There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep to make you feel energised for the rest of the day. Good quality sleep is vital as this is your body’s chance to recover and repair from the stresses and strains of the day before. In this increasingly busy and stressful world we live in, getting a good night’s sleep has never been more important.
A bad nights sleep can leave you feeling tired and irritable and can lead to poor concentration and poor food choices. As a result of being tired you may also try to perk yourself up with numerous cups of coffee and biscuits. If you’re wondering why the biscuit tin is always harder to resist when you’re feeling tired, then you can blame your appetite regulating hormones. These hormones get altered when the body is low on sleep which causes your appetite to increase and lowers your blood sugar levels. This results in craving for sugary foods to perk yourself up and keep going. Weight gain is thus a common side effect of a lack of sleep, so if you are struggling to lose a few pounds and don’t sleep well you need to get this sorted. Continuous lack of sleep can also lower the immune system making you more susceptible to colds and flu.
So what can be done about it? Few make the connection between what they consume and how they sleep, but in reality the two are very closely connected.
Foods that hinder shut eye:
This is a bit of a given, but what most people don’t realise is just how sensitive to caffeine they are (I personally can’t drink anything after 3pm as it will keep me up). Caffeine is a stimulant that stays in your system for up to 8 hours, so if you get to bed at 11pm, don’t drink anything with caffeine after 3pm (this includes tea and soft drinks such as Pepsi and Coke). Try substituting your tea/coffee with herbal teas instead such as peppermint and camomile and if you need a bit of a kick ginseng tea could be your answer! Remember also that there is still a small amount of caffeine in decaffeinated coffee (about 3 mg compared to 138mg in regular coffee). Caffeine is also dehydrating and places a stress on the body by affecting your sleep hormones.
Table showing caffeine sources and their caffeine content (table sourced from www.medicinenet.com):
Approximate Caffeine Content (mg)
|Coffee, regular (1 cup)||
|Espresso (1/4 cup)||
|Cappuccino, regular (1 cup)||
|Latte, regular (1 cup)||
|Tea, brewed, hot (1 cup)||
|Nestea Iced Tea, Earl Grey (1 cup)||
|Cola soda, regular or diet (12 oz)||
|Mountain Dew (12 oz)||
|Chocolate, semisweet (1 oz)||
|Chocolate milk (1 cup)||
|Cocoa powder (1 tablespoon)||
Whilst a small amount can help you sleep, over consumption can have the opposite effect as your body has to process the alcohol whilst you are sleeping when it should be instead be focusing on resting and repairing other functions. Metabolising alcohol also results in the release of sugar into the blood stream, further interrupting sleep. Alcohol is also dehydrating leaving you feeling tired the next day.
- Heavy, fatty and spicy foods
These foods take longer to digest and can therefore affect your sleep as your body continues to digest food when it should be preparing for sleep. They also commonly cause heartburn which can also keep you up at night. Aim to eat a light meal at least 3 hours before bedtime consisting of lean protein, complex carbohydrates and vegetables.
Foods that help shut eye:
- Tryptophan rich foods
Tryptophan is an amino acid (protein) and helps to produce sleep-inducing substances such as serotonin and melatonin, so including these in your evening meal can be beneficial. Tryptophan rich foods include: most protein sources (poultry and fish), dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin seeds, cashews and almonds). The key is to pair these with a complex carbohydrate source as this increases the amount of tryptophan available to the brain.
Good dinner choices include salmon with brown rice and broccoli, chicken and quinoa salad.
Pre bedtime snacks can also be beneficial for those struggling to get to sleep, and good choices are Greek yoghurt with berries, milk and honey and almond butter on oatcakes.
Other factors to consider:
1. Hormonal changes – ladies, during your menstrual cycle low levels of the hormone progesterone can affect deep sleep (it also raises your body’s temperature making it difficult to fall asleep). As these hormone levels rise during ovulation, sleepiness during the day is common. If you think your sleep patterns are affected by your menstrual cycle you may want to keep a sleep diary and change your diet to balance your hormone levels.
2. Stress – stress depletes magnesium (a natural relaxant required for sleep) and affects the hormone cortisol, which amongst other things, helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Try and find ways of managing your stress levels, and avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar and processed foods which also affect cortisol levels.
I haven’t come across anyone yet that doesn’t benefit from better sleep by taking magnesium supplements. Magnesium is a relaxant and is naturally depleted through stress (both physical – i.e. exercise and mental – stressful work conditions).
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and supplementation can be extremely beneficial to those struggling with their sleep. It’s also great for reducing the effects of jet lag, so if you’re jetting off across time zones, keep this handy!
Sweet dreams everyone!