Foods and nutrients that can help and hinder sleep – DR.VEGAN
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Foods and nutrients that can help and hinder sleep

Foods and nutrients that can help and hinder sleep

Having problems sleeping? You’re not alone!  More than one in three adults suffer from poor sleep - that's according to the NHS (2018) and DR.VEGAN's own research in 2020.   

Research by DR.VEGAN (Aug-Oct 2020, 1503 respondents) shows more than a third (37%) of people have sleep issues, saying they often struggle to sleep or are insomniacs.  Just 1 in 5 people have no issues sleeping, and the research shows exercise, stress, age and diet all play a role in how well you sleep. 

An occasional poor night’s sleep is unlikely to have much of an impact on your health, however regularly not getting adequate quality sleep can increase your risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Sleep supports your immune system via cytokines (proteins which target infection and inflammation) that your body produces when you’re sleeping.  Too little sleep may amplify the ‘fight or flight’ response to stress, releasing stress hormones which speed up heart rate and raise blood pressure (The Sleep Council, 2020) and could worsen gut symptoms.  

Vitamins and minerals that can help you sleep well

Vitamin D: A recent review found that people with low Vitamin D levels are more likely to suffer from poor sleep quality and short sleep duration. There is also some evidence that Vitamin D supplementation can improve sleep quality in those with sleep disorders.  Read our article 'How do I know if I'm deficient in Vitamin D?' for information on who is more at-risk of Vitamin D deficiency.

Magnesium: Magnesium is vital for your nervous system and regulates the hormone melatonin, which helps control your sleep-wake cycle.  Getting adequate Magnesium has been shown to be positively associated with sleep duration (Ji et al. 2017). 

Good foods for Magnesium include pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, almonds and flaxseeds, wholemeal bread, spinach, peas, edamame beans, lentils, quinoa, fish, meat and dairy products.

Other vitamins and minerals that assist in the production and regulation melatonin include: 

Vitamin B6:  Found in pulses, lentils, bananas, soy foods and poultry.

Calcium: Found in dairy products, tofu and fortified plant drinks.

Zinc: Found in bread, pumpkin and sesame seeds, cashews, cheese, shellfish and meat.

Tryptophan: An amino acid found in poultry, eggs, cheese, fish, tofu and soy foods, milk, peanuts, pumpkin seeds and oily fish.  

Herbal teas: Herbal teas with Chamomile or Valerian root may have a beneficial effect on sleep for some people.   Drinking a warm malted drink may also help some people have a less restless sleep, although it has to be said the reasons for this are not clear!

What can hinder a good night’s sleep

Caffeine: Caffeine in coffee and tea stimulates the nervous system and makes you more alert.  These drinks can be enjoyed in the morning, but switching to decaf coffee and tea after lunchtime is a useful strategy. 

Eating late in the evening or having a very rich or spicy dinner may have a negative impact on your sleep as these foods can take longer to digest.  Try eating earlier, or waiting at least 2-3 hours after your evening meal before going to bed.  If you feel hungry before bed, have a small snack otherwise feeling hungry could be distracting when trying to sleep. 

Drinking a lot of fluid in the evenings will increase your need to go to the bathroom during the night.  Front-load your water consumption by drinking most of the recommended 1.5-2 litres of water a day in the morning and early afternoon, and tapering your fluid intake in the evening. 

Alcohol can often help you fall asleep initially, but it is linked with a poorer quality of sleep with more periods of wakefulness during the second half of the night and a lighter sleep that is likely to make you feel groggy in the morning.  Stick to the UK’s low risk drinking guidelines.

by Dr Laura Wyness, PhD, RNutr 

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References

Gao et al (2018) The association between vitamin D deficiency and sleep disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Available https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6213953/

Ji et al (2017) The relationship between micronutrient status and sleep patterns: A systematic review. Public Health Nutrition. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5675071/

NHS (2019). The risks of drinking too much. Available: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/alcohol-support/the-risks-of-drinking-too-much/

NHS (2018) Why lack of sleep is bad for your health. Available: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/

Shahi Majid et al (2018) The effect of vitamin D supplement on the score and quality of sleep in 20-50 year-old people with sleep disorders compared with control group. Nutritional Neuroscience. Available: https://doi.org/10.1080/1028415X.2017.1317395

St-Onge et al. (2016) Effects of diet on sleep quality. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5015038/

The Sleep Council (2020) Sleep Manifesto: The wake up call. Available: https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Manifesto.pdf

 

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