Nutritional Therapist, Rebecca Pilkington, explains why sleep is important and how basic changes in your routine can improve your rest.
Sleep is one of the most important factors for our overall health but often so overlooked and not prioritised, whether it is work, socialising or kids that eat into the bodies ‘rest and recovery’ time.
Sleep is an opportunity for the body to restore itself with several processes happening including; tissue rebuilding, the brain consolidating the knowledge from the day and toxins being eliminated.
30% of the population suffer from some symptoms of insomnia.
Lack of sleep interferes with your cortisol rhythm which in turn affects everything in our body including our thyroid, hormones, immunity, mental health, decision making, appetite control, brain development including memory and concentration and even cardiovascular markers with those sleeping less than 6 hours presenting with higher blood pressure. High cortisol levels block melatonin production that acts as our ‘sleep hormone’.
Lack sleep increases ghrelin, which is the hunger hormone, meaning we are more likely to overeat and make poor choices around the foods we pick, therefore having a negative effect on our weight. Higher cortisol levels, which we notice after poor night’s sleep means it is also harder to lose weight as the body is likely to retain fat around the middle.
Getting more sleep is easier said than done for some, with one paper estimating that 30% of the population suffer from some symptoms of insomnia.
How to get better sleep
What we eat can have a huge impact on how we sleep; whether that is assisting with resetting our blood sugar levels, managing cortisol or reducing inflammation in the body. Below are my tips to manage these areas so you can get a restorative night’s sleep and provide the body with that essential rest that it needs:
Have a high protein snack several hours before bedtime. This could be your evening meal. The protein will assist with the L-tryptophan production needed for melatonin and serotonin production, two hormones essential for sleep.
Including some fruit with this meal with assist making the tryptophan more bioavailable in the body.
Avoid sugar and grains late in the evening as these spike blood sugar levels making it difficult to fall asleep. When these drop in the night you are likely to wake and have difficulty getting back to sleep.
Include oily fish and a good quality fish oil supplement. Fish oil has been proven in several studies to increase insulin sensitivity and manage blood sugar levels preventing dips when we are asleep that can lead to night waking. It also helps reduces inflammation that can be a barrier to sleep.
Magnesium rich foods in the evening and if needed additional supplementation as magnesium is a calming and relaxing mineral. This is also depleted in periods of stress. Including dark green leafy vegetables, almonds, legumes and seeds is a great place to start.
Including a complex carbohydrate 5 hours before bedtime is a great way to reduce cortisol levels, which is essential to prevent that tired and wired feeling in the evening. Sweet potatoes, starchy vegetables, brown rice, quinoa, oats are great sources.
In addition to adding these foods in avoiding caffeine, sugar, alcohol and other stimulants at night are important. If somebody is really struggling with sleep, I would suggest eliminating these after 2pm.
Good luck and sleep well as it is one of the most important things you can do for your health.