Ever Wonder How Your 5 Senses Impact Your Sleep?

After hearing the staggering facts on sleep deprivation, and its effects on one’s health and the health and well-being of those around them, such as:

Each year sleep-related accidents and mistakes cost U.S. businesses an estimated $56 billion a year, causes nearly 25,000 deaths and results in over 2.5 million disabling injuries [1]. I decided to focus on ways to increase sleep quality in a natural and healthy manner. 

Often times many people take the quick fix approach to solving sleep problems with potentially dangerous solutions like sleeping pills.  According to the Alliance for Natural Health, 60 million prescriptions for sleeping pills were filled in 2011, that’s compared with 47 million in 2006[2].  The number continually increases as the general population uses a quick fix strategy for sleep.  Unfortunately sleeping pills may make you go to sleep quicker BUT according to a study published in the British Medical Journal, if you take a prescription sleep aid, even as little as 18 pills throughout the year, you increase your risk of premature death by four times. And if that isn’t bad enough—you increase your risk of cancer by 35%[3].

With 70 million Americans (22% of population in U.S.) suffering from a sleep disorder and 42 million of those 70 million chronically suffering from a sleep disorder, it can be no surprise that sleeping pill consumption is on the rise[4]. 

But have no fear, there are many simple ways to increase your quality of sleep in a natural, and healthy way.  Instead of the obvious suggestions for increased quality of sleep, I have focused on all 5 of our senses (Taste, Hearing, Smell, Touch and Sight).  Each one of these senses can be used to encourage your body to relax and place your mind at ease, which provides a great base for a good night’s rest. 

A great night’s sleep is not only attributed to a single cause and effect.  Great sleep comes from a combination of elements.  Many, if not all of those elements are under your control.  If you engage each of your 5 senses to stimuli that promote sleep, you will find your quality of sleep may improve significantly.  Below I have listed each of the 5 senses and how to stimulate each sense prior to sleep to maximize quality. 

Part 1 - Taste

Food you eat prior to sleep can positively or negatively affect your sleep.  Keep reading to discover what foods can promote sleep, and what foods can deter sleep.

Foods You SHOULD NOT Eat

Before sleep we know not to eat high fatty foods because our body cannot burn off the calories prior to sleep, so our body will be working through the night to attempt to digest the fats and protein.  Besides food containing high fat and heavy protein, food containing sugar is never a good option prior to bedtime either, because the high sugar content promotes nightmares. According to an article on the Fox News Network, a recent study has shown that 7 out of 10 people who eat junk foods like candy bars before bed are more likely to have nightmares[5].  

High fat, heavy proteins and junk food with high sugar content should be eaten at least 2 hours prior to sleep.  During digestion of these foods an increased amount of blood flow to the digestive system occurs which can keep you awake.  If you allow for two hours of digestion prior to sleep the heaviest part of digestion can take place and some of the sleep enhancing effects can take place after the two hour period of time.

Foods You SHOULD Eat

Now that we have the foods that we SHOULD NOT eat prior to sleep out of the way, let’s get into what we CAN eat.

When I was a boy, I remember my mom would make me a nice glass of warm milk, if I could not go to sleep.  At the time I had no idea why this worked, but it worked like clockwork.  Warm milk provides a number of sleep inducing effects from the tryptophan amino acid that it contains and the effect is has on the melatonin in your brain.  Both tryptophan and melatonin create a sense of calm and relaxation.  I guess this is why they say, “momma knows best.”

Cottage cheese is a great snack to be eaten at least 2 hours prior to sleep because it contains light, slow-digesting casein proteins that will distribute the amino acids to the muscle tissues for hours to come.  Cottage Cheese contains the amino acid tryptophan, which will naturally induce sleep in the body and help you get a better night's rest

Oatmeal is another great nutritious snack prior to sleep because of its rich fiber carbohydrate profile which releases serotonin.  Serotonin is a “feel-good” serotonin, that decreases stress and calms the body.  Peanuts, and peanut butter is another snack that provides the release of serotonin via the rich source of niacin that peanuts provide.  Peanuts are rich in fat and protein so the serving size should be kept to a minimum. 

If your sweet tooth grabs you prior to sleep, put it to sleep with the only fruits that contain the sleep inducing hormone, melatonin.   Those great fruits are the grape and the cherry.  Add some grapes and cherries to cottage cheese and you might in fact have the best pre-sleep snack, known to man. 

In conclusion, the snacks/foods that contain low-fat, low-sugar, high melatonin and high serotonin are the foods we should be consuming prior to sleep.  The food we eat before sleep should remain a snack of some sorts and not a whole meal, as we now know that a large caloric intake prior to sleep will keep the body up digesting instead of inducing the body into a relaxed nature. 

Next week I will be focusing on the senses of smell and touch.  Come back next week to find out how something as small as a scent can provide the foundation of an environment conducive to sleep.

[1] Thorpy, Michael and Jan Yager. 2001. Encyclopedia of Sleep and Sleep Disorders. 2nd Ed. New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc.

[2] "Die Early with Sleeping Pills." Anh-usa.org. The Alliance for Natural Health USA, 29 Oct. 2012. Web. 17 Apr. 2013.

[3] Mann, Denise. "Sleeping Pills Linked to Raised Risk of Death, Cancer: Study." US News. U.S.News & World Report, 28 Feb. 2012. Web. 17 Apr. 2013.

 [4] Nadelson, Carol C., ed. 2001. Sleep Disorders. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers.

[5] Golokhov, Dave. "10 Foods to Avoid before Bed." Fox News. FOX News Network, 15 Apr. 2012. Web. 17 Apr. 2013.


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