Eating for Better Sleep

Foods that may help you sleep are typically tryptophan-containing foods. Tryptophan is the amino acid that the body uses to make serotonin, the neurotransmitter that slows down nerve traffic so your brain isn’t so busy working. Foods that keep you awake are foods that typically stimulate neurochemicals that stimulate the brain.

Tryptophan is a precursor of the sleep-inducing substances serotonin and melatonin. This means tryptophan is the raw material that the brain uses to build these relaxing neurotransmitters. Making more tryptophan available, either by eating foods that contain this substance or by seeing to it that more tryptophan gets to the brain, will help to make you sleepy. On the other hand, nutrients that make tryptophan less available can disturb sleep.

Eating carbohydrates with tryptophan-containing foods makes this calming amino acid more available to the brain. A high carbohydrate meal stimulates the release of insulin, which helps clear from the bloodstream those amino acids that compete with tryptophan, allowing more of this natural sleep-inducing amino acid to enter the brain and manufacture sleep-inducing substances, such as serotonin and melatonin. Eating a high-protein meal without accompanying carbohydrates may keep you awake, since protein-rich foods also contain the amino acid, tyrosine, which perks up the brain. For those of you who follow a Lion or Otter, this may be a bit more difficult.

It does, however, explain why many of our patients who type out to a Lion Diet Type™ and a Otter Diet Type™ have trouble staying awake if they consume high carbohydrate-containing meals. These types of people are much more sensitive to the sleep-producing effects of these foods.


When tryptophan and tyrosine arrive at the brain cells, if more tyrosine amino acids enter the brain cells, neuroactivity will rev up. If more tryptophan amino acids get in the brain, then brain activity will calm down. Along comes some insulin which has been searching for carbohydrates in the bloodstream. Insulin keeps the tyrosine amino acids in the blood stream, allowing the brain-calming tryptophan effect to be higher than the effect of the brain-stimulating tyrosine.

In theory, it would make sense that you could take advantage of this biochemical anomaly by choosing protein or carbohydrate-rich meals, depending on whether you want to perk up or slow down your brain. For people who need to be alert during the day, higher protein, medium-carbohydrate meals are best eaten for breakfast and lunch. For dinner and bedtime snacks, meals or snacks that are higher in complex carbohydrates, with a smaller amounts of protein that contain just enough tryptophan to relax the brain may prove beneficial for those who have trouble sleeping.

You might be thinking, “Oh, I could just have that ice cream they told me to stop eating? Or maybe a bag of chips?” An all-carbohydrate snack, especially one high in junk sugars, is less likely to help you sleep. You’ll miss out on the sleep-inducing effects of tryptophan, and you may set off the roller-coaster effect of plummeting blood sugar followed by the release of stress hormones (like cortisol) that will actually keep you awake.

The best bedtime snack seems to be those with both complex carbohydrates and protein, and perhaps some calcium. Calcium helps the brain use the tryptophan to manufacture melatonin. This explains why dairy products, which contain both tryptophan and calcium, are one of the top sleep-inducing foods. See, there was some merit to your grandmother telling you to drink some warm milk.

But please remember, your Diet Type, may actually take precedence to the above facts. For example, we find that patients who type out as those who needing to follow a higher protein, lower carbohydrate diet (Hauser Diets Lion and Otter types), do well with protein, particularly in the AM and PM as described above. If they consume carbohydrates during the day, they typically get tired. So it would make more sense for these types of people to follow the above recommendations. However, those who type out as requiring more carbohydrates and less protein such as Hauser Diets Monkey and Giraffe Types may not need to follow these principles as closely, as they may not be as easily affected by these foods.

Some foods will typically contribute to restful sleep, while other foods may keep you awake. Here is a list of foods that you may help you get a more restful night sleep.

Foods high in the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan:

• Whole grains
• Beans
• Rice
• Hummus
• Lentils
• Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds

Foods that are high in carbohydrates and calcium, and medium-to-low in protein

The foods also make ideal sleep-inducing bedtime snacks. Some examples:

• Whole-grain cereal with milk or soy milk
• Oatmeal with milk and raisins
• Cheese and crackers

The perfect bowl of oatmeal for a Monkey would include a few pieces of dried fruit and some cinnamon for flavor. Or you could think outside of the box and add some veggies such as finely chopped zucchini, broccoli and tomatoes with a pinch or salt and a little butter – yum!

And don’t neglect the homemade organic oatmeal – adding hot water to a packet of flavored oatmeal is not a good source of nutrition. The sugar and additives in these packets counteract all of the health benefits that pure oatmeal has to offer.

Relaxation Dinners

Meals that are higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein will typically help you relax in the evening and help set you up for a good night’s sleep. Try the following “dinners for sleep”:

• Whole grain pasta with fresh parmesan cheese and veggies
• Hummus with whole wheat pita bread and veggies

Hummus is a Mediterranean-based dip that is made with chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, and garlic.

Hummus is considered a fat

Even though hummus is made from chickpeas, also knows as garbanzo beans, which are complex carbs, a big chunk of the calories come from fat. This is because the other primary ingredients are olive oil and tahini, a high fat sesame seed paste.

So as a fat Monkeys will want to use it in small portions as a way to dress up a pita pocket with cucumber and tomato, or any veggie-based food.