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Strategies to solve sleeping issues

September 28, 2009

Yesterday I ate:

– A few raspberries (pre-breakfast breakfast. Whenever I go out for breakfast I always need something small to hold me over until we get to the restaurant)

– 1/2 plate of tofu scramble with a multigrain tortilla, kale, salsa, and a little bit of vegan sour cream at Fresh Cafe- this was excellent! I was wary about tofu because it was the first time I ever ordered tofu on my own. Normally I just have a taste of someone else’s (besides the Tofurky I’ve been eating, of course). But the marinade was really good and I enjoyed this immensely. I also had a taste of the mother dear’s freshly squeezed orange juice at the cafe.

– The other 1/2 of my tofu scramble with a handful of raspberries and 1/2 red pear. I’d intended on saving my leftovers for today’s breakfast, but it was so tasty that I decided to just finish it in the afternoon.

– Chickpea curry with basmati rice and roti bread at Charisma restaurant

Strategies to solve sleeping issues: the association between calcium and sleep

On Thursday afternoon, I spent about two hours talking to a nutritionist, Nicole Choptain. We got along famously; our health philosophies couldn’t be more similar! It was wonderful to sit down and have a really good chat with someone as equally passionate about health as myself. The first part of our session was so that we could assess my personal nutrition habits and needs and the second part of it was for me to interview her for my Living Well column.

A lengthy discussion led to our determination of a number of things for my personal nutrition plan. After we talked about how I feel from eating certain foods and the way that they affect my body, we agreed that the best course of action to take is to decrease the fats in my diet and increase the proteins. I run very well off of a higher ratio of carbohydrates, but a main problem of mine is that I’m not getting enough balance throughout the day of proteins. I might be eating once every couple hours, but it’s mostly carbs and fats and very little proteins. Now, I’m working on including protein more frequently throughout the day.

We also looked at calcium intake and the association between a lack of calcium and poor sleeping habits. I have struggled with sleep deprivation and nightmares my whole life. Nicole believes that it could be metabolic. As soon as she suggested that, the light bulb went off- of course! I always say that between nutrition and fitness we can balance just about everything and improve our health in all aspects of life, yet I neglected to put that belief into practice when it came to my sleeping habits.

To combat an inability to fall asleep (as well as problems with staying asleep and not waking up frequently throughout the night), Nicole recommended calcium loading. Consuming 600-800 mg of calcium (300 mg is roughly the same amount in a cup of milk; adults should have about 1200 mg of calcium per day) right before sleeping can help the body to relax and get a better sleep.

I am, for the most part, opposed to taking supplements. However, Nicole introduced me to calcium in powdered form: the only thing in this powder is calcium and magnesium, and one scoop is equal to 300mg of calcium needs. It’s a relief to find powdered supplements that are very reasonably priced without a whole host of additives! Of course, if we’re going to go the calcium loading route, we still have to make sure that we don’t wind up exceeded our intake of calcium to toxicity levels.*

She also had the idea of having a small snack about 1 1/2 hours before going to bed: specifically, a complex carb with a small amount of protein (such as a slice of whole wheat bread with some almond butter). The effects of this are that the serotonin levels in the body will balance out and help to regulate sleep. The protein in this little snack is necessary because although our bodies can run on carbs for a very long time, at some point our blood sugar is going to drop. This also might be why I have sleeping issues; if I eat at night, it tends to be something heavier on carbs (fruit or popcorn, for example). My body is going without protein for too long.

A few more things that can help with sleeping better is deep breathing and drinking tea. I have started to implement these small changes and am finding them to be very successful. I have just been taking a half scoop of calcium powder at night because I want to build myself up to a couple scoops. This is partly so that my body can get used to it and partly so that my taste buds can get used to it. The calcium powder is tasteless but there’s also a noticeable difference when it’s mixed in the water… the way that tap water is different from well water, for example. But that, as well as the deep breathing right before falling asleep, is working wonders.

This is years of having terrible sleeps, starting to turn around in one weekend. Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food! How has changing your nutrition habits affected another part of your wellbeing?

