An introduction to sleep and diet
Sleep problems still remain a persistent problem in our society, with much of the western world experiencing epidemics of insomnia and sleep disturbances. In 2011, experts estimated that around 50% of Britons were failing to get enough sleep and now, seven years later, it’s unlikely this trend had dissipated, with issues such as stress and poor diet still remaining a real problem.1
In 2015, a study conducted by Public Health England, found that diet was the biggest factor driving poor health, ranking ahead of smoking!2 While most us will be familiar with some of the side effects of poor diet, such as indigestion, obesity and cardiovascular disease, the wrong eating habits can also have a distinct impact on our sleep, exacerbating issues such as insomnia and sleep apnoea.
It’s also true, though, that our quality of sleep can affect what we eat, as I explore in my article, ‘Is your lack of sleep making you overeat?’ with sleep deprivation often leading to an increase in our cravings for sugary, carb-heavy foods, creating a vicious cycle that can be difficult to escape.
However, there are steps you can take to ensure that you are eating the right foods to promote a good night’s sleep and avoiding those that may upset or disrupt your sleep patterns. That’s why today I’m going to take a look at the foods you should be eating, the ones you should be avoiding and the habits that might ensure a better, more restful night’s sleep.
Foods that can help you to sleep
In my article ‘What foods can you eat to help you fall asleep’, I go into depth about the best nutrients you work into your diet for a good night of sleep and the foods you can find them in. Here, I’m going to briefly cover a few of these foods and how you can increase your intake, including some of my own favourite recipes!
Tart cherry juice
Although technically not a food product, there is some research to substantiate tart cherry juice as a good option for promoting healthy sleep. Published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, a small study did find that cherry juice did improve sleep efficiency and insomnia severity, however, further research is still needed.3
Nevertheless, tart cherry juice is a rich source of potassium and iron, as well as anti-inflammatory anthocyanins. Just be careful to choose a reliable brand that’s free of added sugars and preservatives.
I’d recommend trying CherryActive’s Montmorency Cherry Juice Concentrate, which is stocked by our friends over at Jan de Vries. It contains 100% Montmorency cherry juice with no added sugars, sweeteners, preservatives or colours.
You were probably told to eat all your greens as a child and for good reason. Leafy green vegetables such as kale, broccoli and spinach are crammed full of goodness, including mood-boosting magnesium which can help with converting tryptophan, an essential amino acid, into serotonin as well as regulating your production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Spinach and broccoli also contain vitamin B6 and calcium which can help to support your nervous system and affect how tryptophan is utilised by your body. In some cases, low levels of vitamin B6 have even been linked to insomnia so I would definitely make sure you’re working a good portion of veg into your diet.
Super Veg & Fruit Green Smoothie
Broccoli & Potato Soup
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines provide an incredible range of omega-3 fatty acids and amino acids, particularly tryptophan, a mood regulator which can help to relax and calm your body in preparation of sleep. Studies have also indicated that omega-3 fatty acids could be very useful for sleep, helping with brain development and blood pressure.
Some sources of oily fish also provide rich amounts of vitamin D, so it’s always worth working at least one portion of oily fish into one of your meals each week.
Grilled Honey Lemon Sardines with Herbed Rice
When you think of bananas, the chances are your mind immediately zones in on their potassium content, which may cause you to overlook some of this fruit’s other benefits. Bananas provide a good source of vitamin B6, magnesium and tryptophan, as well as melatonin, the sleep hormone.
This means that snacking on a banana may help to increase your production of melatonin, helping you feel more relaxed and lethargic before you go to bed. One small study found that eating bananas did cause blood levels of melatonin to rise two hours later.4
Cashew & Banana Smoothie
Banana Bread Muffins
Foods that you should be avoiding
When it comes to foods that might be interrupting your sleep patterns, the odds are that you already know which products to look out for. Nevertheless, the below I covered a few of the main culprits as well as some surprising foods products that they often crop up in!
It’s not exactly a secret that caffeine will impede your sleep patterns – that’s why so many of us turn to it first thing in the morning, downing cups of tea and coffee to prepare us for the day ahead. However, while you may be aware of its detrimental impact on your sleep patterns, you might not realise just how long it can linger in your system. For example, if you have your last cup of coffee at 4pm in the afternoon, you probably feel pretty confident that it won’t disturb your sleep at all.
