Did you know that it is ‘Stress Awareness Month’? Well in the spirit of helping you to be your best self I thought I’d explore the power of sleep, after all good sleep can help us to manage our stress levels as we try to conquer the world (which means that we are often burning the candle at both ends and in the middle as we strive to manage the various aspects of our lives) I have a vested interest in sleep because I struggle to get more than 5 hours of broken sleep per night. So with that in mind I thought I’d bring you this great piece by Frankie Brogan ANutr. M.Sc.  Frankie is registered as an associate Nutritionist with the Association for Nutrition (AfN), and started working with Pharma Nord last year.

Here’s Frankie

How many of us have difficulty sleeping? If you have difficulty getting to sleep at night, you’re not alone (even though you might feel like it at the time)!  A report for the British sleep council in 2013 showed that around 27% of us in the UK get poor quality sleep on a regular basis (with 5% saying that they sleep very poorly) (1).

The consequences of poor quality sleep are accumulative and will get worse until they’re addressed (2).  An occasional bad night’s sleep may make you feel irritable, while several nights of poor sleep can cause poor concentration, alertness, decision making as well as a low mood.  You may find it will impact your workouts and may even find it hard to manage weight.

Worryingly, lack of sleep over a period of time can lead to more severe health problems such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

What are the benefits of a good nights sleep?

Getting a great night’s sleep comes with it some fantastic benefits!  As well as having a reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease, you may also experience

  • Better weight management
  • Improved mental health and cognitive function
  • Improved energy
  • Increased fertility and libido

The foundation of good sleep

Figuring out what is disturbing your sleep goes a long way to tackling the problem.  If you experience anxiety or racing thoughts before bed, winding down before you attempt to sleep could be a great idea.  Do this in whatever way suits and relaxes you.  Perhaps listening to soothing music, reading a book, writing down the thoughts that are on your mind or even a nice warm bath.

Making your bedroom a haven of calm and free from distraction has been shown to have a major impact in the quality of our sleep, especially when initially nodding off.  Try making your bedroom tidy, dark and a comfortable temperature. Block out lights such as street lights if possible, with thick curtains or blackout blinds. Keeping a regular sleeping time can also help your body get used to the pattern, and can help tell your brain that it’s time to shut off.

Finally, try to keep your bedroom associated with sleep and relaxation by removing TVs, game consoles, and limit your use of electronic devices such as tablets and smart-phones before sleep.

Diet and Exercise

Caffeine close to bedtime is obviously detrimental to sleep quality for most people.  Tea and coffees should be limited, though you may find relaxing, caffeine -free teas teas such as camomile or valerian useful for nodding off.  Don’t have more than a small cup though, as frequent bathrooms breaks are definitely sleep-disruptive.  Caffeine can be found in less obvious places, like soft drinks, chocolate and medication (such as combined for paracetamol for example), so watch out for those.  Though it may help many of us get to sleep, alcohol has been shown to reduce the quality of the sleep we do eventually get.

Regular exercise is fantastic for sleep quality, but try to avoid rigorous activity close to bed time as it could have the opposite effect and be too stimulating.  Light exercise, like yoga and stretching, are trusted ways to unwind.

Sleep and kiwi

Kiwi fruits are presently being investigated for their ability to aid a restful sleep, with promising results.  In one study,  consumption of two kiwi fruits an hour before bed may shorten the time it takes to attain a restful sleep, while improving its duration and quality (3).  It is theorized that these properties come from a range of bioactive compounds found in the fruit, including serotonin (which the body can convert to melatonin, the sleep hormone).

Sleep and cherry juice

Speaking of melatonin, tart Montmorency cherries have been reported to contain high levels of it, along with other phytochemicals.  One 2012 study compared a group of volunteers who took cherry juice to a placebo group, in terms of sleep.  The cherry juice group reported more effective sleep, increased bed in time, total sleep time and an elevated melatonin levels compared to the placebo group (4).

