A South African
sleep expert, Dr Kevin Rosman, often says “all the good stuff happens while we
sleep”, and he’s right. The American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) considers sleep insufficiency an important public health challenge,
reporting an average of 50 to 70 million American adults diagnosed with sleep
specialists repeatedly warn that sustained sleep restriction is associated with
metabolic changes that contribute to weight gain, mood disorders, stressful
emotions and increased micronutrient requirements, such as vitamins (e.g. B
vitamins, vitamin C) and minerals (e.g. magnesium, iron, calcium).
Read: Micronutrients boost immunity
can also contribute to the development of a variety of conditions such as hypertension,
heart disease, inflammation and diabetes. Sleep deprivation can alter circadian
rhythms, which affects hormone levels, mood, immunity and digestive balance.
How can I improve my sleep quality?
professionals have identified the following factors that influence sleep:
- Maintaining a consistent routine with a regular
bedtime and wake up time
- Avoiding forced sleep
- Regular exercise
- Using your bed only for sleeping
- Avoiding alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine
consumption before bedtime
- Eating a well-balanced diet with appropriate times
for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks to avoid hunger during the
- Maintaining a dark and quiet environment in the
- Dealing with worries before bedtime
- Avoiding the
use of all electronic devices in bed
How does what you eat affect your sleep
A balanced diet
is very important as it provides a variety of nutrients that all have specific
functions in maintaining a good sleep cycle. Lean proteins provide the body
with an amino acid called tryptophan, which converts to a neurotransmitter
called serotonin that assists in regulating sleep patterns. Regular mealtimes can
also assist in stabilising daily energy levels to assist in forming healthy sleep
Read: Can’t sleep? Try magnesium
blood glucose levels throughout the day is important for good quality sleep.
This can be achieved through regular and structured eating patterns, as well as
choosing high quality, wholegrain carbohydrates that are low GI, releasing
sugars (glucose) slowly into the bloodstream. This prevents a rollercoaster of fluctuating
blood glucose levels, affecting our energy levels during the day and
consequently our sleep quality at night.
Does body weight affect sleep?
of the condition sleep apnoea is on the rise as it is directly related to
obesity. Sleep apnoea is defined as recurring episodes of cessation of breathing
during sleep, caused by blockage of the upper airway. Weight loss is one of the
most important management strategies to reduce the incidence of sleep apnoea,
along with limiting alcohol consumption and stopping smoking.
What foods should you concentrate on for better
sleep and why?
It is important
to note that there is no “magic bullet” when it comes to sleep nutrition. There
is no one particular food that has been shown by research to significantly
induce sleep or improve sleep.
Read: Sweet sleep
As no single
food can outweigh the effects of one’s overall diet, it is recommended that a
high quality diet rich in wholegrains, fresh fruit and vegetables, lean
proteins (legumes, fish, skinless chicken and low fat dairy) as well as healthy
fats (mono- and polyunsaturated fats) should contribute to good sleep hygiene.
On the other hand, the following foods have been studied and do show promise in
their ability to enhance sleep quality or onset.
Chamomile tea has a soothing effect and reduces anxiety which can help to calm one
down before bedtime.
Honey is claimed to
have a mild sedative affect and can be stirred into chamomile tea or warm
milk. Honey is high in sugar, though,
and should be used sparingly with no more than ½ to 1 teaspoon added to tea.
Milk contains tryptophan,
promoting serotonin production and thereby improving sleep. Make sure you choose low-fat milk as opposed
to full-cream milk, which contains saturated fat.
sleep patterns, and foods that contain natural serotonin include bananas,
avocado pears and tomatoes.
Cherries are one of the few
natural foods that contain melatonin. This is a hormone that is released when
it gets dark, and promotes optimal sleep.
Magnesium may assist
with muscle relaxation and is found in wholegrain cereals, nuts, pulses and
green, leafy vegetables.
What time should you eat dinner to ensure
Try to eat
approximately 2 to 3 hours before going to bed. Studies have shown that consuming
small amounts of high quality carbohydrate such as wholegrains, pulses and fresh
vegetables before bed can assist in the transportation of the amino acid tryptophan.
Tryptophan is important for the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that
plays an essential role in optimal sleep quality.
If you have problems with insomnia, avoid the
other stimulants should be avoided as they keep the brain buzzing, which is the
last thing we want when we’re trying to fall asleep. Foods that contain caffeine include coffee,
tea, cola drinks and chocolate.
of food take longer to digest and may cause gastrointestinal disturbances that can
interfere with sleep.
High fat foods
Foods that contain
large amounts of fat may delay gastric emptying and cause discomfort, which can
Too many alcoholic drinks
Alcohol can keep
us from entering deeper sleep cycles, thereby affecting our quality of sleep.
Sleep loss hampers performance
Nutrition basics in a nutshell
Sleep Expert answers sleep questions
Lopresti AL, Hood SD, Drummond PD. (2013) A
review of lifestyle factors that contribute to important pathways associated
with major depression: diet, sleep and exercise. J Affect Disord.
Axelsson J, Rehman J-u, Akerstedt T, et al. (2013) Effects of Sustained
Sleep Restriction on Mitogen-Stimulated Cytokines, Chemokines and T Helper 1/ T
Helper 2 Balance in Humans. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82291.
Thoropy, M. J. (2011). History of sleep medicine. Sleep Disorders, 3-25.