It's something that should be as easy as breathing, but more and more of us are finding sleep to be a big problem. So much so, that the Centre for Disease Control & Prevention has proclaimed insufficient sleep a public health epidemic. If you are constantly chasing those elusive 8 hours, something you may not have considered is the effect food and drink can have on the quality of your sleep.
When people talk about diet and sleep, they normally refer to the foods and drinks which need to be avoided in order to gain optimum sleep; for example: caffeine, alcohol and fast foods etc. Taking away these main culprits is a fantastic place to start - however, you might wish to consider adding some things into your diet to help you get that elusive, uninterrupted nights sleep.
Many sleep issues come down to having a hormone imbalance. In their most basic form hormones are chemical messengers the body produces which bring about different physiological responses. It is the main function of the hormone, melatonin, to regulate sleep patterns, and it’s this hormone that we are targeting with specific food and drink.
Melatonin should be secreted by the brain as soon as it starts to get dark outside. Maintaining optimal levels of this hormone is key to making sure that you are able to fall asleep soundly. Melatonin often gets knocked sideways when you travel long distances through different time zones, but aside from that it really doesn’t take much for levels to take a beating. Watching TV at night, constantly checking your smart phone and being exposed to invasive street lighting can all contribute to an environment unfavourable to optimal melatonin levels. Based on those facts it won't come as a surprise when I tell you that its important to set yourself a cut-off time for electronic gadgets and get yourself a set of black-out blinds! But, we can give our melatonin levels a helping hand with the foods and drinks you choose to eat at dinner time.
Tart Montmorency cherry juice is not only delicious and full of antioxidants, but has also been shown to increase levels of melatonin and enhance sleep quality. All you need is one 30ml serving at breakfast with another serving half an hour before the evening meal. Luckily this is readily available. Try Cherry Active
KiwiKiwi is another fruit that has sleep-boosting potential, and eating two kiwis one hour before bed has been shown to boost melatonin levels and support restful sleep.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that is used by the body as one of the main building blocks of melatonin. Diets low in tryptophan can lead to poor sleep. So, if you want to make sure that your levels are okay, make sure your are getting enough protein in your diet. At 9pm consider have a tryptophan rich snack e.g. an oatcake with cottage cheese.
Refined carbohydrates (ie. white rice, bread and pasta) are not great for sleep - as they convert into sugar which as you know is a stimulant. Regular consumption of these foods has been shown to make it harder for you to fall asleep at night as well as affecting sleep quality. Instead try eating wholegrains with your evening meal alongside tryptophan-rich protein - turkey is a great one - then you may be giving your melatonin levels a big helping hand.
Dark green leafy vegetables
Magnesium is the sleep mineral. It is involved in the conversion of tryptophan to melatonin, as well as calming the nervous system, countering fatigue and relaxing muscles. Magnesium can be found in abundance in spinach, kale, and swiss chard etc.
Obviously what we eat isn't the only thing that is required for a good nights sleep. Even if you have ensured your melatonin levels are in impeccable condition, the effects of stress, anxiety and tension can override its delicate balance and leave you frustratingly lying wide awake. Consider taking up meditation, relaxation or exercise, which are all able to help combat the effects of stress and they should not be overlooked if you consistently struggle with sleep.
Whatever your problem is, it really is important to take your sleep health seriously. Poor sleep will affect every single aspect of your daily life, as well as having profound implications on your health. So why not make a meal of going to bed and cook up the perfect sleep-inducing meal. Sweet Dreams!
Your guide to living whole and well. Emma Olliff is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, wellness expert, food lover, and advocate for healthy living!