There’s nothing like a bad case of indigestion to mess with a good night’s sleep. But, surprisingly this is just one digestive factor that can keep you from sleeping well and feeling rested. What and how you eat impacts the absorption of critical nutrients and the flow of food through your digestive system. Sleep gives the body an opportunity to relax or reset multiple systems, including metabolism and hormonal balances that directly and indirectly affect how long and deeply you sleep. Eat well and your body is at peace. Eat poorly and it’s agitated. To learn more about the important link between digestion and sleep—and how we can best capitalize on it—we spoke to our own digestion guru, Andrew L. Rubman, ND.
DR. RUBMAN’S SECRETS TO A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
Well-nourished people sleep more soundly, observes Dr. Rubman. To get your full night’s rest, Dr. Rubman has advice you should follow, plus suggestions on what you should avoid. His secrets to a good night’s sleep…
- Get enough fiber. Doing so makes it less likely you’ll awaken with stomach cramps, and also helps with removal of wastes expelled by the liver. He recommends a diet comprised of at least half unprocessed foods. Adequate fiber—in foods such as steamed veggies, ripe fruits, whole grain bread, brown rice and oats—is essential to efficient digestion, staving off problems such as constipation, irritability and sleeplessness. Fiber also stimulates the growth of healthy flora in the gut…moves food efficiently through the digestive system, and binds and transports bile acids and cholesterol from the body. Because Americans consume about half the fiber they should, Dr. Rubman frequently prescribes the fiber supplement glucomannan for his patients to take 30 minutes before lunch and dinner and again before bedtime with a large glass of water. Other helpful hints: Consume three square meals a day…chew food thoroughly…and limit beverages with meals to guarantee adequate stomach acid for digestion.
- Avoid hard-to-digest foods. Excessive red meat, alcohol, white bread, fast foods, fatty or fried items and sugary snacks and desserts require the stomach and liver to work overtime. Overwhelming the system interferes not only with digestion but also with sleep.
- Monitor your B vitamin levels, including B-6 and B-12. In order for the body to effectively convert dietary tryptophan—from foods such as turkey and other animal protein, dairy, eggs and fish—into serotonin, which Dr. Rubman calls the “good night moon” hormone, the body requires a sufficient supply of vitamin B-6. Note: Remember that vitamins used for medicinal reasons require medical oversight.
- Calcium and magnesium are critical to relaxation. In addition to building strong bones, these vital nutrients relax the muscles of the digestive tract and decrease digestive irritability. Dr. Rubman often prescribes the calcium supplement Butyrex (from T.E. Neesby in Fresno, California) for his patients. It contains calcium, magnesium and butyric acid, a fatty acid found in butter and milk. Butyrex is calcium and magnesium in its most easily absorbed form. Also beneficial: A warm, milky “nightcap.” Dr. Rubman’s favorite is herbal tea with honey and a touch of heavy cream. If, like many people, you have trouble digesting cow’s milk, consider goat’s and sheep’s milk, which are good alternatives.
- Don’t eat too close to bedtime. On average, the stomach takes between two and four hours to empty its contents after eating. A full stomach works best in an upright position, with the digestive system functioning like a top-loading washing machine, Dr. Rubman explains. If you turn a fully loaded machine on its side, it will leak—so, too, with your stomach. This is one of the reasons why many people get gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)—when stomach contents back up into the esophagus, causing symptoms such as heartburn—after eating too close to bedtime. Dr. Rubman stresses that proper dietary habits, not antacids, are the best way to beat reflux and heartburn.
- Be careful about eating spicy foods that stimulate GI activity. These include dishes made with ingredients such as curry, cumin, cardamom and hot peppers. Though these contain important nutrients, you’ll do best to eat them many hours before retiring for the night. If you’ve ever eaten Indian or Chinese take-out and had it “repeat” on you, you’re familiar with this phenomenon. Satisfy your yen for spicy foods at lunch, not dinner.
BETTER DIGESTION = BETTER HEALTH OVERALL
These simple strategies will not only help you get a good night’s sleep, notes Dr. Rubman, they’ll help your digestion overall, which will also make you feel and function better. If you continue to suffer from indigestion and/or sleep disturbances despite taking appropriate measures, be sure to consult your health care professional.