If you’re looking for insomnia advice, our nutritional therapist has a wealth of experience supporting people who struggle to sleep with nutritional and lifestyle advice for insomnia. Here’s some of Catherine Jeans‘ top tips in her latest blog post.
Insomnia Advice: Why do we suffer with sleep problems?
One third of the UK population experience episodes of insomnia at some point in their lives. Women are more at risk than men and we also are more likely to develop insomnia as we get older. Other risk factors include stress, illness and some medication can affect your ability to sleep.
Sleep is so important, because it’s at night time that the body goes through most of its healing processes. There’s also an increased risk of cardiovascular problems in those who don’t sleep, and this could be due to the effect of insomnia on our inflammatory signals. Sleep is also vital for healthy weight management, with some of the key appetite hormones being rebalanced overnight, such as leptin and ghrelin. We are also more likely to experience difficulty managing stress without a good night’s sleep, and we’re likely to feel much more fatigued throughout the day, and even crave more sweet and carbohydrate rich foods.
In 2011 the Mental Health Foundation surveyed nearly 7000 people in the UK about insomnia, and this is what they found:
- Over four times as many people with insomnia reported relationship difficulties, compared with good sleepers.
- Over 45% of those with insomnia had difficulty staying awake during daylight hours compared with just over 10% of good sleepers.
- Nearly 95% of people with insomnia reported low energy levels in their daily lives, compared with over 40% of good sleepers.
- Over 75% of people with insomnia experienced poor concentration.
How much sleep do you really need?
How much sleep we need really depends on each individual, and can be affected by your age, sex, weight, activity levels, general health and genetic make up. Our natural body clock, or circadian rhythm of hormones that are affected by daylight and darkness, can be greatly put out of balance when we don’t get enough sleep. At night time we produce more of the hormone melatonin, which is a potent antioxidant (therefore important for fighting free radicals from pollution and toxins). Melatonin also has an impact on other hormones including our stress hormones and sex hormone production. This hormone is only produced when it is dark – which is why bright lights at night and screens in the bedroom are not a good idea. If your melatonin levels become out of balance, this can affect most other hormone levels in your body.
So how can nutrition support a good night’s sleep?
There are a number of dietary strategies you can use to support a better night’s sleep. Whenever I’m working with someone on insomnia advice, I always look at the whole diet, not just what is eaten before bed. Here are some of the recommendations I often make:
- Don’t allow your diet to increase your stress levels – by looking at what we eat, we can help our body’s ability to manage stress. We should produce the lowest levels of the stress hormone cortisol at night time, but if we let our blood sugar levels get imbalanced, we may wake up at night because we go into the stress response and produce too much cortisol. This is why caffeine, a stimulant, can also affect our sleep and should be avoided after 3pm, for some sensitive people even earlier. I always recommend two to three caffeine drinks (tea or coffee) as a maximum per day. Also avoid eating sugary or white carbohydrate type snacks before bed, as these can imbalance your blood sugar. Instead choose slow releasing wholegrains such as oats, wholegrain toast alongside some protein (nuts, hummus, yoghurt etc) to support blood sugar balance at night.
- Support serotonin levels – your body’s feel good neurotransmitters: certain foods help to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is our feel good and relaxing neurotransmitter. One key amino acid, tryptophan, is readily converted into serotonin. Foods rich in tryptophan include most protein rich foods, especially almonds, cottage cheese, turkey, chicken and chickpeas. You’ll also need a small amount of carbohydrates alongside your tryptophan foods, to help deliver this amino acid to the brain where it can be converted into serotonin. So for a bedtime snack you could include an oatcake with peanut butter, yoghurt and a chopped banana, small bowl of porrdige, warm almond milk (yes your grandma knew best when she gave you warm milk to sleep!), oatcake and slice of turkey.
- Don’t overdo the alcohol: many people believe that alcohol makes you sleepy, which in the short run it may do. However very often you’ll wake up in the middle of the night (not only because you need the toilet), but also because alcohol contains a lot of sugar and may imbalance your blood sugar. If you have had a few drinks, a small protein rich snack before bed may help to support a good night’s rest, as well as a good glass of water
- Establish a good bedtime routine – we often think that bedtime routines are just for babies, but good sleep hygiene is important for adults too. If you struggle to sleep, wind down your evening with plenty of low lighting, perhaps a warm bath with some magnesium salts in to support relaxation, and a warm glass of almond milk. Then get yourself to bed with no screens in the bedroom, some deep breaths, perhaps a couple of lavendar drops on your pillow and hopefully you should sleep like a baby!
Further Nutritional Advice on Insomnia from Catherine Jeans
Catherine Jeans is a nutritional therapist, and co-founder and director of The Orange Grove Clinic. She sees clients individually for a wide variety of health conditions, including insomnia, weight loss, IBS, fertility and autoimmune conditions. Catherine provides practical advice on how to make changes to your diet, nutritional intake and lifestyle to support optimum wellness. She also supports The Spire Hospital with their bariatric surgery unit (gastric banding), works at a local school for children with autism, supporting them with bespoke nutritional care, as well as The Big C, providing nutrition and cooking workshops for those going through cancer and their carers. She also works for various institutions around the region providing talks, cooking and nutrition workshops and bespoke nutritional coaching.