Some of us have no trouble falling asleep at night. However, at one stage or another, some of us find it a challenge. In fact, the Sleep Health Foundation reported that 33-45% of Australians have poor sleeping patterns, including finding it difficult to fall asleep, short duration of sleep, and poor sleep quality. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from insomnia.
Poor sleeping patterns can have a harmful impact on our lives. Lack of sleep causes reduced physical performance and energy levels, impaired concentration, coping strategies and decision-making skills, and loss of motivation. In terms of nutrition, sleep is important because it has an effect on our dietary choices. Lack of sleep is associated with metabolic disorders and increased prevalence of obesity. It has been found that those who sleep less are more likely to consume foods high in fats and refined carbohydrates, and eat less fruits and vegetables.
The good news is, following healthy behaviours can assist with improving your sleep. We have listed some foods and eating patterns to try, if you need a little help with snooze.
Cherry juice, particularly tart cherry juice, is one of the very few food sources of melatonin – a hormone that helps to induce and regulate sleep. It is thought that the combined effects of melatonin and antioxidants in cherries support improve sleep. A 2012 study published in the European Journal of nutrition found that volunteers who consumed 250mls of tart cherry juice twice daily had improvements in sleep duration and quality.
A warm cup of milk
How many times have we been told that a warm cup of milk before bed will help us sleep? What was once an ‘old wife’s tale’ has now been proven by science. Milk contains a protein called tryptophan, which is used to make the neurotransmitter serotonin and the hormone melatonin. Both of these are involved in preparing our body for sleep. Furthermore, the low GI carbohydrate in milk (lactose) releases insulin, which helps transport tryptophan into the brain. Last but not least, the calcium in milk helps the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin.
Legumes are a great source of magnesium, which has been found to improve sleep onset and duration. Magnesium is involved in the making and secreting serotonin, and is also involved in relieving muscle and nervous tension to help rest and relaxation. To get your evening dose of legumes, consider a dinner of lentil Bolognese, chickpea curry or black bean burritos! Other sources of magnesium include whole grains, nuts and seeds, dark-green vegetables, dark chocolate and bananas.
Protein rich foods including chickpeas, fish, poultry and meat
B group vitamins, particularly vitamins B3, B6 and B12, have an important role to play in sleep regulation. In particular, Vitamin B6 and niacin are needed to make tryptophan and serotonin. Supplementation with B12 has been shown to regulate sleep-wake rhythms and align a person’s sleep with regular circadian pattern. Alternate between protein sources at dinner time for nutrient and taste variety.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine too close to bedtime
According to the London Sleep Centre in the UK, alcohol may help you fall asleep easier, but it reduces sleep quality, particularly in the second half of the night. This is because alcohol reduces Rapid Eye Movement (REM) deep sleep cycles, and may also supress breathing, precipitating sleep apnoea. Caffeine, as a stimulant, can also prevent sleep. It’s best to avoid these before bedtime to ensure a better sleep.
Avoid eating a heavy meal before sleep
Consuming a late dinner or a large snack before lying down may lead to discomfort and heartburn. Aim to finish dinner at least 1-2 hours between before bedtime, if possible, to allow time for proper digestion. A brief walk after dinner will also speed up the digestion process. Likewise, it is also not a good idea to go to bed to hungry, as that can prevent you from falling asleep. So, if you need a snack, make it small and light. Tryptophan-rich dairy is a good choice!