Sleep Goals

I’m  sure I don’t need to tell you that sleep is fundamental for overall health and wellbeing. Research has shown that when we don’t get enough sleep we are susceptible to heightened emotional reactivity, reduced memory and impaired brain function. Left unchecked these symptoms not only impact our day-to-day lives, they can also increase inflammation which in turn may affect our immune systems.

Sleeping and waking like many other body functions are cyclical in nature, this rhythm feeds into what is called our ‘circadian rhythms’.  Several lifestyle factors are contributors to poor sleep conditions because they are believed to disrupt circadian rhythms which are tied into daylight and night-time. When the sun goes down our bodies naturally produce the hormone melatonin which helps to promote sleep. In the evening, the body’s metabolism naturally slows down along with the production of insulin. Eating later means that the body is less capable of processing foods so sugars stay in the blood stream longer which can then affect sleep.

The most well-research lifestyle factors contributing to disturbed sleep include caffeine, cigarette smoke, media (via electronic devices), exposure to bright lights during ‘dark night hours’ and nutrition. Sleep hygiene focuses on changing behaviours and practices that enhance sleep patterns such as preparing for sleep, exercise and practicing relaxation techniques.

So let’s talk about Sleep Hygiene and what might be affecting your sleep…

  • Prepare for sleep with a relaxing and calming bedtime routine. Maybe this involves some meditation or breathing exercises, a relaxing aromatherapy bath or reading. Creating a comfortable, dark and quiet environment promotes restful sleep.
  • Reduce caffeine consumption including tea, coffee and energy drinks especially in the afternoon. Studies have shown that even a small amount of caffeine can affect sleep patterns.
  • Limit alcohol. Alcohol can disrupt sleep contributing to an imbalanced circadian rhythm.
  • First and second hand cigarette smoke has been associated with poor sleep quality.
  • Reduce your screen time, especially before bedtime. The use of television, computers, and video games during the evening has been linked to sleep disturbances. Some studies show that bright light from out devices may counteract the natural effect of darkness which may be affecting melatonin production.
  • Increase daily exercise. Many studies have shown that exercise has a positive impact on sleep. Another reason to put those trainers on and go for a run!
  • Carrying excess weight could also be a factor and there is increasing evidence showing that altered sleep has an influence on dietary choices. Those who sleep less are more likely to crave energy-rich foods like fats and refined carbohydrates. Consuming such foods can promote weight-gain.


So What About Food?

Dietary intake plays an important role in maintaining long-term health and wellbeing, and a good night’s sleep certainly falls into this category. Foods containing the amino-acid tryptophan have also been found to improve sleep as it is used by the body to make melatonin. There is research suggesting that low levels of calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, E, and K can impact sleep, whilst folate, vitamin B6 and zinc play a role in circadian rhythm regulation and melatonin production.

The best way to support these requirements is to make sure that you are consuming plenty of vitamins and minerals in your diet, so having a balanced diet with an array of fruits and vegetables with whole grains is vital. Here are some foods to focus on:

  • Tryptophan: cherries, bananas, eggs, fish, peanuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds, milk, turkey.
  • Calcium: as well as from dairy, it’s important to get your calcium from leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale, broccoli and cabbage.
  • Vitamin B6: Most fish contains vitamin B6 as well as Chick peas.
  • Magnesium: nut and seeds especially almonds and cashews, as well as whole grains.
  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, broccoli, kiwi’s
  • Vitamin A: Fatty fish such as salmon, fresh tuna, carrots, sweet potato
  • Vitamin K: Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and broccoli

If you are unable to improve your sleep quality through healthy lifestyle changes and you have any health concerns then please consult a health professional.