Is even just the thought of a good night’s sleep a luxury for you? Or are you one of the luckier ones who fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow? For some, a restorative night’s sleep is sadly not a given and a restful nights sleep can be a nightly battle between the sheets.
Just like a healthy diet and regular physical activity, sleep is critical for a healthy body and mind. Waking un-refreshed and feeling exhausted throughout the day can leave you feelingblah and impact mood, function, food choice and overall productivity.
Human sleep is composed of two distinct states, non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). Generally, a night’s sleep involves 4 to 6 repeated cycles of NREM and REM. NREM has 3 stages; stage 3 is where deep sleep occurs, this is when the body repairs itself. Conversely, during REM the brain is more active and this is when dreams come to life.
Poor sleep can impair quality of life and place you at risk of chronic disease including diabetes. Loss of sleep has also been linked to weight gain as our appetite regulating hormones leptin and grehlin may become out of whack and cause us to be out of touch with our true hunger.
When we lose sleep, leptin the signal telling us we have had enough food is lower and our appetite signal grehlin telling us when to eat is higher. Lack of sleep can also disrupt our blood sugar levels. This causes us to hunt down carbohydrate and sugar rich foods for an instant energy boost, setting us up for another poor night’s sleep.
Restorative sleep is even required to maintain a strong immune system. Give yourself the best chance of fighting off the flu this winter and focus on eating your way to sound sleep.
Remember, we aren’t guaranteed a good night’s sleep just because we have tucked ourselves in. What we do during the day impacts on how we will sleep at night. As the saying goes, the more you put in, the more you get out. Correct dietary practices and healthy sleep hygiene will all contribute to allowing for restorative sleep.
Healthy rest-full sleep need not be out of reach when you follow these helpful tips:
- Engage in regular physical exercise: exercise has been shown to improve sleep by promoting transition to deeper sleep stages and inhibiting transition to lighter sleep stages, this makes for a motivating reason to not his snooze and instead hit the pavement!
- Avoid stimulants: too much caffeine close to bedtime can reduce our ability to make the hormones we need to fall asleep and may leave our mind racing. If a warm drink before bed is a ritual try curling up with a book and sipping herbal tea for a more relaxing bedtime practice.
- Don’t go to bed hungry: you may have been told this as a child and it still applies today, going to bed hungry may cause blood sugar levels to dip too low during the night, which may cause us to wake and disrupt sleep. Anticipating breakfast in the early hours does not make for restful sleep! Make sure to have a satisfying dinner or simple supper if prone to hunger during the night.
- Eat foods rich in glutamine for gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) production: GABA is an important neurotransmitter for healthy sleep. Glutamine, an amino acid is required to make GABA, without an adequate intake of glutamine we may have low levels of GABA which is associated with poor sleep quality. Foods high in glutamine include meat (chicken, beef, pork, lamb), dairy products, parsley and cabbage.
- Eat adequate protein for tryptophan production: tryptophan is an amino acid used to make melatonin, the hormone which sets our sleep cycle and causes us to fall asleep. Consuming foods high in tryptophan such as turkey and cottage cheese will help with healthy melatonin production and see us sleeping sound. As an added bonus, it may also help boost mood during the day!
- Indulge in calcium: a warm cup of milk before bed has more merits then we think, increased calcium intake is associated with decreased difficulty falling asleep. Calcium works hand in hand with tryptophan to manufacture melatonin. Research has shown calcium levels in the body are highest during our deepest sleep stages and calcium deficiency has been linked to disturbed REM sleep. Good sources include milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese, tahini, dried figs and leafy greens.
- Be a sun seeker: say hello to stepping out in the sun daily and goodbye to waking during the night. Vitamin D is associated with greater ability to maintain sleep, just 10-15 minutes daily will help top up vitamin D stores.
- Munch on foods rich in Vitamin B3: vitamin B3 has been studied for its positive effects on sleep. Try these healthy sources on your plate daily, tuna, turkey, pork, mushrooms, green peas, sunflower seeds and avocado.
- Snack on brazil nuts: brazil nuts are famous for being a concentrated source of selenium. Adequate intake of selenium has been associated with decreased difficulty falling asleep, just 2-3 brazil nuts daily will help top up selenium stores.
- Increase Vitamin-C intake: low vitamin C intake has been linked with non-restorative sleep, toss red capsicum and cauliflower into your stir-fry tonight or snack on kiwi fruit and oranges for a vitamin C boost!
- Practice sleep hygiene: we are all guilty of it but exposure to bright lights at night such as phone or tv screens is known to impact our sleep cycle and interfere with melatonin production. Reducing exposure 1-2 hours before bed may help with normal melatonin synthesis and promote faster sleep onset.
- Shift-workers: don’t feel left out if you’re a shift worker, the above tips will also help promote healthy sleep. However, if you struggle with feeling wired from disrupted working hours and need added support, the all-important mineral magnesium plays a critical role in sleep regulation. Ensuring high dietary intake of magnesium or supplementation prior to bed can improve sleep quality and duration. Healthy dietary sources include whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts and legumes.
A good night’s sleep is invaluable and makes a world of difference not only to your present day but also your overall well being long-term. Putting the tips above into practice is doing yourself a favour and should see your body reward you with restful restorative sleep! At the end of the day, what more could you ask for?
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