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5 Foods To Help You Get A Good Night’s Sleep

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It is widely accepted that we are living in a sleep-deprived society, with the stressors of modern living being the main contributor. We often open our morning chats with ‘I can’t function without my morning coffee!’ or ‘I slept terribly last night with a knowing nod from our work colleagues and friends. 

Juggling ever-increasing work and life commitments, blue light from our mobile phones whilst scrolling through social media in bed and eating convenience food late into the evening are just a few common sleep-depriving culprits.

Some people however do believe that their sleep quality is good, but to know whether your sleep quality is optimal, you may need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you managing to sleep uninterrupted for 7-8 hours every evening, or are you waking up? (I often have clients who are parents shaking their heads at this one…I come in peace!)
  • Are you managing to drift off to sleep comfortably, or do you find it hard to relax into restful sleep?
  • Do you wake up feeling well-rested and ready for the day, or are you regularly reaching for the snooze button?

Whilst a perfectly deep 8 hours of glorious sleep every single evening is the ultimate dream, progress is the goal. Whether it’s an extra hour of sleep or waking up less frequently during the night, these improvements can add surprising benefits and truly improve the quality of your life.

1.    Magnesium Rich Foods

Magnesium is my favourite mineral (yes, I’ll admit I have favourite nutrients) because it is so fantastic for cognitive and nervous system health. In a world where chronic stress is seen as the norm, magnesium helps to support our central nervous system to regulate stress and improve sleep quality 1.  

Foods that contain magnesium are:

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Dark chocolate
  • Avocados
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Most produce that grows out from the soil

Suboptimal magnesium levels are reported in the general population 2 and although this is a vital health-boosting mineral, many of us simply aren’t getting enough.

Due to global manufacturing, soil quality has decreased significantly in recent decades meaning that we aren’t quite getting the same amounts of mineral intake from produce grown in soil as we used to.

Even if our diet is abundant in ground-growing vegetables, studies show that this may not make up for a magnesium deficiency as soil magnesium levels are low 3, therefore I recommend supplementing with a magnesium supplement to ensure adequate levels in the body.

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2.    Complex Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates make tryptophan, which is a calming amino acid, more available to the brain. This helps to prepare our body and brain for a good night’s sleep and helps with the drowsy satisfaction that accompanies a comforting carbohydrate-rich meal 4.

Proteins however are required from our diet to help boost our intake of amino acids (including tryptophan) therefore a great macronutrient combination for your evening meal is a balance of carbohydrates and protein…yay!

It is important, however, to opt for fibre-rich wholefood sources of carbohydrates as processed forms of carbohydrates like white bread and pasta spike blood glucose which can raise our stress hormones. Not ideal.

3.    Almonds

Almonds contain exceptionally high amounts of tryptophan which as we know, is an amino acid that helps promote restful sleep 5.  

A super quick and easy cosy bedtime drink to aid relaxation is an almond milk turmeric latte. All you need is:

  • A mug full of almond milk
  • A pinch of black pepper
  • Half a teaspoon of turmeric
  • A teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of maple syrup or honey

In a pan on the hob on medium heat, gently mix the ingredients together until combined and the contents are gently warmed through. Pour into your favourite mug and enjoy the cosy goodness.

4.    Fatty Fish 

Fatty fish contains plentiful amounts of vitamin D, which is crucial for healthy hormonal health and helps to boost sleep quality 6.  

Fatty fish has also been shown to increase serotonin production, which is our feel-good neurotransmitter, aiding deep sleep and helping us to relax more quickly into deep sleep 7.

5.    Make Sure You’re Eating Enough Food 

Your diet may have an abundance of nutrients and colour, however, if you are going to bed hungry this will set you up for a poor night’s sleep.

The body responds to hunger signals by increasing our stress hormones like cortisol, to keep us alert to help us stay alert to ‘search for food’ 8.

The aim is to eat a well-balanced, satisfying, and nourishing meal approximately 3-4 hours before bedtime, to allow digestion to kick in before sleep. Your meal should take you about 70% full. This will be adequate to keep you satiated, but not so full that it impairs digestion from trying to digest a very large meal which will affect your sleep. 

Nutrition is Only One Piece of the Sleep Puzzle

Although what we eat has a significant impact on sleep quality, we cannot conclude this article without talking about daily lifestyle adjustments. Nutrition is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to good sleep quality and will only get us part way to reaching the sleep of our dreams (quite literally).

Here are a few recommendations when it comes to good sleep to adopt a nightly bedtime routine:

  • Maintain a consistent bedtime each evening, so your body starts to learn to settle at the same time every evening
  • Turn off all devices and set the alarm 30 minutes before bed. If you cannot sleep without aid, then reading in bed or downloading a sleep app like calm is great. The app contains sleep stories which are designed to help you relax into a deep sleep.
  • A tip to help physically relax your nervous system before sleep is to take a deep breath in for 6 seconds and breathe out for as long as you can manage. Repeat the process 8-10 times. Studies show that deep breathing helps release sleep hormones, physically calms the body, and moves our nervous system from sympathetic (fight or flight mode) to parasympathetic (rest and digest) 9.
  • A good tip for when you do wake up throughout the night is if you don’t fall back asleep within 10 minutes, take a couple-minute walk around the house or to the kitchen etc. This resets your brain and helps you to relax as you return to bed. Don’t be tempted to look at devices as the blue light tricks the brain into thinking it’s already daytime.

For the above recommendations to be effective, consistency is key. Good sleep truly is a habit and for a good habit to form, consistency is vital.

Although the figures regularly change, it takes approximately 30 days to form a good habit. Try upping your intake of sleep-boosting foods and try to adopt a couple of the above lifestyle tips to help set you up for a well-deserved restful night's sleep.

Please also read our 5 tips for a better sleep article for more information on how to improve the quality of your sleep.