We all know that getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to ensure that we are ready to take on what the next day may have in store. Our energy levels will be increased as well as concentration and our ability to handle stress. Combining this with a diet that supports optimal nutrition makes a powerful combination to ensure we perform at our best on a daily bases. Making the right dietary choices can have a direct impact on sleep.
For a good nights rest it is important to avoid consuming food and drinks that may be inhibitors of sleep, these include any food or drinks that contain caffeine or related compounds such as coffee, soft drinks, chocolate and tea.
Although the sensitivity to the stimulant effects of caffeine will vary from person to person these substances are best avoided in the evening to encourage the body to wind down and relax before bedtime. Alcohol is also another substance that can have sleep-impairing effects. There is a misconception that alcohol relaxes us and induces sleep when, in fact, it could be the cause of a restless night! Alcohol can cause the body to release adrenaline, which is stimulating to the brain. It can also impair the transport of tryptophan into the brain. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that promotes sleep.
Another issue to consider is nocturnal hypoglycemia. This is defined as low nighttime blood glucose levels. When a drop in blood glucose occurs, it causes the release of hormones that regulate glucose levels, such as cortisol, glucagon, growth hormone and adrenaline. These hormones stimulate the brain and can cause the body to wake with the signal that it’s time to eat. Nocturnal hypoglycemia, which is a form of dysregulated glucose metabolism can be caused by over consumption of refined carbohydrates, which is very common in our society today.
The best way to avoid this condition is to consume carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index.
Bananas are a good choice for an evening snack. Bananas are high in magnesium and potassium both of which have a muscle relaxing effect. They are a complex carbohydrate that also contains tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin.
Try having a handful of nuts and seeds that include almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, macadamias, pecans, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. This snack will provide more of the essential nutrients such as magnesium, potassium and essential fatty acids, required for healthy nerve and brain function.
Cherries have been found to contain naturally occurring melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone produced in the brain’s pineal gland and helps to regulate sleep. Cherries are also high in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have found that sipping on tart cherry juice can improve sleep and reduce the occurrence of insomnia.
There are also a number of relaxing and gently sedating herbs that can be infused to make a lovely bedtime nightcap! Try making your own loose leaf blend including herbs such as passionflower, chamomile, lemon balm, valerian and lavender.
Making the right dietary choices can have a huge impact on how we sleep.
In this day and age where the demand we put on our bodies to perform outweighs the effort that we take to care for ourselves, the one area we all have the power to improve is how we sleep and eat. Considering that most people will have some sort of sleeping problem or disorder in their lifetime, it is comforting to know that some sleep issues can be avoided simply by making better choices.
Take some time to consider if you could be making better food choices to improve your sleep!
Supplied by back to sleep – www.backtosleep.com.au
Medability, et al, 2011-2014, “Cherries contain melatonin and are a natural sleep helper” www.medability.com/autism-therapy/sleep/cherries – viewed 16/07/2104
- Murray & J Pizzorno, 2002, Encyclopaedia of Natural Medicine, 2nd Edition, Prima Publishing, USA. H. Osiecki, 2001, The Physician’s Handbook of Clinical Nutrtion, 6th Edition, Bioconcepts publishing, Australia.