Summer is a time of abundance, everything from fresh vegetables in your garden to long hours of sunshine. The abundance of sunshine will provide our bodies with vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin”, which supports healthy bones, our immune system and our nervous system. But the long hours of daylight affect people in other ways, such as limiting hours of sleep.
There are about 15 hours of daylight between sunrise and sunset during June and July, and when you factor in the twilight and dusk hours, that leaves only about 8 hours of darkness. The long daylight hours can affect our ability to sleep, but there are a few things we can do to help get a restful night of sleep.
How much sleep do we need? A 2009 Japanese study determined that seven hours of sleep is optimal to aid in the prevention of chronic disease.
In 2010, a meta-analysis – a statistical review of several similar studies – included over one million people and determined that somewhere between six and eight hours is the optimum for physical and mental health.
What you eat and drink can affect your quality of sleep. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant and will definitely affect sleep patterns. Many studies have shown caffeine should not be consumed after 3:00 p.m. Alcohol is commonly thought of as a sleep aid, and it is estimated that 20 percent of Americans use alcohol to help with sleep. A 2013 meta-analysis that included a total of 23 studies on alcohol and sleep determined that alcohol will help people fall asleep faster, but their quality of sleep is diminished.
What should we eat to help with sleep? Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that can help regulate sleep patterns. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps our body build protein and create the chemical known as serotonin. Studies have shown that these elements play a part in the quality of sleep. Melatonin can be found in many whole foods, such as sour cherries, red raspberries, almonds and goji berries.
Tryptophan can be found in oats, almonds, seeds and high protein foods. Whole grains, like whole wheat, have been shown to improve our ability to utilize tryptophan and aid in sleep.
If you are having trouble sleeping or if you wake up feeling tired, you may want to try adjusting your diet. Avoid alcohol at all times and caffeine in the evenings. Eat five or six whole grain crackers or a handful of unsalted almonds about 30 minutes before bed. If you crave a late-night snack, try a small bowl of oatmeal topped with ground flaxseed, raspberries, sour cherries, almonds and/or pumpkin seeds.
Make sure you take the time to enjoy the beautiful sunrise and sunset each day, but also make sure you get the rest you need to keep your mind and body in the best condition possible.
Learn more: Anti-Aging Part 1: Nutrition and Sleep