Our sleep cycle can be disturbed by various factors which are out of our control, such as noise, temperature, shift work, jetlag, the alarm clock and even a loved one snoring. Sleep can also be disturbed by internal factors such as anxiety, stress and pain so it’s good to know how to help your body and over active brain switch into rest mode. Did you know that your quality of sleep could have something to do with the foods you eat? Studies show that nutrition can have far reaching effects on our state of mind.
Sleep is governed by your circadian rhythm that triggers the brain to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone at your normal bedtime. Your brain depends on melatonin, to initiate sleep however there are also foods and herbs that can support or inhibit sleep. Stress also plays a part in preventing restful sleep, as the stress hormone cortisol inhibits the production of melatonin. Find out which foods, herbs and essential oils can be used to combat stress and prime your body, mind and soul for a natural wind down cycle and good night’s sleep.
Cutting caffeinated drinks out of your diet ensures that your nervous system is not over-agitated when it comes to bedtime. Caffeine disrupts the receptors in your brain that receive the brain chemical adenosine. Studies show that the neurotransmitter adenosine has a major influence on non-REM sleep. Replacing tea and coffee with green tea has other brain boosting benefits too. Nutritionist Jenny Tschiesche BSc (Hons) Dip(ION) FdSc BANT says “Green tea contains a brain relaxing chemical called L-Theanine which encourages the production of alpha waves. These are the brain waves we produce when we are relaxed.” Further benefits from the brain relaxing effects of L-Theanine can be found in matcha tea, which is the youngest highest grade leaves of the same plant. Matcha contains up to five times as much L-theanine as regular green tea and both matcha and green tea can be consumed throughout the day and even into the evening, unlike other caffeinated drinks, and still promote relaxation and wellbeing leading to a good night’s sleep.
They contain the sleep inducing, mood enhancing phyto-chemical L-tryptophan, and are also rich in zinc which helps the body use this important nutrient. Nutritionist Jenny Tschiesche says “Foods rich in the amino acid L-Tryptophan have been found to improve sleep because they provide the amino acid which is the precursor to both serotonin (our happy hormone) and melatonin (our sleep hormone). Vegan foods rich in L-Tryptophan include seeds, nuts and beans” Including pumpkin seeds in your diet can aid sleep and they can easily be eaten raw or roasted, scattered over salads, or packed into a flapjack. The recommended daily serving of pumpkin seeds: 1-2 tablespoons per day.
If you are low in potassium your sleep may be of poor quality and be disturbed by muscle spasms. Nutritionist Jenny Tschiesche says “Potassium has been linked with improved sleep. Food sources of potassium include leafy greens, avocadoes and bananas. Including these foods is a good idea to help improve your quality and length of sleep.”
Lavender oil is comprised mainly of linalyl acetate and linalool, both phytochemicals that are absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream. Research shows that these compounds inhibit several neurotransmitters causing a sedative effect. In folklore and the traditional use of herbs, Lavender has long been associated with peace and protection. Lavender essential oil can be added to a hot bath before bed or inhaled by putting a few drops on a handkerchief or in an oil diffuser. Lavender is especially effective with babies and small children and can form a relaxing part of the bedtime routine.
This pretty flower is a herbal sedative and it can suppress the over excitation of the nervous system, it does this by binding to the Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain which in turn reduces the activity of the cells in the sleep centre of the brain. A cup of chamomile tea in the evening can not only be relaxing but also taste delicious and nurturing with a teaspoon of honey.
This pungent smelling herb has a long history of use as a sedative, this is also because of its GABA boosting effects on the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that can dampen and reduce the activity of the brain’s neurons. The most popular use of this versatile herb is a sleep aid. It also has pain-relieving and muscle relaxant properties that can bring relief if these are the reasons why you are struggling to sleep. Valerian can be drank as a tea decoction by simmering the root in water for 15 minutes or as a herbal tincture.
Herbal adaptogens such as liquorice root, do just that, help the body adapt to extreme circumstances like stress. Nutritionist Jenny Tschiesche says” Modern living places a lot of strain on our adrenal glands. Liquorice root has been found to help regulate cortisol, the stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. In fact, chewing on liquorice root can serve two purposes because whilst it is giving our adrenals a break it also can distract from the state of anxiety by providing something to hold and chew. Liquorice can also be enjoyed as a tea by infusing the shredded or powered root in boiling water.” Nurturing the adrenal glands and enabling the nervous system to rebalance has a knock-on effect and can be the foundation to a good quality night’s sleep.
Top Ten Tips For A Good Nights Sleep
- Cut out caffeine as this inhibits your brain’s sleep-time signals.
- Get active, as physical activity supports healthy natural sleep triggers.
- Take an active approach to beating daytime stress cycles as this can inhibit sleep later.
- Drink a calming herbal tea in the evening and help your nervous system relax.
- Take a hot bath with lavender essential oil before you go to bed.
- Don’t go to bed hungry as low blood sugar can trigger stress.
- Try 5 minutes of deep breathing or mindfulness before you turn off the light.
- Make bedtime a digital detox zone, as the light from screens can disrupt melatonin production.
- Make sure your bedroom is properly dark with no light coming in especially in the summer months.
- Create a bedtime routine, association and repetition can establish positive sleep behaviour.