We all feel the benefit from a good night’s sleep. Getting the right amount of sleep is paramount for a healthy and productive lifestyle, but many of us struggle to get the rest we need. Everyday stresses can lead to restless nights, and for shift workers, frequent flyers, flight and cabin crew operating in different time zones, proper sleep can be something of a challenge.
Chronic sleep loss is becoming common in today’s society, yet many people are unaware of the potential adverse health effects it can bring. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and depression. Lack of sleep is also believed to suppress the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to infection. Sleep should not be considered a luxury, but an important component of a healthy lifestyle.
There are many ways to achieve a good night’s sleep and a nutritious balanced diet is an important one.
Besides stress and stimulants like caffeine, the other substance that can raise the activity of the two adrenal hormones, adrenalin and cortisol, is sugar. When blood sugar drops too low, the adrenal hormones have to compensate and start rising.
Raised adrenal hormones, important in keeping our bodies awake and for dealing with daily stressors, hinder our bodies from falling and remaining asleep. Elevated levels of these hormones also prevent essential tissue repair, effectively speeding up the ageing process.
When you start to wind down, serotonin (a brain chemical that promotes relaxation) levels rise and adrenalin levels fall. As it gets darker another neurotransmitter, melatonin, kicks in. Melatonin is an almost identical molecule to serotonin and its main role in the brain is to regulate the sleep/wake cycle. Foods that are particularly high in the amino acid that creates the sleep hormones include turkey, chicken, cheese, tuna, tofu, eggs, nuts, seeds and milk. Cherries and are one of the richest known sources of natural melatonin and walnuts help absorb the melatonin effectively into the bloodstream.
Smell the coffee
We all know that caffeine keeps us awake. It not only stimulates the body, but also depresses melatonin for up to ten hours. This may sound obvious but as we know It’s best to limit our intake, especially before sleeping.
A deficiency of calcium and especially magnesium can trigger or exacerbate sleep difficulties. These two minerals work together to calm the body and relax the nervous system. Magnesium is a natural tranquiliser, helping support energy levels when we’re stressed or when we’ve consumed too much sugar. Good sources of magnesium include Brazil nuts, broccoli, halibut, oysters, edamame beans, spinach and whole refined grains. Consider adding powdered greens (available at all good health food shops) to water or juice to increase these essential nutrients.
Studies have found that calcium levels are higher during some of the deepest stages of sleep. The study concluded that disturbance in sleep may be related to calcium deficiency. Alcohol can interfere with calcium absorption, so cutting back on the booze is a good idea. Many of us think that dairy products are a source of calcium, but they are not necessarily the best for us. High-calcium foods also include leafy green vegetables, beans and pulses. These are also low in fat and contain other vital nutrients for calcium absorption.
What will you be including in your diet next time you want a restful sleep?