I’ve written a couple of blogs recently about the effect lack of sleep can have on your weight, and risk of injury, then one of our lovely Rheumatologists asked me if there was any foods for sleeping well?
Whilst it is an area that does require further research, there are a few strategies you can use. Firstly, avoiding drinking alcohol or caffeine containing products too close to bed time. Research shows that whilst it may feel as though that glass of red helps you get to sleep better, the actual quality of your sleep will not be as high, as it becomes more difficult for your body to get into a deep sleep. As for caffeine? We all know that it is a stimulant. Whilst some people do not respond as well as others to the drug, if you are having trouble sleeping well, it is best to be avoided later in the day.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that may be used to aid sleep. It acts as a precursor to serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin. Tryptophan is made more bioavailable by carbohydrate, and vitamin B6 plays an important role in the biochemical pathway. Thus, consumption of carbohydrate and foods rich in vitamin B6 may benefit sleep.
What does this mean practically? Inclusion of low GI carbohydrate, such as quinoa, sweet potato, barley or basmati rice. Alternatively, a carbohydrate containing snack after dinner is also a good idea, for example a piece of fruit or a serve of yoghurt. Foods rich in B6 include bananas (also a good carb sourc), venison (deer), tuna, chickpeas, some meat alternatives (such as a soy burger) and pistachio nuts. Tart cherry juice is also marketed as a high B6 option to aid sleep (cherry juice may also help with gout).
People who are deficient in magnesium may also struggle with getting to sleep. It plays an integral role in muscle relaxation, and turning off neurotransmitters which keep the brain awake. Best food sources include spinach, peas, beans (including soy beans), pumpkin and sunflower seeds, brazil nuts and salmon.
Vitamin D appears to be linked to many conditions, with poor sleep quality and duration also being linked in some studies. Ensuring adequate vitamin D levels is essential, through spending extra time in the sun, consuming mushrooms that have been exposed to sunlight, eggs, or vitamin D fortified milk, or alternatively using a vitamin D supplement.
Finally, there is some evidence that people who consume inadequate quantities of calcium may also struggle with sleep. Milk, yoghurt, cheese, almonds, broccoli or kale are all great sources of calcium.
So, whilst more research is still required, all the above suggestions should be part of a healthy diet, thus including these as part of your daily intake may benefit sleep, along with improving general health as well.
Chloe McLeod is a dietitian at BJC Health.
This blog focuses on diet & nutrition generally and diet & nutrition in relation to the treatment of arthritis and arthritis-related diseases. Contact us if you'd like our help in managing diet-related health issues.