A Good Night's Sleep

A Good Night’s Sleep

You simply can’t underestimate the importance of getting a good night’s sleep for your overall health. As well as being paramount for your health, adequate good quality sleep allows you to wake up refreshed, restored and energised for your day ahead.

Even a couple of nights of poor sleep impacts mood, performance, immune function your and ability to think straight. The long-term effects of sleep deprivation include an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, depression and obesity.

A good night’s sleep isn’t just about how long you spend in bed, it’s also about the regularity and the quality of your sleep.

One way that you can improve your sleep is to be aware of what influences the daily rhythm of your sleep-wake cycle.

Understanding your sleep-wake cycle

Your 24 hour internal clock is regulated by the hypothalamus which tracks light and darkness, eating patterns and physical activity.

The light-dark cycle of the sun greatly effects your internal body clock and sleep-wake cycle, known as your circadian rhythm.

The circadian rhythm is regulated by the hormone melatonin which is made by your pineal gland located just above the middle of the brain. At night, the pineal gland switches on and starts to produce melatonin, which is released into the blood, letting the body know that it is time to prepare for sleep.

So we require darkness for melatonin production. All light at night will interfere with our circadian rhythms but blue light has the greatest effect as it reduces melatonin production. What emits blue light? computers, mobile phones and televisions!

Supporting your circadian rhythm

If you want to tune in to your natural sleep-wake rhythm for maximum alertness during the day and a good night’s sleep, adopt the following set of everyday practises, habits, rituals and routines sometimes referred to as ‘sleep hygiene’:

  • Got to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Get light into the eyes during the day.
  • Turn off all screens an hour before bed.
  • Sleep in a darkened room.
  • Avoid long daytime naps.
  • Exercise during the day but not vigorously last thing before bed.
  • Ensure that bedding is comfortable and that both bedding and bed clothes are made of natural fibres.
  • Sleep in a comfortably cool room.
  • Write a daily journal before bed to empty the mind of the worries of the day.
  • Slowing down the breath can calm the mind and body by switching the nervous system to ‘rest and digest’ and promoting the production of melatonin. Try 3 minutes before bed.

Eating habits and sleep quality

As well as making sure that you have regular eating patterns, the following also impact sleep:

Blood sugar balance

  • Avoid processed foods and anything containing added sugars which can cause a rapid spike and then a crash in blood sugar levels, causing you to wake from sleep.
  • Eat protein with every meal.
  • Eat foods on the low glycaemic index including berries, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains.  

Liver function

  • Avoid rich, heavy foods, alcohol, caffeine, and unnecessary drugs.
  • Reduce your stress levels as the liver has to deactivate the stress hormones.
  • A diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains and good quality protein should provide you with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support the liver.
  • Avoid stimulants such as coffee and black tea after 2pm. A chemical called adenosine builds up in your blood when you are awake, making you drowsy. Caffeine blocks the receptors to adenosine, keeping you awake.
  • Leave at least 2 hours between your evening meal and your bedtime so that the body is not busy with digestion when you need to sleep.

Foods to promote sleep

Simple changes to your diet can improve your chances of falling asleep, staying asleep and experiencing better quality sleep. For a good night’s sleep, we want to increase intake of the following foods:

Foods that contain or promote tryptophan, serotonin and melatonin

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that we have to get from our diets. It is a building block for the neurotransmitter serotonin, known as our ‘happy chemical’, due to the role it plays in stabilising our mood. Serotonin in turn makes melatonin, which regulates the internal body clock and circadian rhythm and lets the body know that it is time to prepare for sleep.

  • Tart cherries: Eat a small handful of dried tart cherries or drink 30ml of tart cherry juice in water 1 hr before bed.
  • Kiwi fruit: Eating 2 kiwi fruits 1 hour before bed has been shown to help people fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly.
  • Almonds: High in melatonin and the mineral magnesium which helps muscles to relax. Try 30g of nuts as a snack before bed.
  • Turkey: Contains tryptophan which creates serotonin and melatonin. Other sources of tryptophan are soy, brown rice, oats, dairy, fish, nuts, pumpkin seeds and bananas.
  • Salmon and other oily fish: Good source of serotonin.

Magnesium rich foods can relieve muscle cramps and restless legs that can disturb sleep. Read more about the benefits of magnesium here.

  • Dark leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, soybeans & tofu and bananas.

Foods that act on the GABA-a receptors in the central nervous system are calming and lead to restful sleep:

  • Cruciferous vegetables, spinach, mushrooms, peas and beans, tomatoes and fermented foods.
  • Herbal teas: lemon balm, valerian, skullcap, chamomile.

Whether you have trouble dropping off to sleep, or you wake often or early, adopting these steps puts a good night’s sleep firmly in your hands. Sweet dreams…..

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