A good night’s sleep is vital for optimal health. We all know how bad we feel after a late night or one spent tossing and turning. Continued lack of sleep can make your body behave in a similar way to being intoxicated.1It’s implicated in the development of several health conditions, including obesity, heart problems, type 2 diabetes, depression and inflammation.2-6Lack of sleep makes us less able to cope with the stresses of daily life.7
The average sleep requirement for an adult is about 7.5 hours.6If you’re getting fewer than 6 hours, or are waking frequently it can increase your appetite and hunger levels.8If you’re tired, food cravings are more likely and your decision-making is less effective so junk foods become a lot harder to resist.8
If you aren’t getting enough sleep:Aim to have a regular sleep habit: go to bed and get up at the same time each day – even at weekends!9
- Get outsidewithout wearing sunglasses especially during the morning hours10
- Avoid caffeine from the early afternoon onwards9,11
- Try exercisingearlier in the day – not too close to bedtime9,12
- Don’t eat a heavy meal just before sleep: try to leave 3 hours between eating and bedtime13
- Don’t be tempted to use alcohol as a sleep aid: evidence shows sleep quality tends to be worse even if you fall asleep quicker after alcohol9
- Make sure your bedroom is dark; use blackout lining or blinds and don’t use night lights12
- Make sure your bedroom is cool12
- Avoid screen-based activities(phones, tablets, laptops, computer or TV) for at least an hour before you go to bed12
- If you have to use screens, consider adjusting the display settings (apps are available to do this if your device does not have the option in the settings) to reduce the blue light and increase the red. Our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms take their cues from the light around us with blue light making us alert13
- Similarly, if you can choose the colour-balance of your lights in the evening, aim for a reddish hue, and/or keep light levels low13
- Don’t use the bedroom for work, hobbies or anything that involves being too mentally active12
- Try some meditation techniques14
- Check your mattress and pillows; seriously, try other types and buy new if yours are ancient. You spend a third of your life in bed: make sure it’s comfortable!15
Finally, focus on foods that are sources of nutrients that have been shown to be helpful for good sleep, such as:
- Sources of the amino acid, tryptophan (found in, for example, turkey, chicken, eggs, hemp seeds, almonds, cheeses and yogurt). Tryptophan is used to make the sleep hormone melatonin.
- Vitamin D (from sunlight and oily fish) is needed to. Help the body convert the amino-acid tryptophan into the sleep hormone, melatonin.
- Magnesium (dark leafy greens and are some of the richest sources of dietary magnesium, but it is also found in avocados, pumpkin seeds, almonds, brazil nuts, pecans and macadamia nuts) acts in several different ways to improve sleep, but one important mechanism is that it encourages activity in the calming nerve pathways in the brain.
- Vitamin B6 (almonds, avocados, fish, tomatoes, spinach, yogurt and eggs) is needed for the correct functioning of the enzyme pathway that makes melatonin from serotonin
- Vitamin B12 (dairy, eggs, meat, fish and shellfish) seems to be closely involved with regulating our sleep–wake cycles
- Vitamin C (good sources include peppers, green leafy vegetables, brussel sprouts and strawberries): low intakes of vitamin C are linked with shorter sleep
- Potassium (found in leafy greens, broccoli, crimini mushrooms, and avocados)
- Selenium (2 brazil nuts can supply your daily needs)
- Choline (found mainly in animal foods such as liver, eggs, fish and shellfish, but also in cauliflower, mushrooms, dark leafy greens, asparagus, and brussels sprouts).
- All these nutrient-rich foods have benefits beyond improving sleep.16,17
Take away points
Improve your gut health! Without good gut health, you may not be able to absorb the above-mentioned vitamins! See our article on enhancing gut health. Eating a wide range of plant foods (especially those listed above) can alter the balance of your gut bacteria and this can translate to better sleep (see our article on gut health and sleep here). Certain types of prebiotic fibres and probiotic bacteria are especially likely to help sleep,18,19 especially those contained in legumes like lentils and chickpeas and milk (however, note that if you suffer with IBS, you may not be able to tolerate these fibres until you have done significant gut healing).
