Are taste buds the key to better sleep?

I’ve noticed a lot of stories about sleep in the media over the last couple of weeks. Having suffered extended periods of insomnia over the years, I always pay special attention to anything that can teach me more about the art of nodding off.

The theme of the articles I read this week was quite different to the usual regurgitated advice: don’t drink alcohol, no caffeine after 4pm, don’t eat or exercise late at night. This time it was about the impact of mood on our sleep.

A piece I read in The Independent referenced research from Iowa State University and explained that ‘people who are generally angry or struggle to keep their temper have a worse night’s sleep than happier people.’

Although I was able to relate to the idea of anger and frustration preventing rest, I did feel a pang of frustration at the notion that ‘happier people’ sleep better. I suppose I found the language quite divisive and unhelpful, as if some people are born happy and stay that way while others are programmed to be eternally bad tempered.

What makes more sense to me is that we inherit some aspects of our emotional being and others are a response to the lives that we live. Ultimately ‘happiness’ is just one of many impermanent feelings. Naturally we prefer it to sadness, but I think too many of us make it a summit that we hope one day to reach and settle on. But like every other transitory feeling, happiness is – for the most part – a reaction rather than congenital condition.

The great news about this is that there are things we can all do to stimulate the happiness that we so often crave. I find the best way to do this is to notice it as it happens and be grateful for it after it does.

Take yesterday, for example. I went out for dinner with my son and his maternal grandmother. As we tucked in my son informed me that the food we were eating wouldn’t offer any flavour if we didn’t have any ‘taste buttons’. I felt a rush of happiness run through my body and my mind. I smiled at him and immediately told him how much I loved him and the things he says. I then gave his grandma that knowing look a parent often gives another adult when their child says something adorably incorrect.

‘Imagine having no taste buttons,’ he went on smiling and waving a ball of sticky rice around in front of his face. ‘Rice would be so boring.’

I realised that he was subconsciously showing gratitude for one of the many things we mostly take for granted. He was happy because he was enjoying his dinner and he was grateful that he could.

I’ve taken to keeping a journal of the things I’m grateful for at the end of each day. They’re rarely as existential in their nature as thanking my taste buds for their continued support in providing the food I eat with the flavour I so enjoy, but I may focus my appreciation on a meal someone else cooked for me or the way a friend made me laugh. It just means that I go to bed focused on the positive things that I have in life, which helps stop my mind ruminating on the things that I know so often prevent me from falling asleep.

And when I sleep I feel better the next day. And when I feel better the next day I’m more aware of any happy moments that arise. And when those happy moment arise I have more to be grateful for at the end of each day. And so the cycle of better rest and increasing contentment continues.

I’d like to dedicate this blog post to the clusters of bulbous nerve endings on my tongue and in the lining of my mouth, which provide me with my sense of taste #gratitude #appreciation #tastebuttons