Beauties, it’s World Sleep Day and we reached out to Registered Nutritional Therapist Kaysha Thomas to ask her for some tips on how to optimise your sleep through nutrition… have a read!
“Even a soul submerged in sleep is hard at work and helps make something of the world.” ― Homer
An alarming 4 out of 5 people complain of disturbed or inadequate sleep. (Sleep Council’ Toxic Sleep’ survey, January 2011). Sleep is the most important behavioural experience that we have. As we sleep, we replenish our mind and body. Food can help cultivate an internal environment that promotes sleep. Sleep also helps us regulate our energy, blood sugar levels and appetite.
Eating before bed
Contrary to popular belief, the digestive system doesn’t stop working when we sleep. However, some may struggle to sleep after eating a heavy meal (this will always be down to the individual). My advice is to avoid skipping meals and not go to bed hungry. If heavy meals cause digestive upset, ensure you’re eating enough during the day, have dinner earlier, or at the very least have a light meal before turning in. When our energy and blood sugars are low, it is hard to get a good night’s sleep. Some may benefit from having a snack before bedtime to help top-up and get a better night’s rest. Some easy bedtime snacks include a bowl of porridge, toast with your favourite topping, cheese on crackers and yoghurt with a banana.
Magnesium has over 300 functions in the body. But in the context of sleep, magnesium is a relaxant and it helps to stimulate GABA, which is a chemical messenger that encourages us to wind down. Magnesium-rich foods include:
- Dark leafy greens (e.g. broccoli, spinach, kale),
- Nuts (e.g. almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts),
- Whole grains (oats, brown rice, barley and rye),
- Beans and tofu.
Having an Epsom salt bath or foot soak can be another way to top up magnesium levels as we also absorb magnesium through our skin. My advice is not to take hot baths too close to bedtime as the rise in body temperature may impair sleep.
Tryptophan rich foods
Tryptophan an amino acid found in foods such as poultry, milk, tinned tuna, eggs, nuts and seeds. Tryptophan gets converted into our “happy hormone” serotonin, a precursor to our sleep-wake cycle hormone melatonin. It’s relatively easy to increase our tryptophan intake; however, we need its conversion to serotonin and get it from our gut to our brain to reap its benefits for mood and sleep. Carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin that helps increase the absorption of tryptophan. However, countless studies show that increasing the brain’s increasing serotonin level is no easy task. But we can give ourselves a fighting chance by including an adequate amount of its building blocks.
Eating enough carbohydrates
The body readily breaks carbohydrate down to glucose which the body’s preferred source of energy. When we don’t eat enough carbohydrate, the body sees this as a stressor and releases stress hormones as a response (e.g. adrenaline and cortisol). The role of stress hormones is to motivate us to seek food. This excitatory state makes it difficult to drift off into a deep slumber.
Camomile, lemon balm, lavender teas are all great are all herbs associated with restful sleep. Thankfully there are several incredible sleep-promoting tea blends out there. My favourites include; Pukka Night Time Tea, Yogi Tea Bedtime Tea and Clipper Sleep Easy Infusion (I get these from Holland and Barrett). If you prefer tea with milk, Yorkshire Tea has released a decaffeinated blend with lemon balm and nutmeg that you can enjoy with or without milk. It’s important to remember that decaffeinated is not the same as caffeine-free, so I recommend limiting these to one cup in the evening.
Have a cut off time for caffeine
Some of us more sensitive to caffeine than others. Therefore it’s worth experimenting to see how caffeine affects your sleep. Caffeine blocks sleep signals to the brain. It tricks you into feeling awake and alert but doesn’t provide any energy, nor is it a food supplement. We tend to fee the effects of caffeine 30 minutes after ingestion. However, it can take 5-7 hours to remove 50% of the caffeine circulating in your system. So drinking a coffee at 4 pm could mean that you’re still feeling 50% of its effects at 11 pm. Drinking half a cup of coffee is unlikely to aid a good night’s sleep (especially if you’re particularly sensitive to caffeine). Caffeine is not just present in coffee; you can also find it in dark chocolate, black and green tea and some painkillers.
Alcohol is commonly mistaken as a “sleep aid”. Whilst alcohol is a sedative; sedation is not the same as sleep. Alcohol impairs our ability to fall into a deep and restorative sleep. Sleeping whilst under the influence, as it were, actually results in broken sleep. We wake up briefly multiple times throughout the night, but we often don’t remember doing so because we are in a sedative state. Getting good quality sleep isn’t just what time you go to bed and wake up, but also how many hours of uninterrupted sleep you get.
In addition to incorporating some of these nutrition tips, consider what behaviours could also be contributing to poor sleep. Setting a regular sleep schedule, making sure your room is not too hot or too cold and also not using blue-light technology such as phones, laptops and tablets in bed can all contribute to getting good sleep.
Kaysha Thomas is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Pilates Instructor and wellness blogger. She writes about mental health, self-love, nutrition and fitness. Sign up for Kaysha’s monthly newsletter for FREE Pilates flows, monthly meditations and nutrition tips. Or you can follow Kaysha on Instagram @Kayshathomas
(picture credit: Matthew Henry @unsplash)