11 Easy Snacks to Help You Sleep Better

Almost everyone loves to grab a snack before they go to sleep. But what you choose to eat could determine whether or not you fall asleep right away.

Before you begin nighttime noshing, ask yourself:

  • What’s your motivation?
  • Are you bored? Stuffing emotions? Munching while watching TV?
  • Or, are you really hungry, and if so, how hungry?

If you’re eating just to eat – or to cure boredom or make you feel better – you might want to think twice before indulging.

But if you’re really running on empty, opt for snacks that won’t add extra pounds or result in a restless night.

Large portions and high fat foods (like French fries) interfere with falling asleep. Spicy foods slow down digestion. Alcohol may make you feel drowsy and have a relaxing effect at first, then cause you to wake up because it interferes with deep sleep and interrupts the sleep cycle. The stimulant powers of caffeine, found in coffee, tea or chocolate, take several hours to wear off. Even decaf has some caffeine. High-sugar foods and overeating can also interfere with your ability to sleep.

Not all bedtime snacks are bad for you. Some can help you take in more nutrients that you still need for the day. Going to bed hungry can actually keep you awake.

If you’re considering a bed time snack, try incorporating foods that help boost your levels of serotonin, the calming and “feel good” hormone. You could consider:

  1. Nuts, including walnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios
  2. Seeds, such as flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
  3. Lean protein, such as chicken, fish and low-fat cheese

Choose a small snack with protein and carbohydrates – these types of foods either contain or help create an amino acid called tryptophan that can cause sleepiness.

Try these protein and carbohydrate combinations:

  1. Whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk
  2. Peanut butter on whole-grain toast
  3. Low-fat cheese with whole-grain crackers
  4. One ounce of turkey or chicken on a slice of whole grain bread

Other snack options could include:

  1. Bananas and other foods high in potassium, which helps you to stay asleep

Foods high in calcium also contain certain sleep-causing hormones, such as tryptophan and melatonin. So don’t feel bad if you grab a snack that consists of:

  1. A container of low-fat yogurt
  2. A cup of low-fat milk
  3. A slice of low-fat cheese, such as mozzarella.

Good snacking and good night!

For more advice on what to eat at night, go to:
sleep.org
health.clevelandclinic.org
sleepassociation.org
sleepfoundation.org

A Crock-Pot Saved My Sanity and My Marriage

God bless the Crock-Pot. Yes, it’s that cauldron-type electronic countertop cooking device made of inch-thick ceramics and a heavy glass top that your grandmother may describe a bit more literally as a “slow cooker.”

I know not one person who has used one and been disappointed. If you are among the uninitiated, let me tell you something: Crock-Pots don’t just make easy, delicious meals. They enhance marriages. They preserve sanity. They feed hungry children.

How do I know this? First, I am a married, 47-year-old father of two children, ages 7 and 8. My wife and I work full-time in different cities and, up until very recently, my wife worked multiple 12-hour shifts at a hospital 90 minutes away from our home, which meant that I would essentially be a married-but-single parent for multiple days every week.

Second, after I graduated from college many years ago and was searching for a job in my field, I took a job as a prep cook as a stop-gap measure and was soon “promoted” to line cook after only a few weeks. That stop-gap job turned into the better part of two years. So, I cooked. I cooked A LOT. I was not content in staying at my parents’ house, so I worked double shifts and weekends between three different restaurant locations to pay my rent and bills. I had steaks and pasta and chicken coming out of my ears. Fast-forward 20  some-odd years – I don’t cook as much anymore. In fact, I rarely cook, and when I do, it’s usually out of necessity. And frankly, I don’t WANT to cook at all.

Third, as I mentioned , my wife and I have two small children. They go to school in the morning and, more often than I’d like, occasionally come home at the end of the day with their lunchboxes, the contents of which are only half-eaten or virtually untouched.

Me: “Why didn’t you eat your lunch today?”
Them: “I didn’t have time.”
M: “You had a lunch hour today, didn’t you?”
T: “Yes.”
M: “Then how did you not have time to eat a sandwich and an apple?”
T: “I was talking to my friends and forgot to eat.”

Now, it’s close to 6 p.m. on a weeknight, my wife’s out of town for the day, I had a busy day at work and I’m tired, I don’t want to cook, and the kids and I are hungry. Enter Crock-Pot.

I take my coat off and see a note on the kitchen counter. It’s from my loving wife.

It says, “Dinner’s in the crock.”

Time stands still for a moment as I soak in the meaning of this message. Not only is my wife’s greatness confirmed, but my kids and I can enjoy a delicious meal in little more than the amount of time it’ll take me to put it on a plate and serve it.

crock-taco

It only takes minutes of prep work to create chicken tacos in a Crock-Pot

My wife created all of this foodborne happiness in less than five minutes. Before she left the house that morning, she emptied a package of four raw chicken breasts into the crockpot, along with one jar of sliced pepperoncini peppers with the juice, and set the crockpot to cook on low for 6 hours.

The only prep that needed to be done when I got home is to pull apart the chicken (it will come apart just like slow-roasted pork) and serve it in a tortilla with toppings, such as diced tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream or olives. The kids, especially, need their vegetables, so I often pair these soft tacos with a side of steamed broccoli (available in steamable bags, such as SteamFresh by Bird’s Eye, found in the frozen section of the supermarket) and a quick and delicious dinner is done.

We often take things a step further by preparing Crock-Pot meals even further ahead of time – by freezing them in gallon Ziploc bags for future chow-downs.

