We all know of the old wive’s tale warning us not to have cheese before bed, but do you actually know any of the straight facts about what we eat and how it can help or hinder your time between the sheets?
Thanks to our previous Sleep Series piece about what we drink and its impact on sleep, you might be dialling down the alcohol and brewing a delicious cup of chamomile, and now it is time to dive deeper into your diet. This week we are giving you the run down on which foods can help you drift off peacefully and which could leave you tossing and turning.
CARB ME UP
As a self-confessed carb-lover, pasta and bread are pretty integral to my diet, so you can imagine my joy when I discovered they can actually aid my sleep too. Carbohydrates make an amino acid called tryptophan more available to the body, which is used to produce serotonin and melatonin, those nifty chemicals which help make us sleepy. This is why carb heavy meals can make us feel drowsy, so having a small carb based snack before bed could do the trick in sending you off peacefully.
However be warned, refined carbs such as white bread or pasta and carbs laced with sugar could have the opposite effect and actually reduce your serotonin levels, which can lead to insomnia. So when you are looking to dive into a late night snack, make sure you stick to complex, unrefined carbs, (wholewheat bread etc.).
Nuts are packed full of healthy fats and are a good source of protein, which helps you to maintain a stable blood sugar level whilst sleeping, reducing your alertness cycle, bringing you into a ‘rest-and-digest mode’. Bonus points if you go for a handful of almonds or walnuts as they specifically contain melatonin, (our favourite sleep aid), and magnesium, which helps promote sleep and muscle relaxation.
JUST A LITTLE CHEESY
Whilst the jury may be out on whether cheese actually gives you nightmares, cottage cheese could be the hero ingredient to your bedtime routine. High in lean protein and packed full of tryptophan, it could increase your serotonin levels which is an excellent way to battle a broken night’s sleep. Grab a bowl with a handful of nuts and berries before bed to see if it helps you drift off.
GET THAT 5 A DAY
Pineapple, oranges, bananas and tart cherries all contain melatonin which may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep throughout the night. Bananas are also especially good as they contain high levels of magnesium and potassium which helps to relax overstressed muscles and therefore help you relax overall in bed.
Generally a lot of fruit and veg will help as they are very high in antioxidants helping to promote sleep; some of the best are berries, plums and prunes.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that caffeine increases alertness and will therefore disrupt your sleep – but cutting down on your 4pm coffee may not be enough. Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, is actually fairly high in caffeine and consuming too much could be enough to disrupt your sleep. But life is all about balance, a few squares of chocolate late at night probably won’t have any adverse effects on your sleep, but tucking into a bar or two might, so bare it in mind.
TO FEAST OR NOT TO FEAST
With sleep and food, it will sometimes come down to how much you consume. Although a big meal may leave you feeling a little sleepy, it may lead to some discomfort and indigestion which in turn will keep you up at night. This can also be said for spicy foods.
Research suggests if you are feeling little peckish before bed to go for something smaller or lighter to avoid feeling wide awake at midnight. An excellent choice is a slice of whole-wheat toast with peanut or almond butter. The slow release, complex carbs aid the production of tryptophan, and nut butters are high in sugar regulating proteins and muscle relaxing magnesium.