By Mikaela Duffy | Naturopath & Nutritionist
Sleep! A subject close to my heart, both on a personal level (my weak spot when life gets busy or difficult), as well as professionally. A great majority of people I see in my clinical practice claim to have less than satisfying sleep patterns – be it difficulties with falling asleep, staying asleep, or not getting enough in general. Sleep tonics are amongst my most commonly prescribed remedies.
There are many factors that can affect sleep quality, aside from the obvious such as kids, snoring partner, stress, light, noise, temperature, and screen time before bed. Other areas to explore include medications (even the contraceptive pill and antacids!), stimulants (caffeine from drinks, but also from energising herbs & supplements taken at the ‘wrong’ times), hormone imbalance, lack of exercise, dietary intake and food intolerances.
The pain of ongoing sleep issues can only be understood by those with personal experience, and the consequences are many.
Sleep is medicine and our greatest healer – it’s timeout to regenerate, process our thoughts, burn off fats from the exercise we did that day, detox, and repair tissues including the damage done by UV rays and the environment.
They don’t call it beauty sleep for nothing! In short, good sleep supports mechanisms to help prevent weight gain, irritability, brain fog, diabetes, hormone imbalances and illness, keeping us young, alert, slim, energised and happy. Simple, right?
So how do we get some good old fashioned quality sleep, freeing us of unhappy digestion and the desire for caffeine or carbs to get us through the day? Obviously the kids, the snoring partner and external noises aren’t things we can always control, but after looking into our medications, buying that black out blind, investing in some ear plugs, and turning off the screens in favour of reading a book, the next step is to look at our food.
A recent study (1) at the Columbia University found that eating a diet rich in proteins and fibre, with less sugar and saturated fats led to faster sleep onset (by half!) and a deeper more restful sleep overall. This difference was documented even from a single day of dietary change! They observed that a diet based more heavily on sugars created more arousals from deep sleep through the night. It’s interesting to note that under-eating as much as over-eating will also affect us, as the body requires fuel to sleep. Without it, a stress response occurs, which can lead to waking in the night. So we get to influence our sleep by starting with food (types, frequency and portion sizes) as our foundations.
– include something from each of the 3 groups in every meal or snack (I always recommend 3 solid meals daily, with snacks if you truly need them – try to listen to your body) –
PROTEINS – meats, poultry, fish, tofu, tempeh, eggs, lentils, beans, wholegrain including quinoa, full fat dairy, raw nuts & seeds (organic/hormone free animal products in particular are always the best option)
FIBRE – vegetables and salads, fruits, wholegrain (brown/wild rice, quinoa, oats, buckwheat, millet, amaranth), coconut meat
FATS – meats, avocado, raw nuts & seeds, coconut products, full fat dairy, cold pressed oils, olives, deep sea fish, ghee
– bad for our blood sugars, weight, cravings and overall energy –
‘BAD’ CARBS – soft drinks, refined sugar (desserts, lollies, packaged/jar sauces), white flour products (pasta, breads, noodles), caffeine, sugar added to drinks, processed sweet treats close to bedtime.
‘INAPPROPRIATE’ INTAKE OF FOOD – skipping meals through the day, over-eating, or going to bed hungry.
PS – by eating more of the whole foods, you will find that quickly the cravings for poor food choices will diminish, giving you more ‘space’ to listen to your body. More about that next month!
1. St-Onge MP, Roberts A, Shechter A, Choudhury AR. Fiber and saturated fat are associated with sleep arousals and slow wave sleep. J Clin Sleep Med 2016;12(1):19–24.