Eat right to sleep tight
Many people have experienced difficulty sleeping after eating a heavy meal or drinking coffee late in the evening, but there are a number of other ways that diet can impact sleep. Whether it is trouble falling asleep or a tendency to wake in the night, a change of diet might hold the key. Below are some top tips for a better night’s sleep:
Focus on foods which aid melatonin production
Evidence suggests that eating foods rich in tryptophan and vitamin B6 in the evenings helps the body produce the sleep hormone melatonin. This includes bananas, chicken, turkey and most fish. A variety of cherry called Montmorency has also been shown to increase melatonin, so drinking tart cherry juice might help to induce sleep.
Address mineral deficiencies
A study by researchers at the universities of Pennsylvania and Chicago found that people with low selenium levels found it harder to get to sleep. Magnesium and calcium are also known to benefit sleep – a deficiency of calcium can make it hard to fall asleep while being low in magnesium makes it difficult to stay asleep. Minerals have complex interactions with one another, so if you think deficiencies could be contributing to your sleep problems it is advisable to consult a Nutritional Therapist for a personalised supplement plan.
The researchers in Pennsylvania and Chicago also found a link between eating more than necessary and poor sleep, although it was not clear whether excessive eating resulted in poor sleep or whether tiredness led to overeating. More recent research at the University of Adelaide found that a high fat diet was linked to sleep apnoea and daytime sleepiness, regardless of whether the subject was overweight.
Balance blood sugar
There is conflicting information regarding carbohydrate foods and sleep. Some studies have shown that people who eat high GI foods in the evening (such as white rice or honey) fall asleep faster than others. This is thought to be because the resulting spike in insulin causes tryptophan to enter the brain more quickly. However, one common reason for waking in the night is reactive hypoglycaemia, where a drop in blood sugar occurs a few hours after consumption of a sugary snack. Low blood sugar whilst asleep can also trigger nightmares and sleep disturbances, and this suggests that high GI foods should be avoided in the evenings.
It goes without saying that drinking a large amount of water late in the evening is likely to result in waking in the night to use the bathroom; however, avoiding fluid is not the solution as dehydration causes grogginess in the morning. Aim to regulate water intake throughout the day so that your body stays well hydrated without the need to take a glass of water to bed. Alternatively try relaxing caffeine-free teas such as chamomile and passionflower, an hour or more before bed.
If you are interested in understanding more about the effects of diet on the body then a short course in Nutrition or a consultation with a Nutritional Therapist would be a great place to start. See a list of current courses on offer here.