Nutritionist’s tips to eat your way to better sleep and reduce insomnia
Sleep is one of the most important things to get right when it comes to a healthy lifestyle.
When we go to sleep our bodies heal themselves, learn memories, reduce stress levels and more.
Plus, without a good nights sleep we all feel a bit unwell and can be cranky.
And, it turns out that the way we eat can either help or hinder the quality and amount of sleep we get. Not only the type of foods we ingest but also when and how we eat them.
Sal Hanvey, expert nutritionist at food sensitivity specialist YorkTest, has given her expert insight into what foods we should be eating to help us get better sleep. And, she’s even busted some sleep myths,
Check out what she had to say below…
Cheese nightmares – myth or fact
As kids, we’ve all been told that eating cheese before bedtime would cause nightmares – but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
While you shouldn’t munch on a block of cheddar right before turning in, eating dairy products throughout the day could put you on the path to a good night’s sleep due to being rich in an amino acid called Tryptophan.
Tryptophan, when ingested, gets turned into serotonin (the happy hormone), before finally being converted into melatonin (the sleepy hormone).
These foods are therefore ideal in building towards a good night’s sleep. Examples of some include:
- Dairy products (milk, low-fat yoghurt, cheese)
- Poultry (turkey, chicken)
- Seafood (shrimp, salmon, halibut, tuna, sardines, cod)
- Nuts and seeds (flax, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, cashews, peanuts, almonds, walnuts)
- Legumes (kidney beans, lima beans, black beans, split peas, chickpeas)
- Fruits (apples, bananas, peaches, avocado)
- Vegetables (spinach, broccoli, turnip greens, asparagus, onions, seaweed)
- Grains (wheat, rice, barley, corn, oats)
Plant-based food will help you to stay asleep for longer
While we usually attribute plant-based foods to keeping us energised and feeling fresh, it seems they’re pretty good at helping us get some shut-eye too. With most nuts and seeds having a high magnesium content, they could be key in getting us to sleep and keeping us there too.
This is due to something called GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) an amino acid that, if levels are low, can cause your brain to have racing thoughts and a busy mind.
Magnesium has GABA boosting properties meaning that eating some of these foods within a few hours of going to bed could be just what you need for a good night’s sleep. Foods that are loaded with magnesium include:
- Pumpkin seed – kernels: Serving Size 1 oz, 168 mg
- Almonds, dry roasted: Serving Size 1 oz, 80 mg
- Spinach, boiled: Serving Size ½ cup, 78 mg
- Cashews, dry roasted: Serving Size 1 oz, 74 mg
- Pumpkin seeds in shell: Serving Size 1 oz, 74 mg
- Peanuts, oil roasted: Serving Size ¼ cup, 63 mg
Eating within three hours of bedtime is a big no-no!
We often attribute having a full stomach as a comforting feeling, perhaps the thought of settling into the sofa with a blanket after the Sunday lunch comes to mind. But in fact, eating before going to sleep is likely to keep you up well past your bedtime.
However, as mentioned earlier, there are a number of factors that can lead to bad sleep ranging from the food we eat to stress and anxiety. While in some cases it may be out of our relative control, there are some things that we do that should be avoided. These include:
- Caffeine after 3 pm
- Sleeping with a light on
- Exercising too close to bed
- Having your phone nearby and on
- Watching TV in bed
- Eating 3 hours before bedtime
- Having the room too hot
- Lack of routine
- Working late
- Long naps
A cool room is a snuggly room
This debate is right up there between which side of the bed is best and whether you sleep with your feet under the covers or not.
Which is best… a hot room or a cold one?
While you might think a warm, cosy room may be the key to the golden 7-9 hours per night, it turns out a cold room might be best.
Good bedtime habits are important and there are a number of good habits we can pick up to make sure we’re looking after ourselves. No caffeine after 3 pm is a key way to ensure you aren’t up all night and as discussed, eating food high in Tryptophan throughout the day, will also be hugely beneficial but others also include:
- Lower room temperature
- No phone or tech before bed
- No TV in the bedroom
- Epsom salt bath an hour before bed
When it comes to when we should or shouldn’t be eating before bed, Sal Hanvey says that while it is more to do with what we eat rather than when eating big meals after 7pm should be a big no-no.
“After 7pm or so, our pancreas begins to slow down its production of digestive enzymes and food eaten after this time, especially big meals are not recommended as our bodies have to work extra hard to try and break down our food. Eating light in the evening is key to better digestion, and, in turn, a better night's sleep so that our digestive system isn’t overly taxed.
"However, if there is an underlying food intolerance, then this should be investigated to make sure we are making the right food choices at any time of the day.”
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