Updated: Jun 13, 2019
This post will talk about sleep, and why it is so important that we get a good night’s rest. I will give you some suggestions of foods that you can eat to promote sleep, and those that you should avoid. Finally, I will suggest a bedtime routine and some rules. This will help you get to sleep, and stay asleep, so that you wake up feeling refreshed.
Do you struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, or wake up still feeling tired? You are not alone. It is estimated that two thirds of adults sleep less than the recommended eight hours per night.
Sleep may be the single most important influence on the health of both brain and body. Getting enough sleep is crucial in helping us to age well, and to ward off chronic illnesses.
● Sleep elevates learning and memory, brain development, and logical thinking.
● During sleep our body repairs and cleanses itself. Less than 6-7 hours sleep has a detrimental effect on our immune system, resulting in a greater risk of chronic illness. For example, research has shown a strong correlation between the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and sleep disorders.
● Research shows that the amount we sleep is related to our life span. The shorter we sleep, the shorter our life expectancy.
● Disrupted sleep contributes to feelings of anxiety, stress and depression.
● Too little sleep elevates the hormone Ghrelin, responsible for telling your brain you need to eat. It also suppresses the hormone Leptin, which is responsible for telling the brain you are full. Thus, sleep deprivation can lead to overeating.
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Improving sleep with nutrition
Many nutrients, in the foods we eat, have sleep promoting properties, which help regulate the sleep cycle.
Some Friendly Choices
● Tryptophan: Tryptophan is a compound in foods, which contributes to our feelings of wellbeing and happiness. It also increases the production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. Examples of foods that contain Tryptophan include turkey, chicken, salmon, eggs, pumpkin seeds, and uncooked oats.
● Nuts: Walnuts, Pistachios and Almonds are a source of melatonin, and almonds are an excellent source of magnesium, which may enhance sleep quality by reducing stress hormone levels. Eat a small handful a couple of hours before bed.
● Chamomile Tea: Drink Chamomile tea before bed. it contains apigenin, an antioxidant (compounds that stop damage to cells in the body) that binds to certain receptors in your brain, helping promote sleepiness and reducing insomnia
● Kiwi fruit: Kiwis are rich in serotonin (a brain chemical which helps you regulate your sleep cycle) and antioxidants. 2 kiwi fruits eaten 1 hour before bedtime may help improve sleep quality.
● Oily fish: Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines or herring, contain nutrients important for sleep regulation. Include in your diet at least 3 times per week. Vegetarian sources are chia, flax or hemp seeds.
● Carbohydrate Rich Foods: Eat a small amount of carbohydrate rich foods, such as 2 tbs of brown rice, or a small sweet potato, at your evening meal. This can encourage the body to produce serotonin.
● Avoid going to bed too full, or too hungry.
Some Unfriendly Choices
● Coffee: Caffeine blocks the chemical in our body which sends sleep signals to the brain, making us think we aren’t sleepy. It can disrupt the length of time it takes for us to fall asleep, and reduce the length of our sleep. It takes 5-7 hours for caffeine to reduce its effect by half. That means that if you drink a cup of coffee at 2pm, half of it will still be in your system at 10pm. This may have a consequence on your sleep. Try not to drink coffee after midday. Decaffeinated coffee contains 15-30% of a dose of regular coffee.
● Alcohol: Although alcohol tends to make us feel sleepy, in reality it can disrupt our sleep. Alcohol puts us in an artificial sedative state, akin to anaesthesia, but it doesn’t induce natural sleep. It leads to brief awakenings during the night, which are not restorative. When our body is breaking alcohol down, chemicals are produced which block our ability to enter deep sleep. If your quality of sleep is suffering, avoid alcohol for 1 month, and see what difference it makes.
● Avoid large meals at nighttime. This can lead to drops in blood sugar during the night, leading to us waking up and unable to go back to sleep.
It is important to support the activities that promote relaxation, and decreasing those that stimulate, before and during bedtime.
● Get more active: Try to do exercise 3 times per week: for example, a brisk walk, or a chilli pilates class. Where possible exercise in the morning. This will support the liver cleansing itself of toxins, kickstart your metabolism, and improve sleep quality.
● Spend time outdoors in natural light (at least 30 minutes), especially in the morning. This is to let our brain know that we are awake, and help our body clock know the difference between night and day.
● Stop using your blue light gadgets (smart phones, tv, etc) 90 minutes before bedtime. They emit as much bright light as the sun, signalling to your brain it is the start of the day and not a time for rest. If listening to meditation app tuck your phone under your bed
● Go to bed at the same time each night (even on weekends). Get out of bed at the same time each morning. Take a nap before 3 pm (so it doesn’t interfere with your night’s sleep), even for 5 minutes, if you are tired. Your body clock loves this regularity, and it will help to keep it synchronised with your daily life.
● If you wake up in the night, don’t lie in bed awake. If you are lying there for more than 20 minutes, or if you are starting to feel anxious that you are awake. Get up and do some relaxing activity (not your phone) until you feel sleepy. Read your book, or listen to relaxing music.
● When you wake up, open the curtains to bright light as soon as possible, so that your brain knows night time has ended.
I hope you sleep well, and wake up refreshed.