Sleep loss can have a profound impact on your physical health, hiking your risk of developing serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy.
Despite the potentially devastating consequences, many people fail to get the required amount of sleep, with stress, computers and taking work home often blamed.
While it is obviously important to evaluate and address the root cause of your sleep loss, making even simple tweaks to your lifestyle can help to reset your body clock and promote a restful night’s sleep.
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One key lifestyle change that can have an immediate impact is including certain foods in your diet, and according to Rob Hobson, head of nutrition at Healthspan and author of The Art of Sleeping, there are five foods proven to promote sleep.
Nuts such as almonds are a good source of magnesium – a 30g serving of almonds provides 80g of magnesium which is around a third of your recommended daily intake, said Hobson.
As he explained, Magnesium helps the body and brain to relax by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps your body to relax and prepare for sleep.
This mineral also plays a key role in the synthesis of the hormone melatonin which regulates the sleep cycle.
“Magnesium also binds to a gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. This neurotransmitter helps to quieten nerve activity associated with anxiety which is associated with poor sleep,” said Hobson.
Furthermore, magnesium plays a role in deep restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA and low levels of this nutrient have been shown to cause restless sleep in some people, he reported.
While there are no studies directly linking turkey to sleep quality, it’s a rich source of the amino acid tryptophan which may help to promote sleepiness, according to Hobson.
He explained: “Tryptophan is an amino acid which increases the production of melatonin which is the hormone that helps to regulate sleep.
“This amino acid is the least abundant in the body and its uptake into the brain is challenged by other larger amino acids.”
It has been shown that eating carbohydrate foods can increase the uptake of tryptophan as other amino acids are directed to muscles in the body by the action of insulin, reported Hobson.
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“Teaming your turkey with a small serving of carbohydrate foods such as pasta or rice may make for a perfect sleepy meal,” he advised.
In addition, Turkey is also rich in protein which may help with sleep – research has shown that low protein intake may be associated with poor sleep quality and difficulty in getting to sleep, said Hobson.
As Hobson explained, this exotic fruit has been shown to contain sleep-inducing properties, which have been attributed to the content of serotonin – a brain chemical involved in the sleep/wake cycle.
One study involved participants eating two kiwi fruits and hour before bed for four weeks.
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At the end of this study it was found that they fell asleep 42 percent more quickly than when they didn’t eat anything before bed and it was also found that sleeping without waking improved by five percent while total sleep time improved by 13 percent.
According to Hobson, Kiwi is also rich in folate and insomnia is associated with folate deficiency.
As Hobson explained: “This fatty fish one of the few foods to contain a natural source of vitamin D as well as being high in the omega 3 fatty acids called EPA and DHA.
“Both of these nutrients not only help to reduce inflammation but also increases the production of serotonin which may help to improve sleep quality.”
One study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine bolsters this claim, which showed that after eating salmon three times a week for six months, study participants fell asleep about 10 minutes faster than those who ate chicken or beef. This effect was thought to be a result of the higher vitamin D content of the salmon
As the National Sleep Foundation explained: “Scientifically, there may be some link between the tryptophan and melatonin content of milk and improved sleep.”
As Hobson pointed out, the old wives’ tale of milk and honey before bed also has a scientific basis as honey is a quickly digested carbohydrates that can help with the uptake of tryptophan to make melatonin in the brain.
Research has shown that milk may help to improve sleep and in particular in older people when paired with exercise or low doses of melatonin.
Hobson recommended adding milk to other foods such as smoothies or porridge to increase the sleep-promoting properties. Key sleep-inducing ingredients include bananas, another good source of tryptophan and magnesium and oats – a source of melatonin.
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