- Williamson AM, Feyer A-M. Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. Occup Env Med. 2000;57:649-655.
- Chiang J-K. Short Duration of Sleep Is Associated with Elevated High-Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein Level in Taiwanese Adults: A Cross-Sectional Study. J Clin Sleep Med. 2014;10(7):743-749. doi:10.5664/jcsm.3862
- Gangwisch JE, Malaspina D, Posner K, et al. Insomnia and Sleep Duration as Mediators of the Relationship Between Depression and Hypertension Incidence. Am J Hypertens. 2010;23(1):62-69. doi:10.1038/ajh.2009.202
- Deng H-B, Tam T, Zee BC-Y, et al. Short Sleep Duration Increases Metabolic Impact in Healthy Adults: A Population-Based Cohort Study. Sleep. 2017;40(10). doi:10.1093/sleep/zsx130
- Kim J-Y, Yadav D, Ahn SV, et al. A prospective study of total sleep duration and incident metabolic syndrome: the ARIRANG study. Sleep Med. 2015;16(12):1511-1515. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2015.06.024
- Knutson KL. Does inadequate sleep play a role in vulnerability to obesity? Am J Hum Biol. 2012;24(3):361-371. doi:10.1002/ajhb.22219
- Minkel J, Moreta M, Muto J, et al. Sleep deprivation potentiates HPA axis stress reactivity in healthy adults. Heal Psychol. 2014;33(11):1430-1434. doi:10.1037/a0034219
- Dashti HS, Scheer FA, Jacques PF, Lamon-Fava S, Ordovás JM. Short Sleep Duration and Dietary Intake: Epidemiologic Evidence, Mechanisms, and Health Implications. Adv Nutr. 2015;6(6):648-659. doi:10.3945/an.115.008623
- Irish LA, Kline CE, Gunn HE, Buysse DJ, Hall MH. The role of sleep hygiene in promoting public health: A review of empirical evidence. Sleep Med Rev. 2015;22:23-36. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2014.10.001
- Mishima K, Okawa M, Shimizu T, Hishikawa Y. Diminished melatonin secretion in the elderly caused by insufficient environmental illumination. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001;86(1):129-134. doi:10.1210/jcem.86.1.7097
- Drake C, Roehrs T, Shambroom J, Roth T. Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. J Clin Sleep Med. 2013;9(11):1195-1200. doi:10.5664/jcsm.3170
- Kaku A, Nishinoue N, Takano T, et al. Randomized Controlled Trial on the Effects of a Combined Sleep Hygiene Education and Behavioral Approach Program on Sleep Quality in Workers with Insomnia. Ind Health. 2012;50:52-59.
- Schroeder AM, Colwell CS. How to fix a broken clock. Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2013;34(11):605-619. doi:10.1016/j.tips.2013.09.002
- Black DS, O’Reilly GA, Olmstead R, Breen EC, Irwin MR. Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(4):494. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081
- Radwan A, Fess P, James D, et al. Effect of different mattress designs on promoting sleep quality, pain reduction, and spinal alignment in adults with or without back pain; systematic review of controlled trials. Sleep Heal. 2015;1(4):257-267. doi:10.1016/j.sleh.2015.08.001
- Peuhkuri K, Sihvola N, Korpela R. Dietary factors and fluctuating levels of melatonin. Food Nutr Res. 2012;56. doi:10.3402/fnr.v56i0.17252
- Grandner MA, Jackson N, Gerstner JR, Knutson KL. Dietary nutrients associated with short and long sleep duration. Data from a nationally representative sample. Appetite. 2013;64:71-80. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2013.01.004
- Thompson R, Roller R, Mika A, et al. A Prebiotic Blend of Polydextrose and Galactooligosaccharides with Bioactive Why Protein Fractions Ameliorates Stress-evoked Disruptions in Sleep States. FASEB J. 2015.
- Thompson RS, Roller R, Mika A, et al. Dietary prebiotics and bioactive milk fractions improve NREM sleep, enhance REM sleep rebound and attenuate the stress-induced decrease in diurnal temperature and gut microbial alpha diversity. Front Behav Neurosci. 2017;10. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2016.00240