Top tips for better sleep
What you eat can help you get a good night’s kip. Find out the foods that’ll get you nodding off and leave you feeling energised in the morning
Lying awake at night? It’s thought that more than a third of us suffer sleep problems that leave us frazzled and zapped of energy the next day. Often caused by stress, medication or physical conditions, sleep problems are frustrating and hard to avoid – but a wealth of research suggests that the right diet can help. Here Cassandra Barns, nutritionist at The Nutri Centre (www.nutricentre.com), reveals her top tips to sleep easy.
1 Boost your protein
Munch on high-protein foods such as meats, fish, beans and lentils, seeds and nuts (choose unsalted and raw rather than roasted). Protein provides the amino acid tryptophan, which converts to the hormones serotonin and melatonin – and melatonin in particular is needed for good sleep. A good amount of protein is about 0.8-1g per kilogram of body weight per day, so a woman weighing 60kg, for example, should aim for about 50-60g of protein each day. Scale back the protein in the last few hours before bed however, as it can be hard to digest – especially red meat and nuts.
2 Load up on magnesium
Include plenty of magnesium-rich foods in your diet such as buckwheat, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, fish and seafood, leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale, and dried fruits such as dried apricots or figs (but in smaller quantities due to the sugar content). Magnesium is known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ for its ability to relax muscles; it’s also needed for that all-important conversion of tryptophan to serotonin and melatonin.
3 Indulge in oysters
Oysters are great for all sorts of bedroom activities, including sleeping! It’s thanks to their high quantities of zinc, which helps the body make melatonin. If you’re not into molluscs, other kinds of seafood are just as good, as well as pumpkin seeds, wholegrains and pecans and brazil nuts.
4 Snack right
If you have your evening meal more than about four hours before going to bed, a snack of a complex carbohydrate – such as a couple of oatcakes, half a slice of rye bread or some rye crackers with a bit of houmous – can give a gentle release of energy and help stop you waking up hungry during the night.
5 Sip a herbal tea
Swap an alcoholic nightcap for a calming herbal tea. Look for chamomile, passionflower, valerian, or specific sleep blends to soothe your body before bedtime.
6 Ban the sugar
Got a sweet tooth at night? It could be keeping you up. Chocolate, sweets, cakes and sugary drinks before bedtime act as a stimulant, giving you a burst of energy right when you don’t need it. The body also responds to sugar in the blood by releasing insulin, which takes sugar into the cells. If you give your body a big dose of sugar before bed, it may release too much insulin in response and later in the night, your blood sugar will dip, waking you up. Instead, have a snack of complex carbohydrates such as oatcakes with houmous.