor Sleep

Insufficient sleep is a serious problem that poses a threat to your health and safety. Your sleep hygiene influences how much sleep you get and foods, vitamins, minerals and hormones all make a difference.  There is strong evidence that one function of sleep is to help consolidate the effects of waking experience.

Lack of sleep can take a toll on nearly every aspect of daily life. Research has linked sleep deprivation to car accidents, relationship troubles, poor job performance, job-related injuries, memory problems, and mood disorders. Recent studies also suggest sleep disorders may contribute to heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

The Sleep Cycle

There are two forms of sleep: REM sleep and non-REM sleep. REM stands for rapid eye movement and is associated with dreaming. It accounts for 25% of normal sleep, coming in longer periods toward morning. The rest of our sleep time is spent in NREM, which consists of four stages from light sleep (stage 1) to deep sleep (stage 4). Sleep disorders interfere with normal sleep cycles, preventing a good night’s rest.

How Much Sleep is Enough?

Sleep needs vary widely from person to person, but general guidelines are:

  • 16 hours for infants
  • 9 hours for teenagers
  • 7-8 hours for adults

Keep in mind that some adults do fine with 5 hours of sleep and others need as many as 10 hours per night.

Symptoms of Sleep Disorders

Symptoms vary depending on the type of sleep disorder but may include:

  • Excessive sleepiness during the day
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Snoring or brief pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Urge to move your legs at rest or an uncomfortable feeling in the legs at night

Lack of Sleep Affect Nutrients and Metabolism

Sleep problems generally are the result of a calcium/magnesium and/or a zinc/copper imbalance. These two ratios, of course, also determine your basal body metabolic rate (translate: how much fat you’ll burn every day.) If you get these two ratios into a healthy balance, you’ll have better ZZZZZs and lose pounds.

Sleep Disorders

Sleep Apnea

People with this sleep disorder have episodes when they stop breathing many times while they sleep. The breathing pauses last several seconds and trigger a switch from deep sleep to light sleep. These interruptions can lead to daytime sleepiness. Many people with sleep apnea don’t know they have it. Snoring is a common warning sign, and a spouse may notice breathing pauses followed by a snort or gasp.

Sleep apnea is most common in people who are male, overweight, and over age 65. Hispanics, African-Americans, and Pacific Islanders also have a higher risk of developing the condition. While it is more common in adults, sleep apnea sometimes occurs in young children who have enlarged tonsils.


Narcolepsy causes extreme sleepiness during the day. People may find it hard to function without naps, despite spending enough time in bed at night. Other warning signs include:

  • Being unable to move when you first wake
  • Losing muscle control with strong emotions
  • Dreaming during naps
  • Dream-like hallucinations as you fall asleep or wake up

People with narcolepsy enter REM sleep almost immediately, without the NREM sleep stages that normally lead up to dream sleep.


People with this sleep problem can literally get up and walk while they are sleeping. The episodes occur during the deeper stages of NREM sleep, and the person may do a variety of activities without waking up. Sleepwalkers typically don’t respond to questions and won’t remember what they did once they wake up. Sleepwalking is most common in children but can last into adulthood.

Exploding Head Syndrome

This disorder occurs during the onset of deep sleep, when the person is suddenly startled awake by a sharp, loud noise. These noises range from cymbals crashing to explosives going off. To the person hearing them, the explosions seem to originate either from right next to the person’s head or inside the skull itself. However, there is no pain involved, and no danger, either.

Sleep Paralysis

During REM sleep, dream activity ramps up and the voluntary muscles of the body become immobile. This temporary paralysis keeps us from acting out our dreams and hurting ourselves. Sometimes, though, the paralysis persists even after the person wakes up. You know you are awake and you want to move. But you just can’t. Sleep paralysis coincides with hallucinations. And these hallucinations, when they occur with sleep paralysis, are no picnic; people commonly report sensing an evil presence, along with a feeling of being crushed or choked.

Studies have found that certain factors — such as age, sleep deprivation and irregular sleeping patters — make you more likely to get sleep paralysis.

Night Terrors

Unlike nightmares, night terrors occur early in the night. They’re most common in children. The person in the midst of a terror may suddenly sit upright, eyes open, often yells or screams, and can’t be awakened or comforted. In some cases, night terrors mix with sleepwalking. After 10 or 15 minutes, the person usually settles back into sleep. Most don’t remember anything about their episode the next morning. The cause of night terrors is a mystery, but fever, irregular sleep and stress can trigger them.

