Can’t remember the last time you had a good nights sleep? You’re certainly not alone. Statistics show that as we get older, our sleep quality decreases and our sleep becomes more broken. In fact, there are 49% more people over 60 suffering from long term sleep problems than those in their twenties. The impact of poor or lack of sleep isn’t just about how we feel at night, but how it affects us during the day. Low energy, fatigue, poor concentration, increased susceptibility to illness, altered appetite, disrupted hormones and weight gain have all been linked to poor sleep patterns. Lack of sleep is not something we should just accept as a natural part of ageing.
By making some simple changes to our diet, we may be able to improve our chances of a good nights kip.
Avoid alcohol before bed
– Alcohol suppresses the deeper stages of sleep (rapid eye movement or REM sleep), so although it can make you feel drowsy and send you off to sleep more easily, it is likely to lead to a more disturbed night overall. Excess alcohol consumption can also interfere with your breathing, leading to snoring and sleep apnoea. If you do have a drink in the evening, it’s best to leave an hour and a half to two hours before going to bed, by which time the alcohol will be wearing off.
Don’t drink caffeine after midday
– caffeine is a stimulant and its effect on the body and mind can last many hours; so don’t consume it post lunchtime if you have trouble sleeping. And remember caffeine is not just found in tea and coffee; coke, chocolate and energy drinks are all sources of this stimulant. For an alternative hot drink in the evening choose herbal teas such as chamomile or valerian tea, which can help the mind to unwind. But limit yourself to one cup in the evening, or you’ll be up and down during the night to the loo!
– this is the name given to the mineral magnesium to describe its relaxing properties. Magnesium is vital for the functioning of GABA- a calming neurotransmitter that the brain requires to switch off at night. Without it, we remain lying wide-awake with our mind racing and full of thoughts, worries and to-do lists! Dark green leafy vegetables (such as kale, spinach and broccoli), nuts, seeds and pulses are all packed with magnesium. You can also try bathing in magnesium before bed, which enables it to be absorbed transdermally through the skin (it’s also a fantastic remedy for tired, aching muscles!)
Eat plenty of tryptophan
– an amino acid found in protein that our body uses to make the sleep-inducing substances serotonin and melatonin. To help with sleep it is important you are getting plenty of tryptophan in your diet, and nuts, seeds, yoghurt, turkey and banana are all fantastic sources.
You can increase the levels of tryptophan in your blood by having a carbohydrate-rich snack in the evening.
Carbohydrates improve the chances of tryptophan crossing over into the brain and being converted to serotonin and melatonin. Good pre-bedtime snack ideas include a small bowl of natural yoghurt with fresh fruit, nut butter spread onto oatcakes, or mashed banana on wholemeal toast.
– Tart Montmorency cherries are one of the only natural food sources of melatonin, the “sleep” hormone. They also contain a type of antioxidant called proanthocyanidins, which decrease the breakdown of tryptophan, letting it go to work longer in your body.
According to some research, tart cherry juice or a cherry based supplement may be a useful sleep aid.
One small study of 20 subjects found that a 30ml serving of tart cherry juice twice a day resulted in an improvement in sleep measures; sleep efficiency improved by 5-6%, whilst total sleep time increased by an average of 34 minutes a night.
A recent study also found that eating kiwi fruit before bed may help aid sleep. In this small study, 24 subjects consumed 2 kiwis 1 hour before bed every night for 4 weeks, and after this time both total sleep time and sleep efficiency were significantly increased.