*Edited to add: Dr. J sent me this link about how calcium levels predict prostate cancer in men– I’ve also known of people who got kidney stones from having too much calcium in their system. As always, too much of anything is not a good thing! That’s why we should always talk to a dietician or a doctor or do plenty of research on our own before taking any kind of supplement. If you’re not sure, feel free to send me an email; I’m not a licensed professional, but I’m sure I can either put you in touch with someone who can help you out or else I can do a little research for you. I enjoy the nutrition research.

16 comments

  1. Well that is very interesting, as I too have issues falling asleep and enjoy a more carb intense diet. I think I will try some of this out and see if it helps me too! Thanks


  2. Thanks for the info regarding calcium! I’ll have to experiment a bit as I have sleep problems too…

    Have a good week!


  3. Interesting. This post is an example of a subject where I have heard many different suggestions. I don’t know about the protein inclusion in the snack, I’m not sure I agree with it. Your body actually has a mechanism where it rises the blood sugar around 3-4 am, simply for the reason you were saying (you run out of carbs for energy). For this reason, I don’t think the protein is necessary, but hey I still like hearing other opinions!


  4. I’ve got the sleep thing going pretty well, but I know lots of people who don’t. I’ll be passing on your useful information. Thanks Sagan!

    I like Hippocrates 🙂


  5. I generally sleep well, but I have something called Restless Legs Syndrome that can make it hard to fall asleep. I’ve been taking a calcium magnesium tablet before bed for quite a few years now – the calcium has a sedative effect, the the magnesium helps to relax muscles. It does seem to help.


  6. Vegan MoFo coming in October! Come join the fun!
    http://theppk.com/blog/2008/09/16/veganmofo-is-upon-us/


  7. Oh, how I feel your pain on poor sleeping! I’ve suffered from insomnia for years – it seems to run in our family and affect only the women.

    For me, I have noticed that when I eat a more balanced diet and exercise regularly, I sleep better. I also try not to have caffeine or too much sugar in the afternoon, and do my best not to take naps after I get home from work. Even when I’m freakishly tired.

    Once I have health insurance again (don’t get me started!!) I think I might go talk to someone about it, and see if this calcium business might help me, too.


  8. Huh – I wonder if the reason that I still sleep so well (despite being 8 mos. pregnant) is all the calcium I take right before bed in the form of antacids?? Seriously, the heartburn is so bad these days I’m popping Tums like they’re m&ms. Very interesting! I look forward to reading if/how it helps you.


  9. ooh, interesting. i often have trouble falling asleep (my mind keeps running), but maybe i should take a look at some other things!


  10. Wow. It really is amazing how much diet and exercise really do impact every little corner of our lives. I’m begining to think I should talk to a nutritionist! Yours seems to have helped in so many ways already!


  11. Awesome post! i just found your blog through no meat athlete! loved what i’ve read so far!


  12. A little PB and milk before bedtime is way better than any sleeping pill. Or I sometimes have yogurt with a smidge of protein powder stirred in.

    Hope the changes help you out!


  13. Lia, Andrea, & Shannon- do let me know how it goes for you and if it helps.

    Gina- ooh interesting, really? I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on the subject.

    Dr. J- Hippocrates is good stuff.

    JavaChick- good to take both calcium and magnesium!

    Amy- thanks for the link! If I’d known about it earlier I would have made my month of veganism in October rather than September… ah well.

    Gena- you could always try just drinking a glass of milk before sleeping to see if that has any affect (if paying to see someone/buying calcium powder isn’t something you’re willing to do). It might be a big help!

    Charlotte- aww I hope you’re feeling better.

    Meg- EVERYTHING is linked to diet and exercise 😉

    Natalie- Am so glad you popped by!

    Cammy- I agree. I’m so wary of sleeping pills. PB & milk sounds good to me!


  14. I’m skeptical. But I freakin’ hope it works.


  15. Hmmm – that is interesting! I’ve never heard of that before. I take calcium supplements because I don’t drink milk and have small bones – good to know it serves another purpose!


  16. Effective strategies to solve sleeping issues and like to add create a sleep schedule, exercise early and daily and check your medication to deal with obvious sleep disturbances. Avoid taking anything at least an hour before going to bed and avoid alcohol, smoking and caffeine. Do not oversleep or take naps in day timing.
    grayslake chiropractic



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