Whether it’s the stress of getting kids settled back into school, the workplace stress of everyone having gone on holiday at the same time, leaving you to carry the can, or drinking one too many Aperol Spritzes before bedtime – Autumn’s not the best season for getting a good night’s kip. And we revealed just last month the five things you could be doing to unwittingly sabotage your sleep.
But, while you can’t do much about Karen from Accounts failing to leave a handover before her three-week jolly to Croatia, you can make dietary decisions that will set you up for as close to an eight-hour kip as you’re likely to get.
Belle About Town spoke to nutritionist Libby Limon, and sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley, about the nutrients and minerals our bodies need to get a good night’s rest.
For something that sounds more like a character out of the latest X-Men franchise than a naturally occurring mineral – magnesium plays a surprisingly vital role in keeping our bodies running smoothly.
“Magnesium is probably one of the most important minerals when it comes to sleep,” Libby told us, “so I often recommend that those with sleep issues take a magnesium supplement.”
Why a supplement over a diet change? Well, although magnesium occurs naturally in many foods, it is notoriously difficult to absorb. It’s suggested that 75-90% of the UK population isn’t getting their daily minimum intake of magnesium – and that deficiency could be preventing your body from operating at its peak.
It’s not just the food that we eat just before bed which influences our sleeping patterns, but the food we consume during our waking hours.
Protein-rich foods are good for the production of serotonin, which many of us know as the ‘happy hormone’. This handy substance also plays a role in the sleep/wake cycle, helping to keep us upbeat and alert throughout the day.
According to Libby, however, it’s equally important when trying to doze off, “Serotonin is also a precursor to melatonin, so eating protein rich-foods – which are good for serotonin production – are advised to promote sleep”.
That’s why consuming a diet packed with protein-heavy food like egg whites, turkey and spinach, could help you nod off at night.
The quintessential summer fruit, the cherry, is almost perfectly timed to help us nod off on hot summer nights. Libby recommends that cherries – one of the few natural sources of melatonin – are eaten an hour before bed to help boost levels of the hormone in the body.
Dr Neil Stanley explains exactly what role melatonin has in helping our bodies drop off.
“Melatonin is the hormone most commonly associated with the sleep-wake cycle. Levels of melatonin vary throughout the day (and night) which helps regulate circadian rhythms in the body. Melatonin levels are high at night (during sleep) and low during the day (during wakefulness).”
The bad news is that while cherries provide a helpful boost in your levels of melatonin, one serving alone is unlikely to solve a larger sleep problem. “As long as you eat a normal, healthy diet,” says Dr Stanley, “what you eat has no direct effect on your sleep-wake cycle.”
If there’s no food you can consume which will directly impact your ability to fall asleep, why make the connection between diet and sleep at all?
Sleep is as important as diet and exercise to our health, so if you’re not getting enough of it, it’s time to examine what exactly is keeping you up. And while you may never find the perfect recipe for a good night’s sleep, by eating a balanced diet you’ll not only boost your health, your sleep will get better, too.
* For more tips, see the 24-Hour Sleep Guide here