Chicken parmesan over pasta

Chicken parmesan can be prepared in advance and served over pasta

For instance, just last night, we enjoyed a chicken parmesan pasta dish that was prepped months ago. To prepare, I diced three to four chicken breasts up into medium-sized chunks, threw them in a bag with our favorite tomato sauce, and put the bag into the freezer. Yesterday morning, my wife took the bag out of the freezer and put the contents into the crock (on low for 5 hours). Last night, when we got home, all we had to do was boil some bowtie pasta, drain and ladle on the chicken and sauce, and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.

Although the two examples I used were chicken recipes, crockpots can be used for just about any meats, vegetables, fish, soups, sauces, and even cocktails (yes, Google “Crocktails”)!  And these days, slow cookers come in many different sizes (4 qt. – 8.5 qt.), shapes and configurations (timers, locking lids for portability, digital displays, etc.) and they’re relatively inexpensive ($30-$80). So save your sanity and your marriage, while feeding your family, with some really easy cooking done Crock-Pot style.

The Hidden Culprit That Might be Changing the Color of Your Toddler’s Poop

Many moms are obsessed with the color of their toddler’s poop. But, did you know that the color of your child’s poop can hint at what’s going on in his or her body?

Last year, my 1-year-old son’s poop had changed to an odd, sandy-white color I’d never seen before.  I did what all parents do: a quick Google search. As a result, I was convinced that my little boy suffered from a life-threatening liver disease.

Not quite. A call to the pediatrician’s office revealed that the likely culprit was the antibiotic the doctor had prescribed for my son’s ear infection.

Antibiotics kill the bacteria that make you sick. But, ironically, the medicine can also kill the good kinds of bacteria that keep you healthy. That’s probably why my son’s poop had turned an odd color.

The dangers of antibiotics

Before our little poop adventure, I never thought twice about antibiotics. Since then, I’ve learned that antibiotics can have some pretty serious side effects, including diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

What’s even scarier is the growing worldwide health crisis around the misuse of antibiotics and the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. One-third of antibiotics prescribed in Upstate New York are unnecessary, according to data from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

The issue?  Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat illnesses caused by a virus: flu, common cold, most cases of acute bronchitis, etc. But antibiotics won’t help people with a virus. They help people with illnesses caused by bacteria, such as strep throat, whooping cough, and urinary tract infections.

As more people overuse antibiotics, the bacteria in your body that haven’t been killed by the drug can become resistant to the medication.  This results in “superbugs” that cause life-threatening infections that can’t be treated with antibiotics.

This puts the entire community at risk of having antibiotics that don’t work.

Do you need antibiotics?

So antibiotics can be good – and bad? It’s all very confusing.  Here is some advice on determining whether you need (or don’t need) antibiotics.

  1. Get educated. Learn about antibiotics, the conditions for which antibiotics are often prescribed, and whether the antibiotics are able to help:
    1. To learn more about whether you should take an antibiotic for ear infections, eczema, and pinkeye, go to ChoosingWisely.org.
    2. ChoosingWisely.org also has information on whether you should take an antibiotic for the flu, colds and other respiratory illnesses.
    3. For general information about antibiotics, go to CDC.org.
  1. Take your medication as directed. One of the most important things you can do if you are prescribed an antibiotic is to take ALL of your medication and don’t skip doses.

“Too often, patients stop taking antibiotics when they begin to feel better and save the remainder of the pills for the next time they’re sick,” explains Martin Lustick, M.D., Corporate Medical Director at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “This is a big contributor to the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

  1. Talk to your doctor. Your physician knows you best and will be able to offer the best advice. Watch this video to learn about four questions to ask your doctor:

  1. Trust your doctor if he or she says that an antibiotic isn’t needed.

“When the doctor says that an antibiotic isn’t needed,” said Lustick, “know that he or she is making the decision not to prescribe antibiotics by keeping the patient’s health and the health of the entire community in mind.”

A love/hate relationship

A friend of mine recently described her love/hate relationship with antibiotics.

She loved how the drugs cured her daughters’ ear infections, but hated how the drugs seemed to wreck her oldest child’s digestive system. Her daughter suffered from a continuous cycle of ear infections, antibiotic regimens, and irregular bowel movements.

She didn’t know for certain that her daughter’s digestive issues were related to the antibiotics. But given antibiotic’s reputation for causing these issues, it was hard for her not to make that association.

So what do you do if you need an antibiotic, but want to lessen its side effects?

Here are some recommendations from the Cleveland Clinic:

  1. Probiotics. Talk to your doctor about whether you should take probiotics. Antibiotics can cause people to have stomach problems, including diarrhea, cramping, and gas. The reason? The drugs can kill the good bacteria in your intestines that are critical to digestive health. Probiotics may return that bacteria to your body, potentially curing or lessening your stomach issues. You can take probiotics through supplements or foods such as yogurt.
  2. Foods. If certain foods upset your stomach even when you’re not on antibiotics, it’s even more important to avoid them when you’re on the drugs. Antibiotics may only worsen your normal stomach problems.
  3. Take your antibiotics as directed. Carefully read the directions to see whether antibiotics should be taken with or without food. You might get an upset stomach, for example, if you take an antibiotic on an empty stomach when the directions tell you to take the drug with food.

Remember my son and his oddly-colored poop? The nurse suggested I add Culturelle, a powdered probiotic supplement, to my son’s milk, to add more good bacteria back into his body. And within a week, his poop was back to normal.