However, while most authorities state that caffeine should be out of your system within 3-5 hours, this can be misleading. This is how long it takes for your body to eliminate half of the substance – the remaining half can linger in your body for much, much longer5, particularly if you’re on the Pill. This is because the Pill is thought to reduce the speed at which your body can eliminate caffeine, causing it to linger in your system for an extra four hours!6
It’s not just your cups of tea and coffee that are saturated with caffeine though – everything from protein bars to yoghurts to certain medication can contain the substance so it’s always worth checking the label thoroughly!
Fats have earned an unfortunate reputation as far as the media is concerned, particularly at this time of year when low fat diets are all the rage. Healthy fats are actually very good for you, being rich in omega fatty acids and healthy cholesterol.
Nevertheless, the bad fats that are usually found in processed foods still remain a big no-no. These types of fats can affect your waistline, leading to problems such as obesity which can make you more vulnerable to sleep issues such as sleep apnoea.
Processed foods are often rich in refined carbohydrates too which can be converted into sugar, raising your blood glucose levels which can have a knock-on effect on your sleep patterns.
Sugar is bad for you – this is hardly a ground-breaking observation. It can cause your blood sugar levels to spike and disrupt your sleep patterns at night. However, the tricky thing is that sleep deprivation can also inspire sugar cravings so it can feel like a vicious cycle. I would urge you to resist those cravings though and instead focus on healthier substitutes such as dried fruit, nuts or homemade energy balls!
It’s also important to be mindful that sugar can appear in places you wouldn’t usually expect it to. Yoghurts, brunch bars, cereals and even flavoured water may all contain sugar and artificial sweeteners so always check the label!
There’s no harm in having the odd glass of wine now and then but, as I explored in my article ‘Does alcohol really help you sleep’ alcohol should definitely not be used as a sleep aid. When you start to rely on a glass of wine in the evening to help you relax, this should sound alarm bells.
Alcohol may make you feel calm and drowsy, but it also delays REM sleep and can lead to disturbed sleep during the night as well as long-term insomnia. Try to avoid regularly consuming alcohol before bedtime and focus on healthier alternatives instead, such as herbal tea or good old-fashioned plain water!
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Helpful tips & advice
When it comes to your diet, sometimes it isn’t just about what you eat (a bit confusing but stay with me). Other aspects of your lifestyle can play a big role in influencing certain eating habits which is why I’m going to offer some helpful tips and advice that may help you drift off at night.
- Exercise regularly: Exercise is brilliant for keeping your healthy, helping to prevent obesity and for increasing your overall fitness. When it comes to sleep, regularly exercising can help to reduce your stress levels, diminishing a major cause of insomnia and sleep deprivation. Exercise can also increase your metabolism, helping to breakdown and utilise your food
- Watch what you eat before bedtime: Keeping to a healthy diet during the day can go a long way towards assisting your sleep patterns, but it’s also important that you keep an eye on what you eat before bedtime too. Even healthy foods such as cereal and raw vegetables can disrupt your sleep, as I explore in my article ‘6 surprising foods to avoid before bedtime.’
- No main meals after 7pm: We’re all guilty of having a late dinner now and then, especially as other things so often get in the way, from long commutes to running errands. However, eating a large meal after 7pm often means that you’re still digesting your meal when you go to bed, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep or cause disturbances throughout the night.
- Ditch the devices: As you’ve probably heard me mention half a hundred times, electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets and televisions can disrupt your production of melatonin, triggering bouts of insomnia and sleep deprivation. Instead, reconsider your sleep hygiene routine and eliminate all devices from your environment at least an hour before bedtime.
- Try a herbal remedy: If sleep is still evading you despite your healthy eating habits, it’s might be time to consider a herbal remedy. Unlike conventional sleep remedies that can leave you feel tired and lethargic the next day, our Dormeasan is a non-drowsy formula prepared from organically cultivated Valerian and Hops, helping you to drift off naturally into a restful sleep.