We all know that certain lifestyle choices can effect whether we get a decent night's sleep, but did you know that our diet can also play an important role? We asked our experts what four healthy foods will help us reach the land of nod
If you’re gazing a this through sleep deprived eyes, then you’re probably not alone. We’re a nation of walking zombies according to research led by the University of Leeds and Silentnight (silentnight.co.uk) which found that 25 per cent of Brits only sleep for five hours or less per night – more than two hours less than the national recommended average of seven and a half. Lifestyle changes are the first step to conquering insomnia or improving the quality of our slumber: exercise, a comfortable bed, no technology before bedtime etc. However, our experts have suggested four insomnia busting foods for restful nights and wakeful days.
You’ll be pleased to know that your post-turkey lunch nap is not unusual. In fact, this meat contains high levels of tryptophan, an amino acid which helps the body make serotonin. Serotonin is then converted to melatonin, the hormone which is produced once we’re exposed to darkness to regulate sleep. “A good late night snack should include carbs, to help you sleep, and a little bit of protein, which will help build muscle and keep you feeling full,” comments Dr Nerina Ramlakhan (silentnight.co.uk). With this in mind, try opting for a skinless chicken breast with a side of tasty legumes for dinner and finish the day with a banana.
A handful of nuts helps boost sleep hormones and is rich in magnesium – great for those seeking a more satisfying snooze. “Food which is high in magnesium helps to relax muscles for a better night’s sleep,” says Dr Nerina. Nutritionist Ashan Abidi, for the College of Naturopathic Medicine (naturopathy-uk. com) agrees: “Deficiencies of magnesium have been linked with sleep issues which exacerbate insomnia, such as restless leg syndrome and frequent night-time waking.” Cashew nuts are also a good source of calcium – a mineral which helps in the promotion of sleep. “Calcium plays a crucial role in the production of our sleep hormone melatonin, using our dietary intake of tryptophan, which is found in some protein foods,” explains Ashan.
“Avocado, figs, pumpkin seeds and spinach are all high in magnesium,” explains certified nutritional chef and head of culinary at HelloFresh (hellofresh.co.uk) Victoria Robertson. But magnesium isn’t the only mineral spinach provides to aid a restful night. “Vitamin A nourishes the cells in our eyes, which are responsible for setting our normal sleep/wake cycle known as circadian rhythm,” explains Ashan. “Just one cup of raw spinach contains more than half of our recommended daily intake. Plus, spinach is also high in vitamin B6, which further assists our sleep hormone melatonin.”
4 BROWN RICE
Slow-releasing carbohydrates are broken down into glucose before entering the bloodstream, and it’s glucose which your body uses for energy. “You may not think you need much energy while you sleep, but your brain and body still need glucose to keep working,” explains Shona. “If levels fall too low, this can cause the release of the adrenaline and cortisol hormones, which can wake you up,” she continues. Carbohydrates also help tryptophan around the body as Victoria explains: “It’s best to eat tryptophan-rich foods alongside carbs to help your body transport the tryptophan to your brain. It’s also a good idea to up your antioxidant and fibre intake, which will reduce your levels of tryptophan-degrading cytokine.”