With sleep being the main focus of this years Mental Health Awareness Week in May we hear from our nutrition consultant, Christine Bailey, on how eating well goes hand in hand with your sleep.
Lying in bed, tossing and turning? What you eat and drink has a dramatic effect on your sleep says nutritionist Christine Bailey. A few simple tweaks to your diet may help you have a more restful night.
We all know that feeling when we’ve had a bad night’s sleep. It can leave you struggling to focus and concentrate the next day not to mention irritable, tearful and lacking in motivation. Before you reach for over the counter medicines there is much you can do through dietary and lifestyle changes.
Watch out for Stimulants
Stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine contribute to poor sleep by making it harder for the brain to wind down. Caffeine has a half-life of between three to seven hours in the body depending on your genetics so drinking coffee or energy drinks in the afternoon could impact your quality of sleep.
Skip the Night Cap
While most people think of alcohol as a sedative, it actually increases levels of dopamine within the brain, which has a stimulating effect. Alcohol disrupts blood sugar which can cause frequent waking. Alcohol is known to cause or increase the symptoms of sleep apnoea, snoring and disrupted sleep patterns.
Show Your Gut Some Love
Digestive symptoms and heartburn can sabotage your sleep patterns. Spicy foods are also notorious for causing heartburn, indigestion, and acid reflux so skipping the curry in the evening may be helpful. In the same way avoid heavy meals before bedtime.
Try Calmative Teas
There are a number of herbal teas that help calm the mind enabling a more restful sleep. Valerian is a sedative herb that has been used since the 18th century for the treatment of insomnia. It works on the GABA system in the brain, helping reduce brain activity and allowing you to fall asleep more easily.
Chamomile is another popular tea shown to promote sleep and relaxation. Other good options include passion flower, lemon balm and magnolia bark.
Tackle Stress with Ashwagandha
Withania somnifera, also known as Ashwagandha, is an Indian herb that may be beneficial for treating insomnia. One of the reasons this herb appears to be effective is through improving our ability to modulate stress hormones like cortisol.
Key Nutrients for a Restful Night
Melatonin, a hormone made in the pineal gland, is critical for our sleep-wake cycle. Low melatonin levels have been linked to insomnia with supplementation shown to improve sleep. In the UK melatonin is only available on prescription but certain foods can naturally improve our levels. Those with the highest levels of melatonin include Tart cherry juice, nuts and seeds (walnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseed), fish, egg, fruits and vegetables (e.g asparagus, corn, olives, tomatoes, grapes, strawberries) and certain grains like rice and oats.
The Magic Minerals
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals for better sleep. It can help quiet the mind making it easier to fall asleep. Top sources include dark leafy greens (baby spinach, kale, collard greens), nuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, cashews, pine nuts, flaxseed, pecans), avocado, fish (salmon, halibut, tuna, mackerel).
Zinc and calcium are also important for quality sleep. Dairy products that contain both tryptophan and calcium are among the best sleep inducers (this may be why a warm milky drink at night helps). Other good sources of calcium include dark leafy greens, sardines, soybeans, tahini, okra and broccoli.