Health Tips: Eat to sleep, perchance to dream

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In “Heartburn,” Meryl Streep (Rachel) and Jack Nicholson (Mark) eat spaghetti carbonara in bed -- and they’re headed for a breakup. In “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” Renee Zellweger (Bridget) snuggles under the covers for a rendezvous with excessive amounts of comfort food. Neither is a formula for a good night’s sleep. But there are foods that can improve your sleep -- just don’t eat them in bed, or too close to bedtime.

Soy: A 2015 study in Nutritional Journal found that eating two servings a day of soy, which is rich in isoflavones, increased sleep times and quality and was especially helpful to postmenopausal women.

Fiber-rich foods: A study out of the Obesity Research Center and Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University revealed that the more fiber you eat, the better quality your sleep -- in part because it ups the amount of slow-wave sleep you get. (Slow wave is the deepest phase of nonrapid eye movement sleep.) This may be because fiber stops blood sugar swings. A study in PlosOne found that folks with higher glucose levels had poorer sleep. And another study found that 62% of people with prediabetes have poor sleep.

Fish -- especially salmon: Seems that salmon (as well as canned tuna and halibut) boosts levels of B6, which is essential for making the sleep hormone melatonin.

Other sleep-friendly foods include tart cherry juice (it ups the availability of sleep-inducing tryptophan and quells inflammation), B6-rich bananas and green leafy vegetables like kale that contain calcium and magnesium (a deficiency of either makes it harder to sleep).

Chronic stress and your cancer risk

Chronic stress makes for complex plot lines and great acting. Take Jack Lemmon in 1973’s “Save the Tiger” or Anne Hathaway in “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006). Their stress-plagued lives and resulting meltdowns made cinematic history. But off the screen, that kind of relentless tension makes trouble, not careers.

It’s long been known that chronic stress can lead to everything from depression and heart disease to gastro problems and dementia. But new research shows how it is intertwined with the development and progression of cancer.

A study published in Cell Reports says that stress causes cellular and receptor changes that allow the stress hormone norepinephrine to suppress your immune system and give cancer a clear shot to take hold and grow. Fortunately, you do have control over your stress response. So, for long-term immune strength and reduced risk of cancer, try these strategies:

Practice forgiveness. Johns Hopkins Medicine says making a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings is a powerful stress-reducer. “As you release the anger, resentment and hostility, you begin to feel empathy,” says Dr. Karen Swartz, director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic. Then, you gain health-promoting peace and happiness.

Do aerobic exercise. It immediately reduces levels of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Aim for 30-60 minutes most days.

Make smart food choices. Tamp down stress-fueling inflammation by eating whole, unprocessed, sugar-free, high-fiber foods.

Improve sleep habits. Have a set bedtime, ditch digital devises for an hour before you hit the hay and make the room dark, cool and quiet.

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