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Foods That Help or Hinder Sleep

Do you lay awake at night? Still adjusting to the time change, or too much on your mind or a bout of insomnia you can’t seem to shake?

You probably already abstain from coffee or other caffeinated beverages close to bedtime, but turns out what you ingest can play a big role in the quality of your sleep each night.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

AARP offers a list of 12 foods that sabotage sleep. Some might surprise you more then others. Check out what you should avoid eating (and drinking) for several hours before heading off to bed:

 1. Celery

Celery and other foods with a high water content (i.e., cucumbers, watermelon, radishes) are natural diuretics that may cause you to wake in the middle of the night with a full bladder.

 2. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are rich in tyramine, an amino acid that triggers the brain to release norepinephrine, a stimulant that boosts brain activity and delays sleep. Other tyramine-rich foods include eggplant, soy sauce, red wine and aged cheeses, such as brie and Stilton.

 3. Cheese Pizza

Foods high in fat and fried foods take longer to digest and can cause discomfort that interferes with sleep.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

 4. Alcohol

Although a nightcap or a glass of wine before bed may help you doze off quicker, it disrupts sleep later in the night and robs you of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

 5. Black-bean chili

The body has a hard time digesting beans, so stomach-rumbling gas pains will keep you from a good night's sleep, says Helen Rasmussen, a research nutritionist at Tufts University.

 6. Dark chocolate

A small piece of dark chocolate each day helps keep your heart healthy—but don't nibble it right before you go to bed. Dark chocolate, hot cocoa and tea all contain caffeine, and if you're caffeine-sensitive, you may find yourself staring at the ceiling instead of snoozing.

 7. Gumdrops

A handful of gumdrops (or any candy) may cause your blood sugar levels to spike and then fall rapidly as the body releases insulin to bring them under control. You may fall asleep easily, but these fluctuations make it difficult to stay asleep.

 8. Tacos

A taco liberally sprinkled with hot sauce may set your taste buds tingling, but eating it within a few hours of lights-out can set you up for a bad case of heartburn and a restless night. Same goes for any spicy foods.

9. Steak

Foods high in protein and marbled fats, such as steak and roast beef, are slow to digest. If your body is busy digesting food, there's more of a chance that you'll have a restless night.

10. Carbonated soft drinks

Caffeine, that sneak thief of sleep, can turn up in unexpected places, including root beer and lemon-lime soda. Added to a food or beverage, caffeine must be listed as an ingredient; if it occurs naturally (coffee, tea, chocolate), it doesn't. Check the label.

11. Dagwood sandwich

A heavy meal just before bed can rob you of the shut-eye you need. Allow at least three hours post-meal before you turn in so your body has a chance to digest the food and you don't feel too uncomfortable to sleep.

12. Broccoli

Broccoli is a nutrition powerhouse, but its slow-to-digest fiber will keep your body working hard into the night. Broccoli and its relatives cauliflower and Brussels sprouts also contain an indigestible sugar that will produce large amounts of gas.

On the flip side are foods (and beverages) that go a long way towards improving the quality of your sleep.

Organic Gardening suggests the following nine foods to help you sleep:

1. Cherries

In one small study, participants drank eight ounces of tart cherry juice in the morning, and another eight ounces in the evening, for two weeks and reported better sleeping habits. Why does it work? All varieties of cherries are naturally high in melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

2. Fish

Fish are rich in tryptophan, a natural sedative, with shrimp, cod, tuna and halibut having the highest levels, even more than turkey. But since not all seafood choices are healthy (some are high in contaminants) or for the planet (many are overfished, or methods for catching them kill other species), stick to catches like Pacific cod from Alaska or pole-caught Albacore tuna from the U.S. or British Columbia.

3. Lemon Balm

This lemon-scented member of the mint family has been a sleep-inducing superstar for ages, but it seems to be most effective in combination with another herb called valerian. In one study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research, 81 percent of people with minor sleep problems who took a combination of the herbs reported sleeping better than people on a placebo. Both can be purchased as supplements, or you can make a tea by steeping 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried lemon balm and 1 teaspoon of valerian root in 1 cup of hot water for 5 to 10 minutes. (If you take other medications, though, ask a doctor or pharmacist about any potential herb-drug interactions.)

