As we slip into autumn and winter approaches, as the seasons change so do our circadian body rhythms and for many that will mean a change in both our eating and sleeping pattern. Just as with jet lag our bodies need to adjust to this seasonal change in light and temperature and the shortened length of light in the day. In some jobs this will mean going into work in the dark and coming out of work into the dark. The lack of sunlight reduces the level of vitamin D in our system that leads to a drop in the level of serotonin, the happy hormone, in our brains. So, now we have the winter blues and SAD syndrome. Many mammals, at this time of year, choose to hibernate, to go to sleep and wait it out until the spring and the increased sunlight. But we, rightly or wrongly, just keep going. At a point where we should probably be doing less, resting more and huddling by the fire we continue those twelve hour shifts. In reality we need more sleep in the dark months, usually much more than we allow ourselves to have. In recent years with the development of neuropsychology we understand more and more the importance of sleep to our emotional and psychological health. So, what can we do to improve the sleep that we do have and minimise the possibility of the blues or depression?
Foods that inhibit good sleep
Caffeine, in all it’s forms from fizzy drinks to coffee and even tea, has a half-life of 5 hours: which means that 10 hours after drinking your coffee, 25% left in your system; and 20 hours later 12.5% of the caffeine still remains. And, we wonder why caffeine can be so addictive. So, while an early afternoon coffee as a post-lunch pick-me-up may seem like a good idea, it might be what is keeping you up at night.
1: Reduce your intake of caffeine
Alcohol is Britains favourite relaxant. Many people, at the end of a hard day go home and pop a cork as compensation and when they have had a good day they go home and pop a cork as a point of celebration. Either way it still affects our sleep. It may make us drowsy but the sleep that we do have becomes disturbed and we can wake feeling more tired than when we went to bed.
2: Limit your alcohol intake and when you do drink observe the affect that it has on your sleep and you performance on the next day
Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, can contain high levels of caffeine and thus needs to be treated similarly to coffee and other caffeinated beverages. How many people believe that a nice hot chocolate before bed will improve their sleep? Well, actually it makes it worse. If you look back to number one you will see that the effects of the chocolate that you consume can be effecting you hours after you have forgotten about it.
3: In general try to avoid chocolate and any kind of sweets in the evening, it will not only improve your sleep but your overall health as well
Spicy Foods: Capsaicin – the molecule which gives your spicy foods that kick – can cause changes in body temperature that can cause a disturbance in your circadian rhythms if consumed late at night. Obviously being hot at night can keep you awake and those effects can be heightened during menstrual cycles and menopause.
4: Avoid hot or spicy foods as an evening meal especially if you have any reflux issues or more general indigestion
High-Refined-Fat-Foods: Ever since I was a child I was told that if I ate cheese at night it would give me nightmares. Well maybe it did not do that but it did disturb my sleep. We all know that certain unhealthy (aka. refined and trans) fats negatively impact our health; but there’s also evidence that they may be keeping you up at night.
Animal studies have shown that high-fat diets are associated with more fragmented sleep, along with excessive daytime sleepiness. Researchers speculate that this may be linked to the neuro-chemical orexin — which plays an integral role in our sleep-wake cycles.
5: Avoid refined fats and that includes fast food, but if you must do it during the day
Foods that promote good sleep
Magnesium and potassium: One of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency is insomnia, so you’ll want to load up on healthy sources of this mineral such as leafy greens, beans and lentils, and bananas. Magnesium and potassium promote muscle relaxation, and thus not only help you feel more comfortable but can help deal with nighttime leg cramps. Other foods in the category include potatoes, squash, yoghurt, fish, avocados and mushrooms.
1: If you want to snack in the evening try eating a banana
Tryptophan is an amino-acid found in both animal and plant proteins. Our bodies use tryptophan to create serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in both mood regulation and sleep.
Many foods are great natural sources of tryptophan, such as milk, bananas, peanut butter and walnuts. Now, I don’t drink dairy milk but nut milks are a fabulous substitute.
2: Milk, milk substitutes and foods containing Tryptophan will enhance your sleep
B vitamins are essential for both the synthesis and release of certain neurotransmitters and hormones in your brain that are part of the sleep-wake cycle: these include serotonin and melatonin.
Supplements are often prescribed to treat conditions such as restless leg syndrome, a nighttime movement disorder which significantly disrupts sleep.
However, if your diet is right there’s no need to take a supplement. You can get your fill from legumes (chick peas), dark green vegetables, whole grains and fish.
3: Review your diet and check that your vitamin B requirements are being met
Theanine is yet another useful amino acid when it comes to treating sleep disorders. Research has shown that administering a theanine supplement improves sleep quality and increases sleep efficiency, while decreasing nighttime awakenings.
There is one superfood packed with theanine: Green tea. However, while green tea has significantly less caffeine than a cup of tea, it is recommended to opt for the decaffeinated kind if your goal is a good night’s sleep.
4: Green tea has many benefits
If you have ever had jet lag it is your melatonin that has gone out of sync. It is naturally produced by your pineal gland under direction of your circadian rhythms and is what makes us feel sleepy as we near bedtime. It usually begins to release around 9 p.m. and remains at a high level for the next 12 hours, throughout the night into the next morning.
While there are certain foods that contain melatonin, you can also purchase this essential sleep-inducing hormone in capsules in the USA at your local pharmacy or health food store and may also be available in the UK. Taken at the right time of day, and in the right dosage, melatonin supplements can help reset your biological clock to optimal levels and is often used as a natural treatment for sleep disorders.
However, you don’t need to take supplements: simply add tart fruits, like cherries and pineapples, to your diet. Oats, walnuts and bananas are likewise great natural sources of melatonin.
5: Adding tart fruits and some nuts to your diet will improve your sleep
Be mindful in what you choose and fingers crossed a good nights sleep and sweet dreams will follow.