It’s a general rule of thumb that we all should get between six to eight hours of sleep every night. It’s also a rule of thumb—as a college student—that nighttime is for cramming and snacking. Calories don’t count at night and no one is there to ridicule you for eating the whole family-sized bag of Lay’s potato chips, right? Well, unfortunately, you might want to consider the facts and how the munchies are affecting your brain while you rest.
Sleep is a beautiful thing. It noticeably improves our memories and allows us to think clearly, but it helps us out in some more serious ways, too. Sleep improves our physical and mental abilities to master a skill. Whether it’s calculus or tennis, allowing our bodies to engage in R.E.M. sleep each night acts as subconscious training sessions and will help us reach our goals faster, not to mention help sort out emotions and spur abstract thought. There’s definitely truth behind the phrase “sleep on it” when making major decisions.
Okay, so now that you know why sleep is so important, I’m going to help you get more of it—or at least function like you are. I say this because, as a fellow college student, I’m not unaware of the fact that between, school, work, studying, hitting the gym and keeping up positive relationships with those you care about, it’s incredibly difficult to get that six to eight hours.
Surprisingly, there are foods that you can indulge in at nighttime that will improve your quality of sleep without requiring you to end your day early.
To start off, we’ll talk about tryptophan, the sleep-inducing chemical that’s found largely in turkey. Tryptophan helps the body produce serotonin, another chemical that affects the central nervous system in a calming way. Consuming foods that have tryptophan two to four hours before sleep has been proven to help the brain produce and absorb serotonin, and therefore improve sleeping ability. An ideal, college-student approved pre-bedtime snack would be low-fat cheese on whole grain crackers since whole grains and dairy products are some of the many things that are high in tryptophan.
Magnesium has also been shown to have beneficial effects on sleep. Scientists have found that magnesium increases the quality and duration of R.E.M. sleep, a phase in which the body is at its deepest level of rest and dreaming. During R.E.M., brain activity along with metabolism is heightened. In fact, it’s heightened to a level that equals and often exceeds that of what it is when we’re awake. For this reason, R.E.M. is the most important part of sleep.
Some foods that won’t break our wallets are satisfying and are high in natural magnesium, including dried fruit, legumes, yogurt and avocados. There’s no reason why you can’t switch out that late night pint of Ben and Jerry’s with some guacamole and crackers. Your body with thank you, and you’ll start to feel the benefits in just a few days.
It’s important to add that the “college lifestyle” is set up in a way that draws from our quality of sleep. Between being broke and only able to afford the McDonald’s dollar menu, working and studying all day and night, and stressing over everyday things, we’re ultimately led to coffee and high-fat, draining foods.
The takeaway is that adding just some of the healthier foods mentioned above into our everyday life can have a positive effect on our sleep cycle. Choose air-popped popcorn, fruit and yogurt, or peanut butter and jelly on whole grain bread instead of ice cream, chips and coffee at night. If you do, your chances of having a full, restful sleep skyrocket.
Alecia Sexton is a third-year student majoring in health and physical education. She can be reached at AS876443@wcupa.edu.