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Caregiving Tips: Help Seniors Eat for a Better Night's Sleep

Posted by Jill Troman on Aug 23, 2015 12:17:00 PM

For many seniors, achieving a restful night's sleep is but a dream.  Restless nights lead to increased fatigue during the day, diminished cognitive abilities and many other health concerns. My Dad was notorious for taking lengthy afternoon naps due to exhaustion from not sleeping well at night.  When late evening rolled around, he finally had some energy and would stay up late watching his favorite TV shows and snacking on unhealthy foods.  Not a healthy recipe for good, restorative rest.  I wondered if there were any dietary changes or foods that might promote better night time sleeping?   Here's what I learned:

dreamstime_2037450_lady_with_dog_resized-1Helping Seniors Sleep Better

  • Research findings on the subject are mixed.  There's more information available about what foods and drinks to avoid in the evening like:  high fat food, alcohol, sugary snacks, and caffeine.  Diuretic pills should not be taken before bedtime, unless directed by a  physician. Excess liquid consumption and diuretics will have your parent's bladder waking him up all night. 
  • Milk and Dairy products are winners!  The amino acids in milk produce serotonin which slows down nerve action. The calcium in dairy products helps the brain produce melatonin which is sleep promoting. Honey mixed with dairy products like cottage cheese and yogurt provides and extra boost.  Honey actually has been shown to stabilize blood sugar levels and contribute to the release of melatonin.  
  • Almonds help relax muscles.  Snacking on some magnesium rich almonds before bedtime can promote muscle relaxation and sleep.  They're a great protein source too which can keep blood sugar levels stable while resting. 
  • Cherries are packed with melatonin.  Stock your mom or dad's frig with cherry juice or some washed, ready to eat fresh cherries.  Dried cherries can also be kept on hand for a snack. Don't even think about sugary cherry pie!  
  • Try whole grain cereal with milk for a quick bedtime snack.  Dieticians are not recommending favorites like Lucky Charms or Captain Crunch here but healthy, whole grain cereals like Grape Nuts, Total or sugar free oatmeal. Complex carbs increase tryptophan in the blood stream, activating the sleep inducing hormones, serotonin and melatonin.  Oatmeal is a dietician's top pick because it's rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and potassium,  These are "All Star" nutrients  when it comes to great sleep.  Go one step further and encourage your parent to sweeten it with honey!
  • Bananas calm and relax.  Bananas are packed with magnesium and potassium, powerful natural muscle relaxers.  Show your parent how to use a blender to make a quick, EASY smoothie with banana, milk, and crushed ice. Delicious!
  • Chamomile tea with added melatonin is a great tonic. Dr. Oz promotes a pre bed time tea called "Tired Tea".  Make this tea by adding 18 drops or .5 ml liquid melatonin to a cup of chamomile tea.   According to Dr. Oz, the chamomile works as a mild tranquilizer and sleep inducer.  Along with regulating sleep, liquid melatonin boasts several advantages:  helps lower heart rate and blood pressure, increases immune function and blocks the body's stress response.  ( source: www.droz.com, blog entitled " 1 hour countdown to sleep").  

Hopefully, these suggestions will make a difference in the quality of your mom or dad's sleep.  Of course, check with your family physician first before making any dietary changes.  If sleep problems persist, consult a physician for further guidance.  

Share your suggestions for better sleep in the comments section below.  Our readers would love to learn from your success stories!

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Topics: caregiver, care