We know that there are many different reasons for sleep disturbance meaning that there is no 'one size fits all' approach to improving sleep, but there are a number of things that you can do to help.
We have previously spoken about the 5 small differences you can make to your daily routine that can have a big impact on your night's sleep, for more information on this, click here.
We have since been working with Nutritionists from Nutrition First to help understand what foods can also contribute to a restful night's sleep.
By eating the right foods, you can help provide your body with the raw materials that it needs to stay in balance, whether that’s supporting your hormones; your mood; your energy or your immune system and any inflammation or pain. If your body has what it needs to function optimally you are likely to feel, and therefore sleep, much better.
So which foods can we eat to help provide our body with all the nutrients it needs and which foods can we eat to make us sleep more deeply?
Bananas (especially the peel…) are loaded with potassium and magnesium, both of which are minerals needed by your body to repair and relax your muscles. The carbohydrate and fibre from the banana should help your blood sugar levels to stay steady too.
Bonus: Bananas also contain the amino acid tryptophan, used to make the “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin and the sleep hormone melatonin.
Tart Cherries and other melatonin rich foods
A number of foods contain melatonin, so we can boost our body’s supply by including these foods in our diet an hour or two before going to sleep. These foods have good levels of melatonin:
Tart cherries (e.g. Montmorency – this is quite tart tasting, so add a shot of cherry juice to a small glass of apple juice an hour before bed)
Spices such as mustard seed and fenugreek are also great sources of melatonin.
Bonus: Another reason that cherries and berries might help you sleep is that they contain phytonutrients with anti-inflammatory effects, on a par with drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen, so they could help your aches and pains become less intense.
In a 2011 study two kiwi fruit were recommended an hour before bed, every night, for four weeks. The results found that “total sleep time and sleep efficiency were significantly increased” and the average increase in sleep was an hour a night. Reasons for this might be to do with the antioxidants in kiwi fruit or maybe because people with sleep disorders tend to have “high levels of oxidative stress.” Or it could be because kiwi fruits contain serotonin. Kiwi fruit also contain folate, a deficiency of which might cause insomnia, but there’s lots more folate in some other plant foods…. Maybe it’s a bit of all of the above, but kiwi fruits would certainly be an easy and tasty way to get a better night’s sleep.
Bonus: For a triple whammy, blend kiwi fruit, banana and almond milk together for a sleepy smoothie an hour before bed (a small glass should be enough).
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds provide a powerhouse of nutritional benefits. They help balance blood sugar which keeps energy levels steady; they contain essential fats; high levels of vitamins and minerals, and they also contain melatonin. Some extra benefits:
Brazil nuts are famously rich in Selenium, which helps with the production of thyroid hormone. Thyroid imbalances can lead to a lack of restful sleep.
Almondsare an excellent source of magnesium, which can improve sleep quality. A small handful contains about 20% of your recommended daily allowance.
Pumpkin seeds contain tryptophan, zinc, essential fats, anti-oxidants and other important nutrients for our health. Packed with nutrients, pumpkin seeds seem to be the perfect after-dinner snack.
Bonus: The secret to naturally boosting serotonin levels in the brain may include eating foods such as pumpkin seeds and walnuts with a high tryptophan-to-total protein ratio.
Eating fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines, may help us slumber better at night. This is because fish, are an excellent source of vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, which is needed to produce melatonin.
Bonus: Oily fish is a rich source of both omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, both of which play important roles in the regulation of sleep and the immune system.
Eggs contain vitamin B1, folate, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc and selenium, deficiencies of which have been found to shorten sleep duration. Eggs also contain vitamin D, low levels of which are associated with difficulty maintaining sleep.
Bonus: Eggs, along with berries, sprouting seeds and nuts, are one of the highest dietary sources of melatonin.
Oats provide slow release carbohydrate, so can help blood glucose levels remain stable throughout the day and night. They also contain melatonin so it’s a good idea to have an oat based snack an hour or so before bedtime.
Bonus: Complex carbohydrates like oats can make tryptophan more available to the brain, which can help with sleep and mood.
Leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, spring greens, and cabbage are excellent sources of calcium, which helps your brain use tryptophan to produce the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.
Bonus: Green leafy vegetables also contain a host of other nutrients and can help with digestion, inflammation, brain health, skin health and hormone balance, therefore supporting sleep in many ways.
Beans, peas and lentils belong to the legume family: kidney beans, black beans, peanuts, and lentils are tryptophan-rich. Legumes are a wonderful source of fibre to help digestive health and contain a blend of protein and carbohydrate so they help keep your blood sugar stable for longer, so include them in your daily diet in soups, salads, curries and dips.
Bonus: By sprouting them, you can increase their nutritional and melatonin content.
Cottage cheese may seem like an odd thing to snack on before bed, but it’s actually a great sleepy-time food. It’s loaded with casein protein, which will provide your body with the amino acids it needs to repair your muscles.
Bonus: Cottage cheese also contains tryptophan, to help sedate and calm you down. Mix it up with some almond butter, pop a dollop on an oatcake and eat an hour or so before bed and it might help you sleep longer and more deeply.
Herbal teas have long been used to help sleep.
Chamomile tea may increase your levels of glycine, which acts as a mild sedative to help you relax and get to sleep more quickly. There is no caffeine in chamomile.
Passionflower tea (Passiflora) is a bit more therapeutic and is thought to boost gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is an amino acid that calms the central nervous system, resulting in relaxation, enhanced mood, better sleep, and pain relief. Benefits of GABA include:
Easing of anxiety
Reduction of menopausal hot flushes
Anti-inflammatory action, so helps relieve pain
Bonus: Passionflower tea has a mild flavour with a grassy earthiness and can be sweetened with honey.
As you can see, there are a variety of foods, which can help improve our sleep in many different ways. These help us by:
Boosting levels of important vitamins and minerals to support all our metabolic processes
Balancing blood sugar levels so that we have energy during the day and don’t suffer night time snack attacks
Helping reduce inflammation and pain, which in turn can help with sleep
Providing the raw materials for the hormones and neurotransmitters needed to balance mood and anxiety levels
Providing melatonin to help balance our sleep/wake cycle
Deep restful sleep requires a balance of hormones, neurotransmitters and good nutrition, so there is no single magic food to help you sleep. Eating a variety of unprocessed foods, with a balance of good quality protein, unrefined carbohydrates, healthy fats and a variety of brightly coloured fresh fruit and vegetables, can support your body in a variety of different ways. This should result in deeper, longer, more restful sleep.