REM Behaviour Disorder

If sleep paralysis is an example of too much immobility, so-called REM behaviour disorder is an example of too little. Sometimes, the brain doesn’t properly signal the body to stay still during REM sleep. When that happens, people act out their dreams. They may yell, thrash, punch and kick, and even get out of bed and run around. When woken up, they’ll usually remember their dream, but fat chance that they’ll recall moving around. Given the violence of these outbursts, injuries are common.

REM behaviour disorder occurs most often among older adults, and it can be a symptom of Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative neurological disorder. Doctors usually treat the disorder with medications that reduce REM sleep and relax the body.

Nocturnal Eating

People with sleep-related eating disorder go on eating binges at night, only to wake the next morning with little to no memory of the event. Some endanger themselves by chopping ingredients or turning on the stove. Others eat raw ingredients, like frozen food or plain butter.

The disorder is poorly understood, but, like sleepwalking, it occurs during non-REM sleep. Drugs that increase dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward and pleasure, can help stop the unconscious night-time snacking.


Sleep sex can range from loud sexual moans to self-injurious masturbation to sexual assault or rape. Most research on sexsomnia have involved small case studies. A study, which was published in 2007 in the journal  Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, suggested that sleep deprivation, stress, alcohol, drugs and physical contact with a bed partner play a role. But no one knows why some people respond to these triggers with sexual behaviour.

5 Best Foods to Promote Sleep

1. Cherries

Fresh, dried and tart cherries are one of the only natural food sources of melatonin, the chemical that controls the body’s internal clock to regulate sleep. Researchers who tested tart cherries and found high levels of melatonin recommend eating them an hour before bedtime or before a trip when you want to sleep on the plane.

2. Almonds

A handful of these heart-healthy nuts can send you snoozing because they contain both tryptophan and a nice dose of muscle-relaxing magnesium. They have the added benefit of supplying proteins that can help maintain a stable blood sugar level while sleeping, and help promote sleep by switching you from your alert adrenaline cycle to your rest-and-digest cycle. Try this bedtime snack: Have a tablespoon of almond butter or a 1-ounce portion of almonds to help your body relax.

3. Honey

Drizzle a little in your herbal tea. Lots of sugar is stimulating, but a little glucose tells your brain to turn off orexin, a recently discovered neurotransmitter that’s linked to alertness. Honey can promote relaxation and help ease you to sleep at night. The natural sugar found in honey raises our insulin slightly and allows tryptophan, to enter our brains more easily. Taking a spoonful of honey before bed can help you get restful sleep.

4. Flaxseeds

When life goes awry, and feeling down is keeping you up, try sprinkling 2 tablespoons of these healthy little seeds on your bedtime oatmeal. They’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a natural mood lifter. Many people notice that just 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil 1 hour before bed promotes a deeper sleep. Generally, fatty acids are involved in initiating and maintaining sleep. There are different categories of fatty acids that we need: omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acids. All three types of fatty acids play a role in sleep. Flax oil is a rich source of all three of them.

5. Bananas

They’re practically a sleeping pill in a peel. Potassium and magnesium are natural muscle relaxants, and bananas are a good source of both. They also contain the amino acid L-tryptophan, which gets converted to 5-HTP in the brain. The 5-HTP in turn is converted to serotonin (a relaxing neurotransmitter) and melatonin.

5 Worst Foods to Promote Sleep

1. Alcohol

Having a drink (or two) is one way to nod off more quickly, but how restful is an alcohol-induced slumber? While a nightcap may get you to doze off, you’re more likely to wake up during the night and may not feel as rested following your sleep. So although that glass of wine may help you get to sleep faster, the effect of consolidating sleep in the first half of the night is offset by having more disrupted sleep in the second half of the night which creates sleep deprivation in the long-term.

2. Spicy Foods

Research has shown over the years that a spicy meal at night can indeed lead to poor sleep. The most direct study to show this was published in The International Journal of Psychophysiology by a team of Australian researchers. On the nights that included spicy meals, there were marked changes in the subjects’ sleep patterns. They spent less time in both the light phase of sleep known as Stage 2 and the deep, slow-wave Stages 3 and 4. All of which meant that they experienced less sleep over all and took longer to drift off.

3. Fatty Foods

Research shows that people who often eat high-fat foods not only gain weight, they also experience a disruption of their sleep cycles. A heavy meal activates digestion, which can lead to nighttime trips to the bathroom. People who eat a lot of fatty foods may also have more difficulty sleeping. There seems to be a strong connection between the circadian processes, sleep and metabolism relating to the processing of fatty foods such as high-fat dairy, fried foods and fatty meats.

