Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. According to National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. During sleep, your brain 'cleans itself'. This nocturnal cleaning system removes proteins called amyloid-beta, which accumulate into the plaques that contribute to Alzheimer’s and dementia. So skimping on sleep may negatively affect your risk for these diseases.
But saying “get a good nights’ sleep” is sometimes easier said than done. I’d like to share a few nutritional changes and strategies that will support you to get to sleep, and stay asleep so that you can heal and regenerate optimally.
What you eat during the day also has a definite impact on the quality of your sleep. Here are a few examples of foods that help support a good night sleep.
- Almonds - a good source of magnesium which is needed for quality sleep. When your magnesium levels are low, it’s harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, lack of magnesium can also be the cause of ‘twitchy leg’ syndrome or muscle cramps.
- Avocados – in addition to being rich in healthy fat and fibre, avocados are a rich source of potassium. Potassium works with magnesium to improve sleep. Green vegetable juice is also loaded with potassium, see point 5 below.
- Chamomile Tea – not just a folk remedy, chamomile tea really does help to raise glycine, a chemical which has calming properties. Chamomile tea is naturally caffeine free so you can drink a cup of tea right before bedtime.
- Cherries – A handful of cherries contain magnesium, eat them an hour or so before bedtime. Tart cherries have also been shown in research to contain small amounts of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep.
- Walnuts – good source of tryptophan – an amino acid which helps your body to make melatonin, and they contain trace amounts of melatonin themselves.
- Green Leafy Vegetables – kale, spinach and silverbeet are often ignored when it comes to promoting sleep, but they contain calcium which aids your brain use tryptophan to produce melatonin; and they’re brilliant source of magnesium too. I try to drink a cup of homemade cold-pressed green juice daily to ensure I’m getting as much of these nutrients as possible.
- Chicken or turkey - these protein foods are rich in the amino acid tryptophan. This helps boost the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
A few other strategies to consider:
- Try to go to sleep and wake up at similar times each day (even on the weekend)
- Get a sleep tracking device such as fit-bit or Bellabeat to keep mindful of your daily sleep practice
- Find yourself a simple wind-down routine to prepare yourself for bed each night. This ‘trains’ your body to be ready to sleep. My routine includes camomile tea, sleep spray on my pillow and a few minutes of reading before I drift off to sleep.
- Limit alcohol before bed. According to WebMd initially alcohol may help you to fall asleep, but thereafter the quality of your sleep is actually very poor, resulting in more tiredness the next day.
A note on coffee: some people metabolise coffee really well, and drinking coffee right before bed doesn't seem to affect them. This is definitely not me! If I do drink coffee, I try to keep it to one or two cups before 11am. However I certainly notice that my ability to fall asleep improves when I drink no coffee at all. Listen to your own body, and if you have trouble falling asleep - try to cut back on the coffee and test our your own limits.
I hope that some of these suggestions might help you find a little more tranquility at night. Let me know in the comments below if you have any other unique sleep strategies that you find helpful.