Foods To Better Help You Sleep

Lack of sleep is a common complaint; with only one in 10 of us saying we always get a good night's sleep. Sleeplessness not only leaves you feeling exhausted, but can also end up dampening your moods.

Please note the following as a general set of principles if you are seeking to improve energy levels during the day, stimulate sleep in the evening and avoid gaining weight/fat i.e good nutritional advice depends upon your goals. If you are sleeping well and seeking to gain weight then the advice may be different.

Starchy carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and rice help stimulate the production of serotonin. Therefore it is helpful to plan meals in a way that helps maintain proper serotonin levels and, because the cycle for serotonin is the sleep cycle, you want serotonin production to take place in the evening i.e. to help encourage proper cycles of sleep. Too many starchy carbs, however, can cause energy dips in the day and depending upon your activity levels can also lead to fat levels increasing. So it is helpful to:

  • limit starchy carbohydrates in the daytime

  • eat starchy carbohydrates in the evening

  • eat serotonin producing foods (see below) daytime and night-time to ensure there is sufficient serotonin available for sleep cycles.

  • eating protein with starchy carbs (for some people this means having protein with every meal - use why protein as a simple supplement to add to cereal, yoghurts etc.) at the same meal. Protein can inhibit the effects of carbohydrates stimulating tryptophan production. This can help conserve serotonin.

Many foods contain naturally occurring substances that bring on sleep; namely:

Tryptophan - a sleep enhancing amino acid that helps make serotonin and melotonin.

Melotonin - is a hormone that helps regulate the sleep/wake cycle, an internal pacemaker that controls the timing and our drive for sleep. It causes drowsiness, lowers body temperature, and puts the body into sleep mode.

Serotonin - another "body clock" hormone that sets your sleep - wake cycle.

Magnesium - plays a key role with sleep. Research has shown that even a marginal lack of it can prevent the brain from settling down at night causing insomnia.

Adding the following foods to your diet may help to increase your chances of a successful night's sleep. They are good examples of foods to help better sleep, with a brief explanation of their benefits:

  • Most fish, especially salmon, halibut and tuna boast vitamin B6, which is needed to make melatonin.

  • White rice, in particular jasmine rice has a high glycemic index. High-GI meals trigger greater amounts of insulin which increases the sleep-enhancing amino acid tryptophan and helps to cut the time it takes you to fall asleep.However, this is not a good option for anyone considering weight/fat loss or who may have diabetes.

  • Tart cherry juice is rich in melatonin and can aid sleep. A cup twice a day has been found to give some relief from insomnia.

  • Calcium (in cheese, yoghurt, milk) helps the brain use the tryptophan found in dairy to manufacture sleep-triggering melatonin. Additionally, calcium helps regulate muscle movements. Drinking a glass of warm milk before bed will help you to sleep better - it's not just an old wives' tale. It is are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which helps in the production of the sleep-inducing brain chemicals, serotonin and melatonin.

  • Bulgur, barley and other whole grains are rich in magnesium. Consuming too little magnesium may make it harder to stay asleep.

  • Green leafy vegetables like kale are loaded with calcium, which helps the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin. Spinach and mustard greens are other good options.

  • Bananas, well-known for being rich in potassium, are also a good source of vitamin B6 which is needed to make melatonin.

  • Chickpeas boast vitamin B6 which is needed to make melatonin. A good light lunch would be hummus and whole-grain crackers.

  • Eating a carbohydrate-rich snack, like a few oatcakes or a bowl of cereal, an hour or so before going to bed stimulates the release of insulin. This helps to clear amino acids that compete with tryptophan from the bloodstream, allowing more of this sleep-inducing amino acid to enter the brain.

  • A cup of chamomile tea will help you sleep. Drinking this tea is associated with an increase of glycine, a chemical that relaxes nerves and muscles and acts like a mild sedative. Mix in a spoonful of honey, which slightly raises insulin and allows tryptophan to enter the brain more easily, and this could give you a more restful sleep.

  • Walnuts are a good source of tryptophan. Additionally, research has found that walnuts contain their own source of melatonin, which may help you fall asleep faster.

  • Almonds are rich in magnesium, a mineral needed for quality sleep. When the body’s magnesium levels are too low, it makes it harder to stay asleep.

What to avoid

  1. Caffeine - say no to an after-dinner espresso or late-night cuppa. The stimulant effect of caffeine reaches its peak one to four hours after it's consumed, but some people can feel its effects up to 12 hours later. Some over-the-counter cold and headache remedies are also high in caffeine.

  2. Large late evening meal - this will interfere with sleep as your body is busy digesting. You may also suffer from heartburn or indigestion. Try to eat at least three hours before going to bed.

  3. Starchy, fatty, refined sugary foods- you are more likely to feel sluggish and lethargic as these foods place high demands on your digestive processes.

  4. Pork, cheese, chocolate, aubergines, tomatoes, potatoes and wine near bedtime - they are rich in an amino acid called tyramine, which the body converts to noradrenaline, a brain stimulant.

  5. Alcohol - although a couple of drinks may help you to drift off to sleep, too much alcohol decreases the REM sleep (a stage in the normal sleep cycle during which dreams occur and the body undergoes marked changes including rapid eye movement, loss of reflexes, and increased pulse rate and brain activity) we all need and disrupts the body’s natural rhythms. It causes blood sugar levels to drop, so you may wake up in the middle of the night. Alcohol is also dehydrating so you are likely to wake up feeling thirsty.

© 2012 7Futures Ltd. Registered Office: Laurel Drive, 7 George Fox Lane, Fenny Drayton, Nuneaton, Warwickshire, CV13 6BE. Registered in England and Wales No. 7945762

© 2012 7Futures Ltd. Please note that, at 7Futures, our role is to help educate and encourage our clients to take positive responsibility for their wellbeing. We are not medical doctors and are not able to offer individual medical advice. We always recommend you should discuss with your GP or other medical professional before making any changes you hope will impact your wellbeing, or that of your current/future family.  7Futures Ltd offers generic information which is for educational purposes only. The information we provided is not a prescription system and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. As such our materials, videos products and communications are for general information purposes only and should not be read as a personal recommendation for specific changes in lifestyle behaviour, nutrition, or exercise. Please click here for a clear description of our services and the relationship with you as a client. You should not participate in any of our services until you have studied this is for your benefit.

Mark Davies