British people are missing out on a night's sleep a week say experts; we asked three nutritionists to explain how food plays a role in how we sleep.
Complained that you’re tired five times already today? You're not alone.
Britons are under-sleeping by an average of almost an hour every night, health experts have said.
The average adult sleeps for 6.8 hours a night, below the 7.7 hours people feel they need, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) said.
If you struggle to get enough kip, what you eat could have an influence - here’s what nutritionists recommend.
Oats, oatcakes,or brown rice
Nutritionist Cassandra Barns says: ”Slow-releasing carbohydrates such as whole grains help to keep the levels of sugar (glucose) in your blood stable, and so provide your body with sustained energy. You may not think you need much energy while you’re asleep, but your brain and body still need glucose to keep working. If levels fall too low, this can cause the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which can wake you up.
“To avoid this, make sure you have some slow-releasing carbohydrates in the evening: a serving of brown rice or a slice of rye bread with your evening meal. If you have your last meal a long time before going to bed, try eating a half-size bowl of porridge or a couple of oatcakes with nut butter later in the evening.
“Sugary foods and refined white carbohydrates can have the opposite effect, as they quickly enter and leave the bloodstream, leaving your blood low in glucose again after only a short time.”
Shona Wilkinson, nutritionist at the NutriCentre, says: ”High-protein foods are meats, fish, beans and lentils, seeds and nuts (choose unsalted and raw rather than roasted). Protein foods provide the amino acid tryptophan, which converts to the hormones serotonin and melatonin; melatonin in particular is needed for good sleep.
“A good amount of protein is about 0.8–1g per kg body weight per day, so for a woman of 50kg for example, a good amount is 40-50g per day. Avoid too much high-protein food in the last few hours before bed however, as they can be hard to digest – especially red meat and nuts.”
Dr Marilyn Glenville, nutritionist and author of Natural Health Bible for Women, says: ”Pumpkin seeds are high in natural magnesium. One of the roles of magnesium is allowing the muscle fibres in our body to relax (it counteracts calcium, which causes muscles to contract).
“It’s also thought that magnesium has a role in the normal function of the pineal gland, which produces melatonin – a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and helps us to fall asleep.
“Try including one to two tablespoons of pumpkin seeds a day. Add them to sugar-free yoghurt or salads, or grind them up in a coffee grinder and add to porridge. Other raw seeds and nuts are also good sources of magnesium, as are leafy green vegetables.”
Try drinking a glass of pure coconut water in the evening to help you to have a restful night’s sleep,” says Barns. “Coconut water is an excellent source of ‘electrolyte’ minerals: potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and sodium. Balanced levels of these minerals are necessary to maintain normal muscle action, nerve function and hydration in our body.
“Deficiencies or imbalances may cause cramping and restless legs at night, and therefore disturbed sleep. Coconut water products from young green coconuts are thought to be the best.”
“Cherries have been found to contain small amounts of melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep cycles. Although all cherries may contain some melatonin, tart montmorency cherries in particular have been found in a clinical trial to increase the body’s melatonin levels and increase sleep time,” says Barns.
Glenville says: “Include zinc-rich foods such as oysters and other seafood, whole grains and nuts, especially pecans and Brazil nuts (but as mentioned above, not too many nuts before bedtime, as they can be hard to digest). Zinc is also needed for conversion of tryptophan into serotonin and melatonin.”
“Turkey is often said to be a sleep-promoter,” Wilkinson says, “as it contains good levels of tryptophan, the amino acid that converts into serotonin and then melatonin in our body. However, tryptophan is not the only constituent that makes turkey worth mentioning: it is also a good source of zinc and vitamin B6 – ‘co-factors’ that help the body to produce melatonin from tryptophan.
“Have your turkey earlier in the day, though, as a large serving of meat or other high-protein food late in the evening may stop you falling asleep.”
“Calming herbal teas such as chamomile, passionflower or valerian, or specific sleep blends can be helpful to drink before bedtime,” Wilkinson says. “According to researchers, drinking the tea is associated with an increase of glycine, a chemical that relaxes nerves and muscles and acts like a mild sedative.”