Never mind the fantasy of a lie-in for parents of young children: kids or no kids, a good night’s sleep can be elusive in our hectic, stressful lives. Nutritional therapist Jodie Abrahams shares eight tips for getting better sleep…
Jodie Abrahams is an east London-based nutritional therapist specialising in women’s health. She takes a science-based, holistic approach, supporting women to find ways of eating that suit their individual biology, lifestyle and goals.
For many of us, good quality and plentiful sleep can feel like a long lost friend. Never mind the fantasy of a lie-in for parents of young children: kids or no kids, a good night’s sleep can be elusive in our hectic, stressful lives.
Whether your mind is racing at bedtime, or you fall asleep fine but wake in the night, disturbed sleep can take its toll on energy, mood and eating habits.
The good news is that nutrition and lifestyle tweaks can make a big difference to sleep. So here are some science-based, practical tips to help you sleep easier at night and wake up with more energy in the morning.
1. Nurture your neurotransmitters
Melatonin, our sleep hormone, is produced through the same pathway in the brain as serotonin, the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. So it makes sense that if we’re low in the nutrients that support mood, we may also have trouble sleeping.
We need the amino acid L-tryptophan to produce melatonin and serotonin. There are lots of food sources of L-tryptophan. Porridge with yoghurt, cherries, nuts and seeds, lentil dal with brown rice or a quinoa salad with salmon and peas are just some ways you can include it in your diet.
2. The need for light and darkness
Our circadian rhythm is controlled by our exposure to light in the day and darkness at night (which is why it can get so messed up by jet lag or all-nighters).
The production and release of melatonin is closely connected to our circadian rhythm, and peak levels are released at night to signal to our bodies that it’s time to sleep.
Make sure you get out into the daylight during the day, and create a calm, dark environment to sleep in at night. Get black out blinds and an eye mask if you need to – a light bedroom is the enemy of good sleep.
Blue light especially disturbs melatonin release. Being over-stimulated by bright colours, loud noises and lots of action isn’t conducive to getting into a calm state for sleep either.
Ditch screens at least an hour before you turn in for the night and ideally keep them out of the bedroom to reduce temptation. Keep things low key by reading or listening to a guided relaxation to help you nod off.
4. Soothe your nervous system
It’s time to talk about caffeine. While we all have different tolerance levels, caffeine works by stimulating the nervous system, putting us into a high alert state by increasing the release of cortisol, the stress hormone.
This can impact on blood sugar and start a cascade of energy highs and lows.
Reducing, or even better eliminating caffeine can have a transformative effect on sleep quality. Switching coffee for green tea or matcha lattes is a good way to start. Both contain lower levels of caffeine, plus L-theanine, a compound which creates a calm, more gentle and jitter-free alertness.
5. Balance your blood sugar
If you wake regularly in the night, pay attention to your blood sugar balance in the day. Blood sugar spikes and slumps (which may feel like shaky hunger, sugar cravings and struggling to stay awake after meals) wreak havoc on your cortisol levels which has a knock-on effect on sleep.
If our blood sugar takes a big dip at night, our cortisol levels rise, waking us up. Poor sleep sets the whole cycle going again – we crave high carb foods for quick energy and then experience the inevitable spikes and slumps…
So reduce sugary foods and refined carbohydrates (opt for wholegrains over white bread, pasta and rice) and include some protein with every meal and snack to keep blood sugar more stable.
6. Replenish magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral involved in hundreds of biological processes in the body, including energy production and muscle relaxation. We use up magnesium at a higher rate when we’re stressed and common signs of depletion are insomnia, anxiety, muscle spasms and fatigue.
Eat magnesium rich foods like spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocados and black beans to keep your reserves up. You can also boost your levels by taking regular epsom salt baths, also great for unwinding as part of your bedtime routine.
7. Nail your bedtime routine
As parents, we understand the importance of a predictable, calm bedtime routine for our children. But our own bedtime routines are often less about baths and soft lights, and more about scrolling Instagram or watching Netflix in bed.
So prioritise your bedtime in the same way you would a child’s. Have a bath, drink your favourite herbal tea, build in time for reading or meditation and then make sure your bedroom’s dark, quiet and cool.
This article contains general recommendations. If you are interested in personalised nutrition and lifestyle support, visit Jodie’s website for details of her consultation plans: www.jodieabrahams, where you can also sign up to receive recipes and tips.
Images: from Designspiration