Did you know that your sleep can affect pretty much every other area of your health – from obesity and lowered immunity, to high blood pressure and heart disease, and mental health?
More than half of all adults feel that they don’t get enough sleep. And if you’re one of them, there’s never been a better time to discover the little changes you can make to fix that, as today is World Sleep Day 2021 – a day which promotes the health benefits of a restful night of shut-eye. As it turns out, giving yourself a good night’s sleep can be as simple as snacking – news we always like to hear.
To get to the heart of what makes a better night’s sleep, according to science, we spoke to Shona Wilkinson RN, mBANT, CNHC, a registered nutritionist with 14 years’ experience in the health industry, who knows exactly how what we put into our bodies affects everything else – including our forty winks.
The expert recommends getting into a regular sleep pattern to set your body into a routine of producing melatonin, the sleep hormone, at the same time each day, as well as switching off all electrical appliances 30 minutes before bedtime and meditating before bed to relax the mind. In addition to this, your diet can have a huge impact on your quality of sleep.
Allow Wilkinson to reveal her top five, expert-approved foods that will improve your sleep now…
Slow-releasing carbohydrates such as oats or oatcakes or brown rice
It might surprise you to hear that the first step to a restful sleep is actually to fix your energy levels. Allow Wilkinson to explain: “Slow-releasing carbohydrates, such as whole grains, help to keep the levels of sugar in your blood stable, and so provide your body with sustained energy. You may not think you need much energy while you’re asleep, but your brain and body still need glucose to keep working. If levels fall too low, this can cause the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which can wake you up.”
“To avoid this, make sure you have some slow-releasing carbohydrates in the evening, like a serving of brown rice or a slice of rye bread with your evening meal or, if you have your last meal a long time before going to bed, try eating a half-size bowl of porridge or a couple of oatcakes with nut butter later in the evening,” advises Wilkinson.
It’s worth noting, though, that not all carbs are created equal: sugary foods and refined ‘white’ carbohydrates can actually have the opposite effect – so, heartbreakingly, sugary cakes don’t count.
Not only do pumpkin seeds add texture to salads, but they can help you sleep cycle, says Wilkinson, “Pumpkin seeds are high in natural magnesium. One of the roles of magnesium is allowing the muscle fibres in our body to relax – it counteracts calcium, which causes muscles to contract. It is also thought that magnesium has a role in the normal function of the pineal gland, which produces melatonin – a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and helps us to fall asleep.”
“Try including one or two tablespoons of pumpkin seeds a day into your diet: add them to sugar-free yoghurt or salads, or grind them up in a coffee grinder and add to porridge. Other raw seeds and nuts are also good sources of magnesium, as are leafy green vegetables.”
Ever experience cramps at night? Coconut water might just be the cure. “Try drinking a glass of pure coconut water in the evening to help you to have a restful night’s sleep,” suggests Wilkinson, “Coconut water is an excellent source of electrolyte minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and sodium. Balanced levels of these minerals are necessary to maintain normal muscle action, nerve function and hydration in our body. Deficiencies or imbalances may cause cramping and restless legs at night, and therefore disturbed sleep.”
“Coconut water products from young green coconuts are thought to be the best, such as those from the brands Tiana and Cocofina,” recommends Wilkinson.
“Cherries have been found to contain small amounts of melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep cycles. Although all cherries may contain some melatonin, tart Montmorency cherries in particular have been found in a clinical trial to increase the body’s melatonin levels and increase sleep time,” says Wilkinson, “The brand Cherry Active makes packets of dried Montmorency cherries, as well as cherry juice concentrate – either of which may be a particularly good way of getting your serving of cherries.”
Everyone who has ever fallen asleep after Christmas dinner knows that heaps of Turkey can send you to sleep. But did know there are scientific reasons as to why? “Turkey is often said to be a sleep-promoter, as it contains good levels of tryptophan, the amino acid that converts into serotonin and then melatonin in our body,” explains Wilkinson, “However, tryptophan is not the only constituent that makes turkey worth mentioning: it is also a good source of zinc and vitamin B6. These both help the body to produce melatonin from tryptophan.”
But think again before you build yourself a late-night turkey sandwich. Wilkinson warns, “Have your turkey earlier in the day, though, as a large serving of meat or other high-protein food late in the evening may stop you falling asleep.”
Shona Wilkinson is working with Dr. Vegan, which makes absorbable, naturally sourced and plant-based supplements created with expert nutritionists. DR.VEGAN VeganNights are available for £17.99 at drvegan.com for a 30 nights supply.