Dr Michael Mosley on the importance of routine for sleep
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For most, sleep problems tend to sort themselves out within about a month, according to the NHS. The health body says: “Most people experience problems with sleep in their life. In fact, it’s thought that a third of Brits will have episodes of insomnia at some point.” If poor sleep is affecting your daily life or causing you distress, you can talk to your GP.
Paula Werrett, a registered nutritional therapy practitioner and Head of Undergraduate Provision from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION) said there are certain foods to help you sleep, and those which are not conducive to sleep.
She said bananas are the UK’s most popular fruit, and they are also fantastic for helping us to fall asleep.
She explained: “They contain sleep-promoting nutrients like magnesium and potassium, both of which are muscle relaxants, as well as tryptophan, an essential amino acid that helps to build serotonin and melatonin.”
Ms Werrett also explained: “It’s not just post-Christmas dinner that turkey can help us to fall asleep. Just like bananas, turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan, helping to promote sleep.”
She added: “It’s also a good source of protein, which helps to control appetite and prevent night-time waking.”
The nutritionist also said berries are good for sleep because they contain melatonin, “also known as the sleep hormone”.
She continued: “A great choice for aiding sleep is cherry juice in particular, as this reduces inflammatory cytokines, which are known to play a role in the sleep process.
“It also contains potassium, magnesium and phosphorus, which help to relax muscles before sleep.”
Ms Werrett suggested that for those who like a warm drink before bed, “steer clear of anything containing caffeine”.
Instead, she suggests people try a soothing herbal tea such as chamomile. She said this contains apigenin, which binds to specific receptors in the brain and which may promote sleepiness and reduce insomnia.
She said: “Walnuts are abundant in sleep-promoting nutrients such as magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and copper. They are one of the best sources of melatonin too, further promoting good quality sleep.
“Studies have found that including walnuts and walnut oil in the diet lowers resting blood pressure, and blood pressure response to stress. Keeping stress levels low is fundamental to undisrupted, good quality sleep.”
The nutritionist also says some foods and drinks can be “sleep stealers”. Some of these are quite well known, such as caffeinated drinks.
She said: “Caffeine has a half-life of around six hours, so that cup of tea you had at 7pm will still be having an impact on your sleep at 1am. If you’re looking to achieve a deep sleep and promote melatonin production, steer clear of caffeine.”
Cheese is “one of the worst foods” you can eat before bed, she said. Moreover, strong or aged cheeses are particularly bad because they contain an amino acid called tyramine, which helps us to stay alert for many hours.
She said: “As tempting as sugar might be, it leads to peaks in energy and can cause us to wake up during the night. “
Ms Werrett said the high fat and high acid content of pizza can promote acid reflux during the night and cause you to wake up.
She said that just like pizza, curry is another takeaway option that is not ideal for sleep, as any spicy food can interfere.
The Sleep Foundation says: “It’s natural to want to find a food to make you sleepy or the single best food for sleep, but it’s important to be realistic.
“Sleep is a complicated process affected by many things including mental health, light exposure, and underlying physical issues.”
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