What are the causes of sleeplessness?
Sleepless nights or disturbed sleep patterns can be the result of psychological factors, such as stress and anxiety or physical variables like room temperature, sleeping position and an uncomfortable bed.
If you experience a chronic lack of sleep or find yourself constantly feeling tired, you might be suffering from an underlying problem like sleep apnoea, thyroid problems or it could be the after-effects of having a food intolerance†.
Diet alone is rarely the cause of sleeplessness, but it can be useful to know which foods promote healthy slumber and which foods are more likely to keep you awake at night.
What are the foods that help you sleep?
Eating too close to bedtime can be counterproductive in getting to sleep, as the digestion process might keep you awake. However, eating foods containing certain nutrients a few hours before you retire to bed can be helpful.
The mineral magnesium has been linked to muscle relaxation, which can help you get off to a natural, healthy sleep. Magnesium-rich foods include almonds, bananas, spinach, pumpkin seeds and even dark chocolate, so you can treat yourself a little before bedtime and look forward to a good night’s rest.
The hormone melatonin causes you to feel naturally less alert, thus helping to induce sleep. You can get a melatonin boost by eating foods that help produce melatonin, such as eating bananas, cherries, porridge oats, ginger and tomatoes.
The treatment of insomnia sometimes includes taking valerian root, which is a chewable plant that increases the amount of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the body, helping to regulate nerve cell actions for a calming effect.
If you’re in the habit of having a hot drink before bedtime, choose herbal options such as chamomile tea rather than caffeine-loaded beverages like coffee.
What foods contribute to insomnia?
The digestive system could often be the cause of sleep disturbance, so if you’re struggling to sleep it is important not to overload your stomach.
Heartburn and stomach upset are usually caused by eating foods with a high fat content, while indigestion is more likely to occur when you have eaten a meal high in carbohydrates. Late night takeaway curries, pizzas and burgers are prime culprits for spoiling your sleep.
Stimulants like caffeine in tea and coffee or nicotine in cigarettes can leave your brain feeling too active to let you drift off to sleep. Alcoholic drinks might initially feel sleep-inducing, but they can disturb the natural pattern of your sleep, which is part of the reason why you rarely feel refreshed the morning after a few drinks.
Feelings of fatigue could have a number of root causes and if you are struggling with chronic tiredness, intolerances to certain foods may not be helping. Read our case studies on symptoms of fatigue or see our page on food intolerance for more information.
Help and support
Your GP should be your first port of call if you have health concerns relating to fatigue or insomnia. After this, if you would like to take a closer look at your diet, the yorktest Premium Food&DrinkScan programme† could help you pinpoint the foods that are causing you problems.
† yorktest define food intolerance as a food-specific IgG reaction
yorktest recommend that you discuss any medical concerns you have with a GP before undertaking a yorktest programme