Regular Sleep, Healthy Future
As part of our World Sleep Day celebrations, we feel it is important to look at the part nutrition plays in our sleep pattern. Our nutritionist Louise is the perfect person to tackle this subject. She recently graduated from Sheffield Hallam University with a master’s degree in Nutrition.
As we’re continuously told, sleep is a vital segment of life for our productivity levels and general wellbeing. It can be difficult to get our recommended 8 hours of sleep every night with such busy lifestyles (and a tendency to check Instagram before bed). However, the mechanisms of diet promoting sleep are unclear and are the focus of research. Insomnia is a general sleep disorder in which you regularly have problems sleeping. You can have these symptoms for months, sometimes years and have been shown to contribute to the risk of obesity.
But have no fear! Your sleep usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits. Some basic yet nutritious and functional foods play a key role in the prevention of insomnia and a better quality of sleep. You can use the following checklist provided by the NHS to determine if you have insomnia.
- find it hard to go to sleep
- wake up several times during the night
- lie awake at night
- wake up early and cannot go back to sleep
- still feel tired after waking up
- find it hard to nap during the day even though you’re tired
- feel tired and irritable during the day
- find it difficult to concentrate during the day because you’re tired
So, with that in mind, what can we eat more of to help us sleep? The following chemicals, amino acids, enzymes, nutrients, and hormones work together to promote good sleep and regulate sleep cycles:
- Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
- Vitamin D
- B Vitamins
Here are some food sources to help you obtain all these nutrients connected to a more restful night’s sleep.
Complex Carbohydrates – Say no to white bread! Refined pasta and sugary baked goods as they may reduce serotonin levels and impair sleep. Instead, choose whole grains for your bedtime snack: Popcorn, oatmeal, or wholewheat crackers with nut butter.
A Handful of Nuts – A good source of heart-healthy fats. Almonds and walnuts specifically contain Melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate your sleep cycle. Incorporating these into your diet can increase your blood levels of the hormone, thus helping you sleep more soundly.
Cottage Cheese – Sources of lean protein like cottage cheese also contain the amino acid tryptophan which increases serotonin levels. Serotonin (the happy hormone) is a brain chemical. Low levels of it can contribute to insomnia. To make it more interesting and nutritious, you can top the cottage cheese with raspberries, which are also rich in Melatonin.
A Cup of Bedtime Tea – A nightly cup of caffeine-free tea can be a perfect relaxing ritual. Chamomile, ginger, and peppermint are calming choices for bedtime.
Warm Milk – There may be a link between the tryptophan and melatonin content of milk and improved sleep. But this may be a psychological link between warm milk and bedtime as a child. Just like tea, a warm drink of milk can provide the perfect soothing backdrop for a relaxing bedtime routine.
Fruit – Certain fruits that contain melatonin may help you fall asleep faster and wake up fewer times throughout the night. For instance, cherry juice and whole cherries contain many melatonin, and bananas, pineapple, and oranges are also sources. If you have insomnia, eating two kiwis before bed can increase your sleep duration by an hour over the course of a month. Other fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants (like berries, prunes, raisins, and plums) may have a similar effect by reducing oxidative stress caused by a sleep disorder.
Foods and Habits to Avoid for a Good Night’s Sleep
High-Fat Foods – Research shows that people who often eat these foods gain weight and their sleep cycles tend to disrupt. Why is this? A heavy meal activates digestion which can lead to night-time trips to the bathroom.
High-Caffeine Products – While most people agree that a cup of coffee before bed is a bad idea, even moderate caffeine consumption can cause sleep disturbances. But don’t forget about less obvious caffeine sources, like chocolate, cola, and tea. Even decaf coffee has traced, but not enough to be a problem. For better sleep, cut all caffeine from your diet 4 to 6 hours before bedtime. Also, remember that some medications may contain caffeine. These include painkillers, weight loss pills, diuretics, and cold medicines. So always check the labels because they may interfere with any sleep disorders.
Alcohol – An innocent glass of red may help you sleep faster, but you might not sleep well, waking up often, tossing and turning, and even having headaches, night sweats and nightmares. It can help down a glass of water for each alcoholic drink, to dilute the alcohol’s effects. But for a good night’s sleep, it’s better to avoid alcohol 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.
Heavy, Spicy Foods – Lying down with a full belly can make you uncomfortable, since the digestive system slows down when you sleep. It can also lead to heartburn, as can spicy cuisine. If you indulge in a heavy meal, finish it at least 4 hours before bedtime.
Say no to Fluids by 8 pm – Staying hydrated throughout the day is super important for brain function and aiding bodily functions but cut it off before bed. You don’t want to have to keep getting up to go to the bathroom after going to bed.
Don’t Smoke to Relax – It may be your go-to for winding down after a busy day, but Nicotine is a stimulant with effects similar to caffeine. Avoid smoking before bedtime or if you wake up in the middle of the night. Smoking increases the risk of getting a multitude of health problems including obesity and some cancers. Try your best to quit. It’s a challenge but worth it for your long-term health.
While there have been strong links between diet and sleep quality, more research is needed into food’s molecular mechanisms. To help you track your sleeping pattern, you can use a fitness tracker or write down your bedtimes and wake-up times to observe any changes.
We hope this information helps you improve your sleeping patterns! For more diets and lifestyle tips for better sleep, check out our nutritionist Louise Bennion’s blog here