Sleep tight! 8 foods that can help you sleep
Re-read the same email 4 times? Hungry, tired and lacking concentration? That biscuit tin looking dangerously tempting? You could be one of the thousands of UK Brits plagued by daytime tiredness caused by lack of sleep.
Sleep may very well be the most important part of the day. But according to the latest Bedtime Report produced by the National Bed Federation’s Sleep Council, 47% of Brits admit to being kept up at night by stress and a typical person sleeps just six hours and 35 minutes per night, falling well short of the recommendation that we should all asleep for at least eight.
So what can we do to catch more Zzz? We asked London Nutritionists to reveal 8 foods you should include in your diet to help you go from nocturnal nightmare to sleeping beauty in less than 40 winks.
Slow-releasing carbohydrates such as oats or oatcakes, or brown rice:
“Slow-releasing carbohydrates such as whole grains help to keep the levels of sugar (glucose) in your blood stable, and so provide your body with sustained energy.” Says Nutritionist, Cassandra Barns. Okay, you may not think you need that much energy while you’re asleep, but your brain and body still need glucose to keep working. Cassandra tells us that if levels fall too low, this can cause the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which can wake you up. To help you sleep better and avoid this from happening, make sure you have some slow-releasing carbohydrates in the evening: a serving of brown rice or a slice of rye bread with your evening meal for example or, if you have your last meal a long time before going to bed, try eating a half-size bowl of porridge or a couple of oatcakes with nut butter later in the evening. “Note that sugary foods and refined ‘white’ carbohydrates can have the opposite effect, as they quickly enter and leave the bloodstream, leaving your blood low in glucose again after only a short time.” Says Barns.
Make sure that you have enough protein during your workday! “High-protein foods are meats, fish, beans and lentils, seeds and nuts (choose unsalted and raw rather than roasted).” Explains Shona Wilkinson, Head Nutritionist at www.nutricenter.com. “Protein foods provide the amino acid tryptophan, which converts to the hormones serotonin and melatonin; melatonin in particular is needed for good sleep. A good amount of protein is about 0.8–1g per kg body weight per day, so for a woman of 50kg for example, a good amount is 40-50g per day.” However, you should avoid too much high-protein food in the last few hours before bed as they can be hard to digest – especially red meat and nuts.
“Pumpkin seeds are high in natural magnesium. One of the roles of magnesium is allowing the muscle fibres in our body to relax (it counteracts calcium, which causes muscles to contract).” Says Dr Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading Nutritionist (www.marilynglenville.com), author of Natural Health Bible for Women. “It is also thought that magnesium has a role in the normal function of the pineal gland, which produces melatonin – a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and helps us to fall asleep.” So try including one to two tablespoons of pumpkin seeds a day: add them to sugar-free yoghurt or salads, or why not grind them up in a coffee grinder and add to porridge. Yummy!
Try drinking a glass of pure coconut water in the evening to ensure you’re sleeping through the night. “Coconut water is an excellent source of ‘electrolyte’ minerals: potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and sodium. Balanced levels of these minerals are necessary to maintain normal muscle action, nerve function and hydration in our body. Deficiencies or imbalances may cause cramping and restless legs at night, and therefore disturbed sleep. Coconut water products from young green coconuts are thought to be the best.” Says Barns.
Cherries have been found to contain small amounts of melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep cycles. “Although all cherries may contain some melatonin, tart ‘Montmorency’ cherries in particular have been found in a clinical trial to increase the body’s melatonin levels and increase sleep time. ” Says Barns.
Another tip for getting a better night’s sleep is to include zinc-rich foods such as oysters and other seafood, whole grains and nuts, especially pecans and brazil nuts (but as mentioned above, not too many nuts before bedtime, as they can be hard to digest). ‘Zinc is also needed for conversion of tryptophan into serotonin and melatonin.” Says Glenville.
Wilkinson explains “Turkey is often said to be a sleep-promoter, as it contains good levels of tryptophan, the amino acid that converts into serotonin and then melatonin in our body. However, tryptophan is not the only constituent that makes turkey worth mentioning: it is also a good source of zinc and vitamin B6 – ‘co-factors’ that help the body to produce melatonin from tryptophan. Have your turkey earlier in the day, though, as a large serving of meat or other high-protein food late in the evening may stop you falling asleep.”
“Include plenty of magnesium-rich foods in your diet such as buckwheat, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, fish and seafood, leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale, and dried fruits such as dried apricots or figs (but in smaller quantities due to the sugar content). Magnesium is known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ and is needed to relax our muscles.” Says Barns.
Chamomile Tea (and no caffeine!)
When you get your caffeine craving in the late afternoon or evening, turn to tea instead! “Calming herbal teas such as chamomile, passionflower or valerian, or specific sleep blends can be helpful to drink before bedtime. According to researchers, drinking the tea is associated with an increase of glycine, a chemical that relaxes nerves and muscles and acts like a mild sedative.” Says Wilkinson.
What tips do you have for getting a better night’s sleep? Tell us in the comments below!