Do you find yourself struggling to catch enough zzzs to help you function day to day? The average adult should aim to get between 7-9 hours of sleep but at least one in five Brits say they don’t get enough. One way to help improve the quality and duration of our sleep is taking a look at our diets. Here are my top nutritional tips to help you get those 40 winks.
Making sure you get enough protein during the day can help you sleep well. Protein foods such as turkey contain an amino acid called tryptophan. This converts to the hormones melatonin and serotonin which are important in regulating our sleep and wake cycles. Turkey also contains zinc and Vitamin B6 which help the body to produce melatonin from tryptophan. However, try to avoid eating too much high protein food – such as red meat and nuts – within the last few hours before bed as they can be hard to digest so may stop you falling asleep.
Magnesium is known as “nature’s tranquiliser” and is needed to help relax our muscles. It is also needed for the function of the chemical GABA. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter that your brain needs in order to switch off. You can get magnesium from food sources such as buckwheat, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, fish, leafy green vegetables and dark chocolate. If you have a history of ulcerative colitis, gastritis or other digestive issues, caution may need to be taken if you are considering supplementation (as I always say, consult a doctor, nutritionist or dietitian) as these issues can be triggered by these supplements. For people with these issues, it may be better to use transdermal magnesium as these are absorbed through the skin so won’t affect the digestive system.
As previously mentioned, zinc is needed to help the body produce melatonin from tryptophan. Foods rich in zinc include pumpkin seeds, oysters, wholegrains and nuts.
Think About What You Eat and Drink Before Bed
Avoid eating large meals or anything that is too hard to digest for 3-4 hours before you go to bed as this can make it more difficult for you to fall asleep. It is also best to stay away from fried foods and cheese as these can cause indigestion which can make sleep more difficult and uncomfortable. Stimulants such as tea or coffee should also be avoided as caffeine can stay in the body for up to 12 hours. If you have problems sleeping, avoid tea or coffee after midday and try having calming herbal teas such as camomile.
While it has become common trend to avoid carbohydrates after 6pm to help with weight loss, your body needs sustained energy while you sleep to keep the brain and body working. Slow release carbs will keep your blood sugar levels (glucose) stable. If this falls too low, the body may release adrenaline and cortisol which will wake you up. To avoid this, include some complex carbohydrates with your dinner such as a serving of wholegrain or basmati rice or some oatcakes with houmous for a pre-bedtime snack.