This time of year can be a confusing one for our sleep cycles. The return to work after the festive period brings back early mornings and long days which, coupled with winter’s lack of daylight, can make it difficult to get back into the ebb and flow of a normal sleep routine. It might even feel like you’ve reversed your sleep patterns completely, feeling tired and sluggish during the day and wide awake at night.
A chronic lack of sleep or feeling of tiredness could indicate an underlying problem – such as sleep apnoea, thyroid problems or possibly a food intolerance – which shouldn’t be ignored. However, if you’re just looking for some general help in getting some shuteye, then take a look at our list of foods that could naturally promote a good night’s sleep.
Foods to aid sleep…
If you’re looking for a healthy, filling, and natural sleep aid, then look no further than almonds, as just a handful of the little nuts could help you to get a good night’s rest. That’s because they’re high in magnesium, a mineral that has been linked to promoting muscle relaxation and healthy sleep. Alongside this, almonds may also help the body switch from its active adrenaline cycle to a “rest and digest” mode, via the help of their blood sugar regulating proteins.
If you’re partial to a bedtime cuppa, why not try switching up your usual tea for relaxing chamomile instead. Chamomile is a relative of the daisy flower and, alongside a host of other benefits, has been used to aid restful sleep for centuries. Not without proof too, as research has shown that chamomile could be a potential useful insomnia remedy.
If it’s hunger that’s keeping you from falling asleep, it can be tempting to reach for carb-rich foods to try put yourself into a “food coma”. However, this can do you more harm than good, raising blood sugar levels and increasing the chance that you’ll wake up in the middle of the night. Instead, why not try reaching for a banana to stave off midnight munchies? As they’re high in natural muscle relaxants like potassium and magnesium, bananas fill you up whilst promoting natural rest. They can also boost the “happy hormone” serotonin, and “sleep hormone” melatonin, making bananas a little bundle of bedtime joy – try eating one about an hour before you go to sleep.
Valerian is another plant noted specifically for its use as a sleep aid, and is often suggested as an alternative to prescription sleep medication. When used in the right dose, it’s thought that valerian works to increase the amount of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the body, which regulates nerve cell actions resulting in a calming effect; part of the reason why the root is also used as a natural remedy for anxiety. Valerian is most often sold as a powder to be brewed up as tea; however, it’s also available in a capsule form for people who find its taste a little too strong.
Like bananas, cherries naturally boost melatonin levels. Melatonin is important in the formation and upkeep of regular sleep cycles; increased levels of this hormone in the body have been shown to help shift workers, those suffering from sleep disorders, and people with jet lag normalise their sleep patterns. To get the most out of cherries, it’s often recommended to drink some sour cherry juice or cherry juice concentrate around half an hour before bed. However, if you avoid drinking juice, then eating a few cherries could help too.
Foods to avoid before bed…
Whilst eating certain foods can be a healthy and effective sleep remedy, some foods are best avoided before bed if you want a good nights kip.
- Whilst eating high fat foods might make you feel sleepy at first, this won’t last. Fat stimulates the production of stomach acid, which in turn can cause heartburn and stomach upset, meaning you’ll be more prone to waking up in the middle of the night.
- It’s best to avoid foods and drinks that are high in sugar, as these can work to raise the body’s blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels rise before bed, it’s likely that they’ll drop during sleep, resulting in your body waking you up and you feeling hungry.
- It’s worth giving high carbohydrate foods a miss too, as their ‘difficult to digest nature’ means you could suffer from interrupted sleep. On top of this, they’ll also raise and then lower your blood sugar levels too.
- Whilst they might be part of your bedtime ritual, tea and coffee (and any caffeine, for that matter) will only work to interrupt sleep.
- That goes for nicotine and alcohol too. Whilst it might be tempting to have a nightcap to settle you off to sleep, alcohol interferes with the body’s natural sleep rhythms. That means that although you might drift off easily, you’re likely to wake up frequently during the night.
Tried these tips but still feeling tired?
If you’re avoiding the wrong foods before bed, sticking to those that help sleep, and still feeling tired, then there may be another reason for the tossing and turning.
It’s not unusual to assume that if you feel tired during the day you’ve not been sleeping well, but this isn’t always the case. It could be that an underlying issue, such as a food intolerance, is behind your feelings of tiredness. A food intolerance isn’t something that a good night’s sleep or sedative foods can help resolve, and if you think that a certain food isn’t agreeing with you then it’s worthwhile getting to the bottom of things.
If you’ve been struggling with fatigue, it may be a good idea to head to your GP for some advice. If your GP rules out anything more serious then it’s worth investigating whether a food intolerance may be causing the problem. With a YorkTest Food&Drink Scan programme, you can see how you react to 158 different foods, and identify which – if any – are an issue. Then, with tailored nutritional advice, you can figure out a diet that works for you, and get back to feeling awake and alive in no time.