Simple changes to your eating habits that will help you get your 40 winks…
Do you often find yourself feeling sluggish and sleepy in the morning, only able to even contemplate dealing with your to-do list after a very strong cup of coffee (or three)? Well, surprisingly enough, this probably means that you haven’t had a good night’s sleep, and, while it’s tempting just to load up on caffeine, power through the tiredness and cross your fingers for a better snooze next time, bad sleep is something to ignore at your peril.
It’s recommended that we slumber for around seven hours a night, but everyone is different – while some may wake up feeling refreshed after six hours, others may not be able to function unless they’ve had nine. Not hitting your sleep quota, whatever that may be, can have some not-so-nice consequences – and I’m not just talking about under-eye bags and an irritable mood. Regularly going without quality shut-eye puts you at risk of serious medical conditions such as obesity (sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin, the chemical that makes you feel full, and increased levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone, ghrelin), heart disease and diabetes, and can even lower your life expectancy (ironically, if that’s not insomnia-inducing, I don’t know what is).
Aside from the obvious advice on how to remedy this – go to bed earlier, don’t look at smartphones before bedtime, stop watching Netflix until the early hours (so very easier said than done) – you can also give your quality of sleep a helping hand by making a few small changes to your diet.
Yes, a couple of glasses of wine might make you feel sleepy, but indulging in a tipple or two before bed disrupts the body’s natural rhythms and can decrease your much-needed REM sleep. It’s also dehydrating, meaning you’ll probably feel very thirsty in the morning, and you’re likely to wake up earlier too thanks to the drop in blood sugar levels alcohol causes.
Drink: Herbal teas
Aside from being like a comforting hug in a mug, a warming tea is an ideal pre-sleep drink, but only if you choose an herbal blend such as camomile, as these have a sedative effect. Just make sure you steer clear of any caffeinated teas, as these will keep you awake.
Avoid: Eating late
There’s no shame in admitting to indulging in a midnight snack every now and then – we’ve all done it – but, if you’re finding it hard to get enough sleep, it’s best not to make a habit of it. A late evening meal, especially if it’s a rather generous portion, interferes with your snooze as your body is too busy digesting to sleep properly. You could also end up with uncomfortable heartburn or indigestion, which certainly won’t help you drift off to the land of nod. Try to eat at least three hours before heading to bed.
Yes, the old adage of not eating cheese before bedtime still stands (cheese is rich in an amino acid called tyramine, which the body converts to noradrenaline, a brain stimulant), but that doesn’t mean you need to eschew dairy altogether – in fact, quite the opposite. Dairy products are rich in another amino acid called tryptophan which, unlike tyramine, is one of the good guys when it comes to helping you sleep, as it helps with the production of the snooze-inducing brain chemicals, serotonin and melatonin. Try a natural yoghurt or a comforting glass of warm milk.
Avoid: Spicy food
Now, I love a good curry as much as the next foodie, but, alas, spices are not conducive to a getting a good night’s shut-eye. Studies have found that eating spicy food before bedtime not only decreases the overall amount of sleep, but can also raise your core body temperature, which has also been proven to result in poor quality of slumber. Make sure you eat spicy dishes well before your head hits the pillow.
Though more widely known as an energy-boosting snack thanks to their natural sugars, bananas can also help you to get to sleep. This is because they contain magnesium and potassium, which are both muscle and nerve relaxants. So, next time you’re feeling peckish of an evening, put aside the chocolate (all that caffeine and refined sugar is a no-no) and reach for a banana instead.
Avoid: Starch and fat
It seems multi-tasking is not the human body’s forte when it comes to getting to sleep, which is why starch- and fat-laden foods are to be avoided later in the evening. Your body will focus on processing your meal rather than getting to sleep, so you’re unlikely to enjoy a good-quality kip after scoffing a fatty supper like a big burger and fries.
If you’re anything like me, having an excuse to eat carbs is something to celebrate, but unfortunately, I don’t mean that it’s ok to munch a whole packet of biscuits before bed. A complex-carb cereal, on the other hand, is a whole different bowl game (see what I did there?). Cereals and other carb-rich foods like wholegrain bread (sweet potatoes are also a good choice as they contain muscle-relaxing potassium too) stimulate the release of insulin, which helps to clear the amino acids that compete with sleep-inducing tryptophan from the bloodstream, thus allowing more of it into the brain and allowing you to get to sleep.
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