The importance of magnesium supplementation for sleep

Magnesium is a key mineral in our bodies, used for over 300 enzyme functions.  Primarily, it’s necessary for muscle and nerve function, can relax muscles and calm the nervous system.  When we have enough of it, it can be great for stress relief and reduction of anxiety.  Magnesium insufficiency on the other hand, can be highly disruptive to sleep.

The research of magnesium and sleep

Magnesium can greatly improve sleep, and the body of evidence to support this is ever growing.  In several studies, magnesium supplementation decreased insomnia severity, improved the length of sleep and decreased the time it took participants to achieve a full sleep (5, 6).

Magnesium can also help correct the negative impact a bad night’s sleep can have on exercise and sports performance.  In one study, sleep deprived participants who consumed oral magnesium supplements had better exercise tolerance than those who consumed no magnesium at all (7).

Magnesium is often consumed to reduce severity of restless leg syndrome, which is a common reason for difficulty getting to sleep, especially as we age.  Restless leg syndrome (also known as Willis-Ekbom disease) effects the nervous system and can be described as an overwhelming urge to move and jerk the legs.

Which magnesium supplement to choose from?

When choosing magnesium supplements, absorption is key.  As with most supplements, how well our body breaks down the supplement into its individual molecules is a determining factor for how well our bodies can absorb and use it.  There are many different types of magnesium, with the most common form in supplements being magnesium oxide.  This form unfortunately is one of the lesser absorbed magnesium forms out there.  Supplements with multiple magnesium sources and that are designed to absorb well in the gut are ideal choices.

Personally, I take Pharma Nord’s Bio-Magnesium, which a multi-sourced magnesium that absorbs fantastically.  I dissolve it a glass of water and drink it, because it’s so bioavailable.


Constantly struggling with sleep can be more than frustrating, it can be incredibly detrimental to your health!  The great news is, you’re not alone, and there are many tips to help address it, some you may have have thought of before!

By Frankie Brogan

ANutr. M.Sc.  – Senior Nutritionist – Pharma Nord

Find Frankie here:

Here’s a link to a fab piece from ‘Health Ambition’ about the health benefits of sleeping

References/Further Reading

  1. [Internet]. 2017 [cited 16 January 2017]. Available from: https://www.sleepcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/The-Great-British-Bedtime-Report.pdf
  2. Why lack of sleep is bad for your health [Internet]. Nhs.uk. 2017 [cited 16 January 2017]. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/tiredness-and-fatigue/Pages/lack-of-sleep-health-risks.aspx
  3. Lin H, Tsai P, Fang S, Liu J. Effect of kiwifruit consumption on sleep quality in adults with sleep problems. Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition. 2011 Jun 15 [cited 2017 Jan 17];20(2):169–74. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21669584.
  4. Howatson G, Bell P, Tallent J, Middleton B, McHugh M, Ellis J. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. European journal of nutrition. 2011 Nov 1 [cited 2017 Jan 19];51(8):909–16. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22038497.
  5. Abbasi B, Kimiagar M, Sadeghniiat K, Shirazi M, Hedayati M, Rashidkhani B. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. 2013 Jul 16 [cited 2017 Jan 17];17(12):1161–9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23853635.
  6. Held K, Antonijevic I, Künzel H, Uhr M, Wetter T, Golly I, Steiger A, Murck H. Oral mg(2+) supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2002 Aug 7 [cited 2017 Jan 17];35(4):135–43. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12163983.
  7. Tanabe K, Yamamoto A, Suzuki N, Osada N, Yokoyama Y, Samejima H, Seki A, Oya M, Murabayashi T, Nakayama M, Yamamoto M, Omiya K, Itoh H, Murayama M. Efficacy of oral magnesium administration on decreased exercise tolerance in a state of chronic sleep deprivation. JAPANESE CIRCULATION JOURNAL. 1998 [cited 2017 Jan 17];62(5):341–6. Available from: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jcj/62/5/62_5_341/_article doi: 10.1253/jcj.62.341.