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How to get a good night sleep

According to the Sleep Health Foundation of Australia, sleep problems are common among Australian adults, with up to 45% of people affected. You’re considered a poor sleeper if you have difficulty falling asleep, you wake through the night, or you wake too early in the morning.

The average reported sleep time for Australian adults is 7 hours per night. Though 20% of Aussie adults either sleep less than 5.5 hours or more than 9 hours a night. Experts agree that the optimum amount of sleep is between 7 and 9 hours per night, depending on the individual. Poor outcomes are associated with not only getting too little sleep but also too much.

The benefits of a good night sleep & the dangers of skimping on your zzzz’s

Sleep is as vital to human health as food, shelter and clothing. That’s because sleep helps protect our physical health, mental health, quality of life and safety in three important ways. Firstly, most of our body’s repair and rejuvenation functions occur while we’re asleep, so too for essential growth and development of babies and children. Secondly, sleep is key to maintaining a healthy balance of hormones that control so many body processes including our appetite, fertility, metabolism, energy, hair/skin/bone health, mental clarity and mood. Thirdly, our immune system that protects us from infections and foreign substances requires sleep to function effectively.

Sleep deficient people often have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling emotions and coping with change. They may also be at higher risk of accidents, depression, suicide and risk-taking behaviour. It’s all to do with the altered brain activity – essentially, electrical and chemical pathways that normally occur during sleep are interrupted, which impairs cognitive ability, mood and more. One question many people ponder is, does diet affect sleep?

Does diet affect sleep or sleep affect diet?

The answer is yes to both. For starters, poor sleep has been linked to bad eating habits (choosing the wrong foods as well as reduced appetite control), weight gain and an inevitable increase in disease risk as a result. Sacrificing just one night of sleep can cause body changes that promote weight gain and muscle loss. Long term sleep deprivation has been linked to serious health conditions including hypertension, stroke, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and a suppressed immune system.

On the other hand, getting better sleep can actually improve your diet. A recent British study suggests that the trick to cutting sugar cravings may be as simple as getting a good night sleep. Participants who increased the amount of sleep they got, reduced their added sugar intake by as much as 10 grams the next day. They also had lower carbohydrate intake than the group that did not extend their sleep.

Which nutrients can help you sleep better?

Luckily there are some key nutrients that promote better sleep, so if you’re struggling with shuteye, ensure you’re including these in your diet.

Tryptophan – is an amino acid found in many foods that contain protein. Tryptophan increases serotonin and melatonin, both neuro-transmitters that impact sleep and the timing of your sleep-wake cycle. Foods particularly high in tryptophan include poultry, fish, eggs, meat, cheese, yoghurt, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Carbohydrates – research suggests that another way to boost tryptophan and serotonin levels in the brain is to consume a carbohydrate-rich meal in the hours before bed. The carbs cause the release of insulin, which makes tryptophan more available to the brain.

Omega 3s – if you regularly consume omega 3 fatty acids from fish, the benefits could include falling asleep more quickly, improved sleep quality, reduced sleep disturbances and better daytime performance. Salmon, herring, mackerel, tuna and sardines are all excellent sources.

Melatonin – is a sleep regulator, helping to improve sleep quality and reduce daytime tiredness. Melatonin can work with tryptophan and serotonin or independently. It is naturally contained in many foods such as fish, eggs, nuts, and extra virgin olive oil.

Magnesium – is often referred to as the sleep mineral. That’s because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms and relaxes. Studies show that insufficient magnesium is linked to sleep problems. Excellent sources include dark leafy greens, wheat, quinoa, nuts and seeds, avocado and tofu.

Antioxidants – have recently been pushed into the spotlight for their impact on sleep. It’s believed that effective antioxidant levels could not only help to initiate deep restful sleep but also restore the body’s equilibrium during sleep. Antioxidants tend to be most potent in colourful foods, such as berries, grapes, pomegranates and other dark coloured plants.

Whilst getting enough of these nutrients will undoubtedly help address your sleep woes, it’s important to remember that a healthy, balanced diet will usually provide these nutrients in the right doses for you. The key thing is to focus on eating wholefoods; to minimise processed foods; and aim to eat plenty of variety while meeting recommended daily intakes for wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, proteins and fats. That way you’ll naturally be providing your body with the essential nutrients it needs to function effectively and optimise sleep.

When I’m too busy to cook, I rely on healthy meals from Dietlicious to fill the gap. All their meals are made from scratch using wholefood ingredients with no additives, preservatives or anything processed.

7 bonus lifestyle tips to improve your sleep

Here are a few other tips that can enhance your chances of a good night sleep.

  1. Establish a healthy sleep pattern by being consistent with the time you go to bed and wake up each day.
  2. Increase your exposure to bright natural light (sunshine) during the morning and middle of the day. This supports functioning of your circadian rhythm.
  3. Decrease your exposure to blue light at night. Blue light is emitted by televisions, mobile phones and computers and has been shown to interfere with your natural body clock.
  4. Ensure your bedroom temperature is not too hot or too cold. Ideally use bed linen that is made from natural fibres, not synthetic ones which can cause overheating.
  5. Don’t overload your digestive system by eating or drinking too much in the hour or two before bed.
  6. Cut down on caffeine. Ideally, don’t consume caffeinated beverages or foods after 2pm.
  7. Alcohol is a sleep disrupter so beware of overdoing it.

If you’re experiencing more than just some tossing and turning and you suspect a medical issue at play (such as sleep apnoea or restless leg syndrome), please consult your doctor.