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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

A Better Snooze: Local nutritionist Dee Harris offers tips for deeper, more restful sleep.

Jan 31, 2012 07:27AM ● By Susan Aimes

Spicy foods aren’t the only vittles that can steal a good night’s sleep, according to Dee Harris, a registered, licensed dietitian/functional nutritionist and certified diabetes educator. “Any food can be a trigger for gastric issues, which may cause sleep disorders,” says Harris, who is associated with the Perlmutter Health Center, in Naples. “When clients suspect tummy trouble as the root cause of their sleeplessness, I suggest they keep track of what they eat in a food diary. This helps clients to zero in on patterns of sleep as they relate to diet. Eliminating suspected foods for three weeks allows them to focus on how their body, mind, and energy levels feel different without those foods, and to see if they actually sleep better.”

Harris offers these simple suggestions to help improve your snooze.

Avoid mineral deficiencies.

Harris notes that many individuals are mineral deficient, particularly in magnesium. “In my practice, I have seen people sleep better with a magnesium supplement before bedtime,” observes Harris, who recommends adding 300 to 400 milligrams of magnesium before bedtime or eating magnesium-rich foods such as halibut, almonds and spinach throughout the day. A supplement is especially good for people with insulin resistance (pre-diabetics and diabetics), because magnesium helps regulate blood sugar and blood pressure.

Eat a rainbow of foods, combined with protein.

Eating from a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables provides a diet high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. “Don't skimp on protein, which the body needs to produce hormones and neurotransmitters that are necessary for all sleep/wake cycles, metabolism and regulating body temperature,” says Harris.

Treat underlying sleep apnea.

Other than food, what can most easily ruin a good night’s sleep is untreated sleep apnea, according to Harris. If snoring and waking are a problem, seek medical attention. “Sleep apnea puts you at risk for many health conditions and shortens your life span,” she advises.

Balance hormone levels and breathe deeply.

Balanced hormones and vitamin D improve sleep. “Vitamin D acts as a hormone and can affect many of the body’s systems,” advises Harris. “Deficiency levels can cause multiple symptoms, such as depression and insulin resistance.” She also suggests doing five minutes of deep belly-breathing exercises before bedtime. “They are really great for unwinding after a stressful day of tension and shallow breathing, and you can do them with your head on the pillow,” she quips.

Harris recommends this easy belly-breathing exercise: Lie down and place your hands, one on top of the other, on your navel. Slowly breathe in through your nose and direct the breath into the abdomen. Feel your hands rise upward. Expand your abdomen until it’s full, which fills the lower lobes of the lungs. Next, breathe into your chest and feel it expand until your upper lungs, or super lobes, are filled. Keep the process slow and breathe in until your lungs are completely filled. Slowly exhale and repeat.

For more information, contact Dee Harris at Perlmutter Health Center, 800 Goodlette Rd. N., Ste. 270, Naples. Call 239-649-7400 or visit

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