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Extra Help with Sleep
- Increase your intake of the sleep-promoting amino acid tryptophan in the evening to encourage serotonin production. Foods that are high in this amino acid include bananas, dates, figs, milk, lentils, tuna, turkey, wholegrain crackers and yoghurt.
- Eat plenty of calcium and magnesium from food sources where the ratio is correct such as nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables and fish.
- Small bedtime snacks such as oatmeal and wholegrain cereals not only help to maintain blood sugar levels, but may actually promote sleep by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain. They can also help to prevent waking in the night caused by low blood sugar levels, usually the result of adrenal stress.
Decrease or avoid:
- Limit alcohol consumption. Although it initially induces sleep, alcohol impairs the transport of tryptophan into the brain, depleting serotonin production and may disrupt deeper sleep cycles later on by causing GABA levels to drop.
- Avoid stimulants such as tobacco; nicotine for example is a neurostimulant and may cause/exacerbate sleep problems. Caffeine-containing beverages/foods such as tea, coffee, soft drinks and chocolate are also to be avoided after 7pm. Sometimes, even small amounts contained in decaffeinated coffee may also cause insomnia in some individuals, especially as other stimulatory chemicals such as theobromine and theophylline are still present, even when the caffeine is removed.
- Avoid heavy meals three hours before bedtime to allow full digestion to occur.
- Avoid tyramine-containing foods later in the day; these include cheese, chocolate, potatoes, bacon and sugar, they can act as brain stimulants.
- Avoid all refined foods such as white bread and rice and sugar, even honey – the most important factor in balancing blood sugar levels and helping to reduce nighttime blood sugar drops. These can cause you to be woken with a shot of adrenaline when you may experience anxiety and sudden awareness of sights and sounds.
- Reduce your intake of convenience foods as they are almost always refined and contain hidden sugars that also impair the production of the sleep and mood neurotransmitters.
- SPRING: ONLY INCLUDE THIS LINE IF CURRENTLY SMOKING – Cut out smoking because nicotine acts as a stimulant on the sympathetic ganglia and adrenal glands, which can hinder relaxation and sleep.
- Go to bed or lounge around there only when sleepy and use the bedroom only for sleep or sex; avoid keeping things in the bedroom that you associate with activity, such as computers, exercise equipment and paperwork. Make it your retreat or haven – a true boudoir and respect the winding down preparation time for sleep.
- Consistent bedtimes and length of sleep optimise sleep patterns best – aim to always get up at the same time, however poor your sleep in the night. Also try not to take naps during the day.
- Regular exercise may induce sleep, although this should be avoided before bedtime, balance out with relaxing activities that bring down stress hormones.
- Serotonin signals the release of melatonin, only released when our pineal glands (‘third eye’) senses low light levels – dark bedrooms create better sleep. Our bodies also associate colder temperatures with nighttime and sleep so do not overheat bedrooms.
- Take a hot bath an hour or two before bedtime and consider the use of an essential oil such as chamomile (provided you are not allergic to ragweed!).
- Nasal decongestants and other cold medications although known to cause drowsiness, may instead act as stimulants. Sleeping pills themselves while effective in the short term, may lead to significant problems such as addiction and abnormal sleep patterns in the long term.