Eat your way to better sleep

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We are all aware of the impact nutrition has on fuelling our bodies to take on the day, but what about the influence nutrition has on getting a good night sleep?

Sleep deprivation is not only leaving us feeling more tired, looking drained or with dark circles under our eyes – it is having a significant impact on our overall health.

Sleep is arguably the most undervalued component of health in modern society. It’s the first thing disregarded during times of stress or high pressure such as hitting that project deadline or juggling work and social life. We’ve all found ourselves up until the small hours cramming for an exam or preparing a presentation when in fact, improved concentration, a greater capacity to learn, as well as reduced stress levels are just a few of the potential benefits of a good night’s sleep.

Research suggests that impaired sleep can contribute to a number of health issues including weight gain, diabetes risk, impaired hormonal function and increased cravings for high sugar high fat foods to name a few.  Good sleep management has also been shown to convincingly reduce the prevalence of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes – even without weight loss.

So, what can you do to improve sleep quality?

  1. Eat a fibre-rich dinner
    Supporting your gut is essential for improving your sleep as melatonin (a hormone that regulates night and day cycles, so your body knows when to sleep and wake) is not only released in the brain but in the gut too. A healthy gut will help to absorb more melatonin and promote better sleep. Foods rich in fibre include: fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses and legumes.
  2. Eat foods containing tryptophan
    Tryptophan is an amino acid which is converted into serotonin (a natural mood stabiliser) and contributes to improved sleep. Foods rich in tryptophan include: eggs, nuts, dates, tofu, chickpeas, buckwheat and fish.
  3. Ensure adequate magnesium status
    Magnesium plays a key role in muscle and nerve relaxation. Food sources include quinoa, nuts, green leafy vegetables, black beans and dark chocolate. Bathing in an Epsom salt or magnesium chloride bath can also raise magnesium levels in the body while relaxing and relieving soreness.
  4. Limit caffeine intake
    This one may not be revolutionary news, but it’s important nonetheless.

    The stimulating effect of caffeine will persist for several hours – it takes around six hours for just half of the caffeine ingested to be eliminated, with this in mind, it’s not so surprising that one study found consuming caffeine even six hours before bedtime reduced total sleep time by an hour. Caffeine works as a stimulant by delaying the onset of adenosine, a molecule which signals the brain to relax. It also delays the onset of GABA a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect on the nervous system. In addition, caffeine has also been shown to influence other chemicals such as dopamine, leading to increased brain activity and feeling alert…all in all not a great recipe for sleep!

    While caffeine affects us all differently depending on a number of factors including: age, habitual intake and genetic makeup to name a few, if you are struggling to get consistently good quality sleep it is worth abstaining from caffeine after 2pm switching to caffeine-free herbal teas in the evening instead.

  5. Opt for a lighter evening meal
    Eating a large meal before you hit the hay has been shown to delay sleep latency, meaning it will take you longer to fall asleep. This could be due to a delayed secretion of melatonin and/or your gut still working to digest your food well past bed time. To encourage the onset of sleep aim to eat your evening meal no less than two hours before bed, if that’s not possible opt for a light, easily digestible dinner such as a simple salad or soup.
  6. Limit screen time
    The light omitted from phone and television screens inhibits melatonin release so try switching off an hour before bed to aid a restful sleep.

In modern society, time is a precious commodity – so why not protect your downtime, enable an earlier dinner, and free-up all breakfast and lunch preparation by letting our chefs do the hard work giving you your evenings back to relax, exercise and spend time with your family – all of which promoting a good night’s sleep.