Foods that prevent you sleeping are easy to recognise – coffee alcohol and sugar. By restricting these before bedtime many people find it easier to sleep. Large meals before bedtime, or going to bed feeling hungry can also make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Again, this is fairly easy to adjust and may be the answer to your insomnia.
So, what are the foods that will actually help you to sleep? The simple answer is that a balanced diet eaten in the right quantity, at the right time is all you need to get through the day and night. Unfortunately, there is no magic food that will guarantee a peaceful night.
But, there are foods that will help you find the right balance and help you relax and combat some of the ‘sleep stoppers’.
Switching Off for Sleep
Plummeting sugar levels cause the hormone adrenaline to rise. This keeps you stimulated and interferes with your ability to settle down and fall asleep. A low GL diet will help keep blood sugar levels steady and give you enough energy to get through the night. A low GL diet helps you feel fuller for longer and stops those feelings of hunger before bedtime.
When night approaches and it starts to get dark the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma aminobutyric) starts to switch off adrenaline in preparation for the night’s sleep. Stimulants such as coffee target GABA and interfere with its role of inhibiting the stimulating effects of adrenaline keeping you awake.
GABA also affects the neurotransmitters noradrenalin, dopamine and serotonin which help you feel relaxed and calm. Low levels of GABA contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression which also interfere with sleep.
Nutritionists recommend that supplementing levels of GABA can help improve sleep. GABA is only available on prescription in this country.
Melatonin and Serotonin
Serotonin levels rise as night approaches. Melatonin is produced at night and regulates the sleep/wake cycle. These night time helpers are essential to a good night’s sleep. Some people are deficient in serotonin , especially women, and this affects the production of melatonin. Without enough of these chemicals it is hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Foods that Help
Foods high in tryptophan such as chicken, eggs, cheese, tuna, nuts, seeds and milk are linked to the production of melatonin. Lettuce and oats are also recommended to induce sleep.
Minerals to relax
Calcium and magnesium can help the nerves and muscles relax. They may be useful for anyone suffering from cramps and muscle twitches that affect sleep. Magnesium is helpful for helping with stress and can be found in seeds, nuts, green vegetables and seafood. Calcium is found in nuts, seafood and milk products.
A balanced diet that includes all the nutrients and vitamins is the ideal way to keep healthy. A good vitamin B complex supplement, vitamin C and Folic Acid may help increase production of melatonin and serotonin. A nutritionist will be able to advise on supplements that will support sleep.
Other ‘sleep helpers’ include:
- GABA: Available on prescription
- Melatonin: Available on prescription
- Increase green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds
- Magnesium and/or calcium supplements
- Herbal sleep remedies containing hops, valerian, St John’s wort and passion flower
By identifying the foods that might be interfering with sleep and then adapting your diet to make sure you are getting enough of the ‘sleep helpers’, insomnia might be a thing of the past.