Struggling to sleep? Authors of Eat To Sleep, Heather Thomas and Alina Tierney share the foods you need for a better quality slumber.

If you’re always trying to catch up on sleep, you’re not alone. 38% of us never achieve the recommended eight hours of sleep, with technology, lack of exercise and eating late the most common reasons after busy work schedules and stress.

This ‘sleep crisis’ can have a dramatic effect on our health and happiness. But the good news is your diet – what you eat and when – can have a big impact on your sleep. “If you struggle to get a good night’s sleep, eating sleep-friendly foods and adjusting the timing of your meals could make a big difference,” say sleep experts Heather and Alina in their new book Eat To Sleep (£12.99, Vermillion).

“Sleep-friendly foods can calm your mind and boost the hormones that promote good sleep, helping to restore and repair your body while you rest.” Here, the authors share their advice on eating for sleep, alongside two sleep-friendly recipes to try tonight…

What are the best nutrients for helping me to sleep?

1. Magnesium

This mineral is needed for quality sleep and helps to activate the neurotransmitters that are responsible for calming your mind and body. It also helps muscles to relax, while steadying your heart rhythm.

Find it in:

  • Nuts and seeds, especially Brazil nuts and cashews
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Oats
  • Avocado
  • Brown rice

2. Calcium

This helps your brain to process the amino acid tryptophan. This is needed to make the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and mood-regulator serotonin.

Find it in:

  • Nuts and seeds, especially almonds, hazelnuts and sesame seeds
  • Figs
  • Yoghurt
  • Broccoli
  • Soya beans

3. Vitamin B6

This vitamin plays an important role in the conversion of the sleep-enhancing amino acid tryptophan into serotonin, which aids healthy sleeping patterns.

Find it in:

  • Pistachios
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Oily fish such as salmon and tuna
  • Beef
  • Chicken

4. Potassium

This is a muscle and nerve relaxant and aids good digestion. Too little potassium can lead to muscle spasms, which may disrupt your sleep.

Find it in:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Butterbeans
  • Edamame beans
  • Mushrooms
  • Banana

What’s the optimum time to eat before bed?

Aim not to eat too late – at least three hours before bed – to give yourself time to digest the food. If you’re experiencing problems with falling asleep, interrupted sleep or waking up in the night with cramps, acid reflux or to go to the bathroom, it may be worth changing what you eat and the times at which you eat.

Are there any foods I should avoid before sleep?

Research has shown that a high intake of caffeine (from coffee, tea, chocolate and soft drinks) raises cortisol levels, which can have an unhealthy effect on our ability to sleep and to manage stress.

Ideally, you should restrict your caffeine intake to a maximum of 400mg per day (the equivalent of four cups of brewed coffee) spread throughout the day, or choose decaf options if possible.

Feeling inspired? Check out these two sleep-friendly recipes, perfectly balanced to aid your slumber…

1. Butterbean, chicory and avocado salad

This salad is perfect as a light supper. Avocados contain magnesium, potassium and vitamin B6, which all help to induce sleep.

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2. Oat porridge with chocolate and cherry compôte

Oats are comforting and rich in potassium, magnesium, calcium and tryptophan, all of which add up to good quality sleep. Because they’re low GI (glycaemic index) they release energy slowly to keep you sleeping soundly throughout the night.

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Recipes extracted from Eat To Sleep (£12.99, Vermillion).

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