Can't sleep? A guide to a better night's rest
Are you struggling to get a good night's sleep? Kerry Torrens explains how a few diet changes can make all the difference.
On average, a third of the UK population struggle with insomnia. Additionally, new research has revealed that during the coronavirus lockdown, closer to half of us are experiencing more sleep disruption than usual.
Disrupted sleep can be caused by many factors, including heightened stress, poor diet and irregular sleeping habits.
Our nutritionist Kerry Torrens reveals tips that helped one of her clients achieve a more restful night's sleep:
‘A male client of mine in his late 40s was struggling with insomnia. It was leaving him drained and unable to manage his work, adding to his already high stress levels. After having a bowl of sugary cereal for breakfast, my client drank coffee throughout the day, had a sandwich for lunch and ate his main meal late in the evening. He often caught up with paperwork or emails before going to bed.’
Kerry's advice to this client was:
- Swap sugary cereal for a wholegrain alternative, topped with milk and a sliced banana.
- Choose proteins that are rich in an amino acid called tryptophan. This helps boost the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Chicken and turkey, milk and dairy, and nuts and seeds are all good choices.
- Combine these with a carbohydrate-rich food, such as rice, pasta or potatoes, which helps the body to get the most benefits from tryptophan. Try a chicken and noodle stir-fry or similar.
- Aim to eat your main meal earlier in the evening – the act of eating pushes up the body’s core temperature, and this can disrupt sleep. Eat your evening meal at least four hours before retiring for the day. A glass of warm milk with a cracker or oatcake can also be useful before bed.
- Reduce your caffeine intake gradually. Try decaffeinated coffee or caffeine-free drinks, like red bush tea. Have your last caffeine-containing drink no later than midday – this is because the time taken for the body to eliminate the caffeine you consume is roughly five to six hours.
- Build relaxation and exercise into the day to help manage stress. A short walk or some light stretching in the evening can be a helpful way to unwind before bed.
- Avoid using a computer late in the evening as the light from the screen can have a stimulatory effect.
- Take a warm bath an hour or two before bedtime – studies suggest this may improve sleep quality.
Kerry explains, ‘After a month, my client had made several diet and lifestyle changes, and his sleep quality had improved. However, his stress levels remained high, so I suggested that he visit his GP.’
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Do you have trouble sleeping or have you beaten insomnia? Let us know below.
This article was updated on 05 June 2020 by Tracey Raye.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a registered nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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