A decent night’s kip can be a bit of a myth for many of us, whether it’s family life, a busy work schedule or the inability to shut off that’s affecting the amount or quality of your sleep. A lack of sleep can negatively impact your daily life in so many ways – not only does it make you less productive, but it can also set you in a bad mood, make you too tired to get your favourite workout in and even cause weight gain.
So what can we do about it? If you’ve already tried the meditation apps, forego using electronic devices at least an hour before bed and have tried pretty much every lavender product on the market yet stillcan’t quite get that good night’s sleep you long for, your nutrition habits could be the major key.
1 Don’t eat too close to bedtime
When you think about winding down for the day, it’s a good idea to have already finished your last meal, according to registered nutritionist Louise Pyne (louisepynenutrition.com). ‘Eating close to bedtime can hamper the digestive process so it’s a good idea to eat your last meal of the day at least two hours before heading to bed,’ she explains. This will give your body plenty of time to digest your dinner before you go to sleep. ‘While you sleep, your digestive system should be resting too, but having a big meal before hitting the hay can put a strain on this finely tuned process.’ Simply put, if your body is having to work hard to digest your food while you’re sleeping, your sleep quality just won’t be as good. ‘If you find you are really hungry before bed, reassess your eating habits as you might not be eating enough at dinner,’ Louise adds.
2 Chow down on tryptophan-rich foods
Not all foods are created equal. Just like certain foods are best to consume after your workout in order to aid recovery, there are foods also that you can aim to eat later on in the day that can improve your sleep. ‘Dairy products like cottage cheese and yoghurt, as well as bananas and nuts and seeds all contain the amino acid tryptophan which is needed to create the sleep hormone melatonin,’ Louise recommends. If you find yourself hungry closer to bedtime, keep your food intake to a lighter snack rather than a heavy meal. ‘Try a couple of oatcakes with cottage cheese, a small pot of Greek yoghurt or a banana topped with nut butter,’ Louise advises.
3 Avoid sugary foods before bed
Keeping your blood glucose levels steady is important at any time of day, but it’s especially so when it comes to bedtime – a surge in blood glucose can make it much harder to fall asleep, so steer clear of chocolate, biscuits and cakes. ‘Junk food and processed foods are best avoided as well, as these are high in refined carbs, additives and unhealthy fats which mess with your body’s natural circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall asleep,’ explains Louise. More fibrous foods will help to balance out your blood glucose levels, so aim for these options throughout the day as well as closer to nighttime.
4 Beware of stimulants
It might be stating the obvious, but making your cut-off point for caffeine consumption slightly earlier on in the day can work wonders for helping you doze off at night. But it’s actually not just your daily cup of joe that you’ll find stimulants lurking in. ‘There’s a whole host of hidden stimulants in common foods that you’d be surprised about,’ Louise reveals. ‘Energy drinks and fizzy drinks are often packed with sugar and caffeine which stimulate the nervous system.’ Try to be aware of consuming drinks like this later on in the day. ‘Alcohol is both a nervous system stimulant and a depressant, which means that while it can make you feel sleepy at first, its effects can wake you up during the night,’ adds Louise.
5 Eat a balanced diet
Getting a wide range of nutrients in your body is essential for overall health, so it’s no surprise that doing so will also improve your sleep quality. ‘Ensure your diet is crammed with magnesium-rich foods like leafy greens and nuts and seeds,’ recommends Louise. ‘Magnesium helps to relax the nervous system so that you feel less stressed. B vitamins – found in oats and brown rice – are known for their energising properties, but they also help to manufacture tryptophan which is needed to create the sleep hormone melatonin.’ Make sure you try to get 20 minutes of exposure to sunlight every day too, Louise adds, as vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin – has also been linked to improved sleep.