Sleep should be a natural thing that's so easy to do, right? Well, not for all of us.
If you're one of those people who spends the lonely hours of the night wide awake with thoughts gate crashing through your mind, then you're not alone. So many of us are now afflicted with poor sleep, making us feel less than human the following day.
In fact, the UK Mental Health Foundation reported that 30% of the population in the UK are severly deprived of sleep – 'severely' (1). As we all know, sleep is one of the most important commodities for good health and wellbeing. Without it our bodies are unable to repair and mend themselves, we feel tired and lethargic, our cognitive function declines and we reach for all kinds of stimulants to give us the kick we need to get through the day.
Stimulants such as caffeine, cigarettes, sugar and alcohol give the body the boost it temporarily needs, but they sure aren't the top foods to help with problems with insomnia. They can be incredibly addictive and affect your sleep patterns and routine dramatically. This can upset the body's natural rhythms, which makes us crave them more – a vicious cycle, indeed!
Foods that help you sleep faster and fight insomnia
1. Ditch the stimulants – ALL of them! – for better sleep
As mentioned, what we're talking about here is caffeine, alcohol, sugar and refined foods. That may sound like a lot, but all these things are playing havoc with your hormones and sleep cycle. If you suffer from any kind of sleep issues and insomnia, you really should try to stay away from these foods and drinks. Also, if you have to have caffeine, make sure you don't have any after 3pm. These foods and drinks can also lead to the development and inevitable fight against anxiety.
2. Eat foods rich in tryptophan to top up levels of sleep-inducing hormones
Tryptophan is an amino acid and building block that produces the hormones serotonin and melatonin that are important for regulating sleep. Making sure you're getting enough tryptophan in your diet will support the production of these hormones. Try to incorporate a daily dose (or two) of any of the following foods to ensure you’re getting sources of tryptophan in your diet:
• Sesame seeds
• Cottage cheese
3. B Vitamins help support your system and help you sleep
Like with the production of all hormones, certain vitamins found in various food sources help with the building process. In the case of serotonin and melatonin, B vitamins are key (mainly vitamins B3 and B6). The list of foods rich in B vitamins that help you fall asleep faster are:
• Dark green leafy vegetables
• Cruciferous vegetables
4. What not to eat before bed
Not eating, eating too little or even a high refined carbohydrate meal can cause blood sugar levels to drop during the night triggering a release of hormones. This process can stimulate the brain and stops us from sleeping longer at night, and may not even give you a full 8 hours.
5. Avoid consuming excess fluids before bed
It may sound simple but many of us make the mistake of drinking too much fluid in the evenings – including alcohol. Drinking too much before bed can make us wake in the night to use the toilet, disrupting and disturbing sleep. Try to get your fluids in earlier in the day.
6. Have calcium and magnesium
Including more sleep-inducing foods rich in calcium and magnesium can help to promote better sleep. These minerals can act as natural sedatives, helping to relax our bodies and mind. These include yummy nuts and seeds like almonds and sesame seeds – you can sprinkle on top of a salad or include in your dish and enjoy.
What can I do to sleep better at night
If you're tired of counting sheep or are having trouble falling asleep, you're probably feeling frustrated which may lead to mood swings, exhaustion and anxiety, which can all eventually lead to weight gain in the future. However, there are other natural lifestyle changes you can adopt to help you sleep better through the night long-term:
Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine explains, “Mindfulness meditation is just one of a smorgasbord of techniques that evoke the relaxation response. Practicing mindfulness during the day, ideally for 20 minutes, helps to create a reflex to more easily bring forth a sense of relaxation. That way, it’s easier to evoke the relaxation response at night when you can’t sleep. In fact, the relaxation response is so, well, relaxing that your daytime practice should be done sitting up or moving (as in yoga or tai chi) so as to avoid nodding off." (2)
2. Digital detox
Switching off your devices before bed, using a regular alarm clock and opting out of a social media scroll frenzy can all help in getting you to fall asleep faster and staying asleep throughout the night. The blue light emitted by our screens stimulate our brains, making us hungry for more. Try to create a night-time routine where you turn your phone off one hour before your usual bed-time, and notice the difference in your sleep for the next week. You might be pleasantly surprised and keep it up long-term.
3. Regulating sleep patterns
One of the best things you can do to help you get better sleep overall is to go to bed at the same time every night. When you have a consistent sleep schedule, your body naturally adjusts and begins to feel tired at just the right time each day. This cuts down the amount of time you’ll spend waiting to fall asleep.
Remember these as a general rule of thumb – certain foods may help us drift off, but the wrong ones can keep us up and can cause long-term issues with insomnia. With the right combination of mindulness, self-awareness and dietary choices, you're bound to have sweet dreams!
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1. UK Mental Health Foundation: https://www.nhs.uk/news/lifestyle-and-exercise/sleep-problems-in-the-uk-highlighted/
2. Harvard Medical School Publishing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-helps-fight-insomnia-improves-sleep-201502187726