Currently mechanisms of sleep are only partially clear and subject of intense research. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “sleep is an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs.”

Determining the specific amount of sleep that is sufficient for optimal health is difficult since it may vary depending on age of the individual, performance, coexisting health problems and lifestyle and environmental factors. As a guideline though, studies indicate that getting enough sleep, 8-10 hours for adults may provide significant long-term health benefits.

According to research conducted by Jinny Hopp, former Human Development Specialist, Jasper County, University of Missouri Extension, as many as two-thirds of Americans lack enough sleep. Jinny reports that a 2011 National Sleep Foundation poll found that 43 percent of Americans between the ages of 13 and 64 say they rarely or never get a good night's sleep during the week. In addition, more than 60 percent report a sleep problem every night, including snoring, waking in the night or waking up too early.

Researchers are also searching for links that demonstrate a relationship between sleep and its influence on dietary choices of individuals. Some cross-sectional and epidemiologic studies have demonstrated that those who sleep less are more likely to consume energy-dense foods, including fats or refined carbohydrates, more likely to have more irregular meal patterns, and less likely to consume adequate amounts of vegetables. A review published in Nutrition Research in April of 2012 by Peuhkuri K, and others shows these relationships.

The review also showed inconsistent findings in clinical trials; using mostly healthy people. The studies show that foods most helpful in promoting sleep increased bioavailability of tryptophan and production of serotonin. It is important to consider that the studies that link tryptophan effect to better sleep relied on doses that would require eating a pound of meat at a sitting, which would be unhealthy.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid (the body cannot make it and has to be consumed in the diet), and is found in cheese, chicken, eggs, milk, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, soy and tofu, turkey. Our bodies’ body uses tryptophan to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter, a chemical that is thought to promote sleep and balanced mood, and multiple functions including effects on appetite and memory. In addition, Dr. Michael Grandner, a sleep researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Wilfred Pigeon, a sleep researcher at the University of Rochester both agree that foods that impact production of serotonin, and melatonin (a sleep promoting hormone naturally produced in the body) are generally good for our health but show little effect in sleep studies.

With regard to health, several studies support the link between sleep disturbances and immune function, and inflammation. Although these relationships are complex and unclear, sleep deprivation is known to result in increased levels of inflammatory markers, which then lead to further activation of the inflammatory cascade. Studies have also shown associations between sleep disorders and in inflammatory bowel disease, a chronic immune-mediated inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract. As more of such studies are published, it is becoming apparent that individuals need to consider taking action to ensure they sleep better to prevent health problems associated with sleep disturbances.

Most researchers agree that eliminating habits or foods that interfere with sleep would a great way to deal with sleep problems. Here are some tips from several tips that may help:

• Avoid caffeine for four hours before bedtime. Caffeine typically stays in the body for four to six hours and may decrease melatonin levels in the body

• Avoid alcohol before bed, although it may make individuals doze off easier, the sleep is shallow causes one to awake later in the night.

• Avoid nicotine, and spicy meals may also be helpful as they interfere with sleep

• Keep a regular schedule. Sleep at the same time every night

• Light sleepers may wear ear plugs

•Avoid liquids near bedtime to avoid getting up needing to use the bathroom



-- Lydia Kaume is a Nutrition & Health Education Specialist at University of Missouri Extension. For more information, contact her at 816-482-5850 or email or visit