4. Coffee

It’s no surprise that an evening cup of coffee might disrupt your sleep. Even moderate caffeine can cause sleep disturbances. But don’t forget about less obvious caffeine sources, like, cola, tea, and decaffeinated coffee. For better sleep, cut all caffeine from your diet four to six hours before bedtime.

5. Dark Chocolate

Besides caffeine, chocolate also contains theobromine, another stimulant that can increase heart rate and sleeplessness. While dark chocolate is excellent for your health, try to avoid ingesting any chocolate 5 hours or less before bed.

A large body of research has documented that people who experience gratitude are happier and healthier.

If you’re an older adult who has trouble sleeping, don’t assume it’s a normal feature of advancing age.

Sleep Solutions

Increasing Magnesium

People with a magnesium deficiency suffer from “Type II insomnia.” They fall asleep easily but only experience a relatively short period of deep, restful sleep, that delicious time when your body is able to rebuild muscles, skin and bones. Most of the night they are trapped in light, useless sleep. They toss and they turn. Then, they wake up exhausted.

Ironically, people with too little magnesium in relation to calcium develop this trouble because they don’t have enough energy to sleep fitfully. Restful sleep requires a certain amount of energy to reach the stage of rejuvenating rest, which is characterized by rapid eye movement (REM). When you can’t maintain REM sleep for a prolonged period, fatigue eventually becomes chronic during your waking hours. (Your energy is zapped because you have too much calcium in relation to magnesium.)

People under stress are prone to this kind of insomnia because stress sops up all the magnesium it can find, creating a shortage.

Increasing Calcium

Insomnia (the Type I kind) has been associated with calcium for centuries. Did your Momma serve you a warm glass of milk and cookies before bedtime?

People who don’t have enough calcium have two sleep-related problems. First, they have great difficulty falling asleep. In most cases this occurs because low tissue calcium produces irritability. They’re just too upset to be able to fall asleep.

Second, people with low calcium levels are plagued with muscle cramps at night. These painful cramps occur even without any real exertion during the day. A calcium to magnesium imbalance causes these muscles to remain in a constant state of contraction. Ouch!

Warm milk (without the cookies, of course) before bedtime can help people lacking calcium fall asleep faster. But more dietary changes are needed to deal with the muscle cramps.

Too Much Copper

High copper levels affect the neurological system. They also stimulate the right side or creative hemisphere of the brain. (Artists typically have higher copper levels than electrical engineers.) Unfortunately, too much copper causes nightmares. Don’t eat chocolate, peanut butter or grapes before bedtime if you want to have sweet dreams.

So what’s weight loss have to do with this?

All four minerals are also crucial to the weight loss process. Calcium and copper can sedate or overstimulate the adrenal and thyroid glands, basically snuffing out your weight loss efforts with an ineffective metabolic rate. Fix the cal/mag and zinc/copper ratios and you can burn off those pounds, even while you sleep!

For the scientific, the proper calcium to magnesium ratio is 3 to 11 milligrams per 100 grams. The healthy zinc to copper ratio is 4 to 12 milligrams per 100 grams.


Melatonin is a wonder hormone that is far too underrated in terms of its dynamic effects on our health. It can control everything from our sleep/wake cycles to our reproduction, weight, mood and even strong anti-aging and anti-tumor effects. Melatonin is found in many foods such as mustard, goji berries, almonds, sunflower seeds, cardamom, fennel, coriander and cherries. However, it also easily absorbed through quality supplementation in therapeutic doses.

There is relatively good evidence that melatonin supplements can influence sleep and fatigue and can help with jet lag and some sleep problems.Melatonin is a well tolerated, non-habit-forming agent which does not produce grogginess. Some research shows that melatonin affects not only how quickly people fall asleep but also the duration and quality of sleep.

More evidence is coming forward showing that melatonin, when taken as a supplement, can stop or slow the spread of cancer, make the immune system stronger, or slow down the aging process.

In most cases, melatonin supplementation is safe in both low doses for short-term and long-term use.

How Much and What Kind of Melatonin Should You Take?

Life Choice uses the purest source of melatonin in the world. They only use 100% DMF (drug master file) patented pharmaceutical grade raw material; paying 700% more for their raw material than can be purchased without a patent. Why? The reasons are two-fold: first, the material is clinically researched, and secondly, the quality is consistently high with each order. Small batch manufacturing and the selection of raw materials create the difference that your body will notice.

Recommended dosage for adults in 5ml-15ml per day.

Previous articles by April:

About the author:  

April McCarthy  is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.

This article was reposted with the express permission of the kind crew at


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