4. Chamomile

Another herb that works as well as lemon balm, chamomile has been used as an herbal remedy for insomnia for thousands of years. In one animal study, it calmed down mice as effectively as tranquilizers, and in the only human study to study the effectiveness of chamomile, the herb reduced mild to moderate generalized anxiety disorder much better than placebo. Ready-made chamomile teas are sold in every supermarket, so it’s an easy remedy to get your hands on.

5. Bananas

These perfectly snack-sized superfruits are packed with potassium and magnesium, two minerals that promote muscle relaxation. In fact, magnesium deficiencies are related to restless leg syndrome and nighttime muscle cramps, two conditions that can certainly interfere with your sleep.

6. Spinach

In addition to being rich in potassium and magnesium, spinach is high in calcium, yet one more mineral that plays a role in sleep. Calcium helps the body generate melatonin, the hormone that helps your body maintain its circadian rhythm. You can get the same benefits from other dark leafy greens, such as Swiss chard, kale, turnip greens and collard greens.

7. Dairy

Like spinach, dairy products are rich in melatonin-boosting calcium, and a number of studies are finding that calcium deficiencies are linked to poor sleep quality. So there may be something to that old adage that a glass of warm milk will help you sleep, after all!

8. Almonds

They’re full of magnesium and yet another source of calcium. You can eat a handful of almonds or spread some almond-butter on a piece of whole grain bread, which will help you get to sleep for another reason (keep reading).

9. Carb/Protein Combos

There’s some debate as to how well your body handles tryptophan, and a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that getting it from high-protein foods can work against you, because protein can prevent tryptophan from entering your brain. But when you combine high-protein foods with carbs, the insulin your body produces in response to the carbs makes it easier for tryptophan to break through your brain’s barriers. So think oatmeal with bananas and almonds, for a real sleepy snack, or whole-grain cereal with organic milk.

Pros at the Cleveland Clinic break down sleep-aiding or -sabotaging foods by category:

1. Complex carbohydrates

Embrace whole-grain breads, cereals, pasta, crackers and brown rice. Avoid simple carbohydrates, including breads, pasta and sweets such as cookies, cakes, pastries and other sugary foods. These tend to reduce serotonin levels and do not promote sleep.

2. Lean proteins

Lean proteins include low-fat cheese, chicken, turkey and fish. These foods are high in the amino acid tryptophan, which tends to increase serotonin levels. On the flipside, avoid high-fat cheeses, chicken wings or deep-fried fish. These take longer to digest and can keep you awake.

3. Heart-healthy fats

Unsaturated fats will not only boost your heart health but also improve your serotonin levels. Examples include peanut butter (read the label to make sure peanuts are the only ingredient) and nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios. Avoid foods with saturated and trans fats, such as french fries, potato chips or other high-fat snack foods. These bring your serotonin levels down.    

4. Beverages

Certain drinks can promote or prevent sleep. A good, soothing beverage to drink before bedtime would be warm milk (your mother was right) or herbal tea such as chamomile or peppermint. As for caffeinated drinks, I recommend that my clients who are having difficulty sleeping consume that last cup by 2 p.m. Caffeine can affect people differently, and even the smallest amount of stimulant can keep you awake. 

5. Fresh herbs

Fresh herbs can have a calming effect on the body. For example, sage and basil contain chemicals that reduce tension and promote sleep. Try making your own homemade pasta sauce with sage and basil. It’s easy to do, and homemade sauces tend to be lower in sugar than store-bought versions. However, avoid herbs such as red pepper or black pepper at night, as they have a stimulatory effect.

Feeling dire? Helpguide.org lists a bunch of tips for getting a good nights’ sleep, from a bedtime snack and beyond food.

Visit EcoWatch’s TIPS and HEALTH pages for more related news on this topic.

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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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