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Nutrition Made Easy For Busy People

Struggling to Sleep?

An estimated 1 in 3 people in the UK regularly have problems sleeping, and if you’re one of them then you’ll know just how difficult it can be to function when you haven’t had enough sleep for several days in a row. Diet is a major factor that can influence sleep and here are my 5 top tips to help improve the quality and quantity of your slumber.

  1. If dropping off to sleep is your issue because you struggle to switch off, then boosting your magnesium intake might help. Magnesium is a muscle relaxant and helps to calm an overactive nervous system. Ensuring that your diet contains plenty of green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds will help maintain magnesium levels, or for a really relaxing treat, try a magnesium sulphate (Epsom Salts) bath. Add 2-3 handfuls to your bath, but don’t mix it with any other bath products. The magnesium will absorb through the skin, easing muscle tension and getting you ready for a relaxing night’s sleep.
  2. If you have no problem getting to sleep but tend to wake up 2-3 hours later, then this may be due to a drop in blood sugar, causing a release of stress hormones that give you a little wake-up call. If you’ve caused a spike in your blood sugar levels late in the evening by drinking alcohol, eating sugary foods or refined carbohydrate then your body will get to work to redress the balance, which is what causes the blood sugar to drop. Limiting or avoiding these foods will help, as will making sure that your dinner contains a good balance of protein (e.g. meat, fish, lentils or eggs) and fibre (wholemeal bread, brown rice or vegetables) as this helps to keep your blood sugar steady throughout the night.
  3. There are a number of different stages of sleep, such as light sleep, rapid-eye movement sleep and deep or delta sleep. Stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine or nicotine can disrupt neurotransmitter function, causing an imbalance that may disturb the cycle of deep sleep, which could explain why you sometimes don’t feel rested when you wake up, even if you haven’t actually woken during the night.
  4. Tryptophan is an amino acid found in protein foods which the body uses to produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates the sleep cycle. If your diet is low in protein, then your body may be unable to produce the appropriate levels of serotonin, which will affect your mood as well as your sleep patterns. Make sure you’re eating plenty of tryptophan-rich foods such as chicken, turkey, pumpkin seeds, raw nuts, or milk to boost your chance of a good night’s sleep.
  5. It’s a good idea to keep away from foods that contain tyramine in the evening, as it promotes the release of noradrenaline which is a brain stimulant, and this could make it much more difficult for you to get to sleep. Watch out for cheese, aubergine, pepperoni, bacon or ham, red wine and chocolate, as these all contain tyramine.