The Sleep Diet

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From amino acids to ZZZs, what you should be eating to get your eight hours

Feeling sluggish? You’ll have no problem relating to the one in five Brits who say they’re not getting enough sleep every single night. These figures are from a survey conducted by NutriCentre for Sleep Awareness Week (6-13 March), which shows that many of us need improve the duration and quality of our downtime – and addressing our everyday diets is a worthwhile place to start.

Nutritionists Shona Wilkinson, Cassandra Barns and Dr Marilyn Glenville have teamed up to bring us their five top tips for eating ourselves to a better night’s sleep.

1 Bird is the word
Make sure that you have enough protein during the day. ‘High-protein foods are meats, fish, beans and lentils, seeds and nuts (choose unsalted and raw rather than roasted). Protein foods, such as turkey, provide the amino acid tryptophan, which converts to the hormones serotonin and melatonin, which are needed for good sleep. Avoid too much high-protein food in the last few hours before bed however, as they can be hard to digest – especially red meat and nuts,’ says Wilkinson.

READ MORE: 5 ways to sleep better tonight

‘However, tryptophan is not the only constituent that makes turkey worth mentioning: it is also a good source of zinc and vitamin B6 – co-factors that help the body to produce melatonin from tryptophan,’ says Dr Glenville. Even though turkey is a white meat, it’s still best to have it earlier in the day. ‘A large serving of meat, or other high-protein food, late in the evening may stop you falling asleep,’ adds Dr Glenville.

2 Nature’s tranquiliser
‘Include plenty of magnesium-rich foods in your diet. Think: buckwheat, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, fish and seafood, leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale, and dried fruits. Magnesium is known as “nature’s tranquiliser” and is needed to relax our muscles. It is also vital for the function of the chemical GABA, a calming neurotransmitter that your brain requires to switch off. You can also try taking a supplement, such as Synergistic Magnesium by Quest Vitamins,’ says Barns.

3 Oysters: not just an aphrodisiac
‘Include zinc-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, oysters and other seafood, wholegrains and nuts, especially pecans and Brazil nuts. Zinc is needed for conversion of tryptophan into serotonin and melatonin,’ says Wilkinson.

4 No treats before the bedtime
Avoid large meals and too much hard-to-digest food for three to four hours before going to bed. Stay away from cheese and fried foods.

READ MORE: Why sleep is a feminist issue

‘Stimulants such as tea and coffee should be avoided, too. Caffeine can stay in the body for up to 12 hours, so if you do have sleep problems, avoid tea or coffee from about 12 noon onwards. Try calming chamomile tea instead,’ explains Wilkinson.

5 Good carbs for a good night’s sleep
Slow-releasing carbohydrates help to keep the levels of sugar (glucose) 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 eat some slow-releasing carbohydrates in the evening: a serving of wholegrain rice or a slice of rye bread with your evening meal, or couple of oatcakes with a bit of houmous as a pre-bed snack,’ suggests Dr Glenville. Try Nairn’s Rough Oatcakes, stocked at Holland & Barrett.

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