Sleep often goes hand in hand with mood, and the good news is that dietary modifications and/or some key nutrients with lifestyle measures may make the world of difference.
Back in the day we would go to sleep when the sun went down and wake up in sync with sunrise. This daily cycle of light and darkness helps govern the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone – as the light diminishes melatonin increases, providing cues for our body to wind-down for sleep.
Today however we are bombarded with artificial light from commercial and home lighting, televisions, computers and other electronic devices, particularly those that emit blue-light, which hinders our body from producing melatonin. Instead our brains remain stimulated, thinking it is still daylight and we find it hard to switch off.
Quality sleep has been shown to have a restorative effect on the immune and endocrine systems, allows the nervous system to recuperate, and is essential for learning, memory and healthy brain cells.
Disrupted sleep patterns are related to many everyday health issues, including depression, obesity and cardiovascular disease. It’s recommended to have about 8 hours sleep a night from 10pm onwards; less than that is associated with health issues, likewise more than 8 hours too.
Here we take a look at some of the steps that you can implement to improve your sleep, both the quality and quantity.
Foods to Promote Sleep
To increase melatonin, the sleep hormone, you need to make sure that you are eating (and digesting) adequate tryptophan-rich protein, such as:
- sesame seeds
Making sure your diet is full of the calming nutrient magnesium may also help too. Magnesium is found in:
- kidney beans
- pumpkin seeds
- sesame seeds
- brown rice
Other Dietary Tips
- Try not to eat a big meal within 2 hours of bedtime, so that your body has time to digest before you rest.
- Eat a real-food diet, free from refined packaged foods to make sure that you are getting quality proteins along with vitamins and minerals.
- Have a balanced meal in the evening to avoid dips in your blood sugar levels during the night, which may disrupt your sleep.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks after 2pm as some people find it difficult to clear caffeine from their body and suffer from sleep onset or sleep maintenance insomnia.
- Limit alcohol; just 2 glasses of wine with dinner may reduce sleep quality by up to 40%.
- Look into possible food intolerances or sensitivities that may be sabotaging your sleep.
- Choose a soothing chamomile or passionflower tea, or check out your local health shop to see what sleep-inducing tea blends they sell.
Key Nutrients to Consider
Sometimes, it might be necessary to supplement with specific nutrients; my favourite ones include 5-HTP, tryptophan, magnesium, GABA, or L-Theanine.
These nutrients may also prove helpful if you suffer from a mood disorder as they generally have a calming effect on the nervous system.
However, if you have other health issues you may need a different therapeutic approach.
I recommend that you liaise with your health practitioner to find out what might work best for you.
Lifestyle Steps to aid Sleep
Daylight: Get outdoors for at least 30 minutes each day to expose yourself to natural bright light; perhaps top up your Vitamin D levels in the sunshine for 10 minutes.
Regularity: Getting up and going to bed at the same time each day helps to re-establish circadian rhythms. Avoid sleeping in, even after a late-night. Sunlight exposure straight after waking, even for as little as a few minutes, will help reset the biological clock. Similarly, avoid naps during the day as this will reduce the ability to fall asleep and affect quality of sleep at night.
Bright Lights: Don’t expose yourself to bright light at night as this affects the melatonin levels and gives cues to the brain that it is time to wake up. For example, the light from the TV.
Device-free Zone: Refrain from using your bed to watch TV, study, read, pay bills or work so that your body associates bed with sleep.
Bedtime Ritual: Give your body signs that it’s time to slow down and sleep. Listen to relaxing music, do light stretching, meditation or breathing exercises 15 minutes before bed. Having a bath one to two hours before bed can be useful as it raises body temperature causing your body to feel sleepy as body temperature drops again.
Create a Room Conducive to Sleep: Make sure that your room is cool and dark, with minimal noise. If there is noise, use earplugs to block out auditory stressors that stimulate wakefulness.
Technological Distractions: Excessive use of information and communication technologies before bedtime is not only connected to stress and sleep disorders due to the emotionally stimulating effects, but the bright screens can also inhibit the production of melatonin. DEFINITELY turn-off wifi and do not sleep with your mobile phone or other electrical items, such as a digital alarm clock, plugged in next to your bed.
This is by no means a complete list of factors that may be affecting your sleep, here are just a few more:
- Side effects of medications
- Exercising too close to bedtime
- Pain or reflux
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Menopausal or other hormone issues
- Low blood sugar levels.
Sleep issues can be debilitating but by addressing some of the above areas, hopefully you will be able to enjoy a better night’s sleep.
If you’d like to find out more and work with a nutritionist, please contact us to make an appointment
Author: Beverley Dorgan, BHSc Nutritional Medicine, ANTA.
Beverley Dorgan is a Brisbane Clinical nutritionist with a special interest in how the foods we consume can impact on our mental health from anxiety and depression to OCD and behavioural or learning issues.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
- Doherty R, Madigan S, Warrington G, Ellis J. Sleep and Nutrition Interactions: Implications for Athletes. Nutrients. 2019;11(4):822. Published 2019 Apr 11. doi:10.3390/nu11040822
- Lieberman HR, Agarwal S, Fulgoni VL 3rd. Tryptophan Intake in the US Adult Population Is Not Related to Liver or Kidney Function but Is Associated with Depression and Sleep Outcomes. J Nutr. 2016 Dec;146(12):2609S-2615S. doi: 10.3945/jn.115.226969. Epub 2016 Nov 9. PMID: 27934652.
- Peuhkuri K, Sihvola N, Korpela R. Dietary factors and fluctuating levels of melatonin. Food Nutr Res. 2012;56. doi: 10.3402/fnr.v56i0.17252. Epub 2012 Jul 20. PMID: 22826693; PMCID: PMC3402070.