A good night’s sleep is essential for both your physical and mental wellbeing. The way you feel while you’re awake depends on what happens while you sleep. As we sleep, numerous processes are going on inside the body including the restoration of the nervous and immune systems, and improving brain function including cognition, concentration, productivity and performance.
Studies have shown that sleep deficiency increases the risk of many health complications, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and kidney disease. Sleep has an influence on our eating behaviours, with a lack of sleep causing changes in the brain activity that may increase calorie consumption.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to get a better night’s sleep, our nutritionist Gemma has put together her top 5 tips.
1. Eat foods rich in tryptophan
Have you ever wondered why your parents gave you a glass of milk before you went to bed? Well milk contains an amino acid called tryptophan that helps boost the sleep inducing hormone melatonin. Other foods rich in tryptophan include chicken, turkey, salmon, cod, cheese, soya beans, chickpeas, nuts and seeds. Combining these foods with a carbohydrate will help make this amino acid more available to the brain. For example, try a wholegrain noodle stir-fry with chicken, soya beans, cashew nuts and sesame seeds.
2. Avoid caffeine after midday
Drinks such as coffee, tea, green tea, and energy drinks, contain large amounts of caffeine. Caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant, which means it acts on the central nervous system and alters brain function, resulting in changes in mood and behaviour.
The effects of caffeine last much longer than many of us realise. Caffeine has a half-life (time taken for the body to eliminate one-half of the caffeine) of around 6-7 hours, which means if you drink a cup of coffee in the afternoon it will still be in your system in the evening. Caffeine can also interrupt the flow of the sleep hormone melatonin. Drink your cup of coffee before midday, and if you want to have a coffee in the afternoon then go for decaf.
3. Eat earlier in the evening
Eating a large meal just before you go to bed has been shown to negatively affect sleep. A high calorie meal eaten 30 to 60 minutes before bed can increase the time taken to fall asleep. Our digestive system also slows down when we go to sleep and the body will therefore find it more difficult to breakdown foods. A full stomach can also be uncomfortable and increase the time taken to fall asleep.
4. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise can help improve the quality and quantity of sleep. It also helps reduce stress and anxiety, which are common causes of sleep problems. Gentle yoga can help activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which helps to promote relaxation.
Avoid engaging in strenuous exercise just before you go to bed, as exercise raises your metabolic rate and core body temperature, which can negatively effect sleep. If you find yourself regularly exercising late in the evening, have a hot bath or shower before bed, it will allow the blood to come to the surface and act like a radiator, reducing your body’s core temperature.
5. Reduce blue light exposure
LEDs commonly used in TV’s, computer screens, tablets and mobile phones, are rich in a shortwave length light, which the cells in our retina are sensitive to. Exposure to artificial light in the evening could block the effects of the sleep hormone melatonin and can stimulate brain cells associated with alertness.
Avoid watching TV or using your laptop, tablet or mobile phone 30 minutes before you go to bed. Instead of looking at your phone in bed, read a book instead. If you need to go on your phone in the evening, change the blue light settings.
A few other handy tips to help you sleep include going to bed at a regular time each night, making sure your room is at an optimal temperature (18C), getting enough natural light during the day especially in winter, using a notepad to jot down anything you have on your mind, or engaging in meditation (check out the Calm app).