How lovely life would be if it were filled with magical spinning wheels: to help us sleep, handsome princes: to wake up to and happily ever afters. However, if one were to prick their finger in our day, fall in to a deep sleep, only to be awoken by some handsome stranger; I’m sure a tetanus shot, an arrest and a prison sentence would most likely be how the story ends. Reality most definitely sucks and if life were all rainbows and unicorns, I’m sure the majority of the world would sleep better at night. I know I would. Take me for example: 03.25am on a Saturday morning and my mind is on overdrive, my heart racing faster than Mo Farris in the London Marathon and my stomach doing more somersaults than an Olympic athlete; all from the stress of the day and the thoughts I can’t switch off. Sleep and food are the two things in life which truly make me happy and when I’m not getting enough sleep, it doesn’t bode well for this Hungry Welsh Girl. You see, when I’m awake at 03.25, my body thinks it’s time to eat and so my stomach informs me that I need food and well food, it gives us energy; do you see where I’m going with this? It’s a vicious cycle. But can food be the cause to insomnia?
We all know that sugar is one of the bodies main sources of fuel, sugar gives us energy and too much of it can cause problems with sleep, the same for caffeine. They are both stimulants and they both effect the body more than we think and when consumed in high amounts, it can interfere with our sleep patterns. I’m a strong believer of flexible dieting: eating everything in moderation. However, certain food groups effect people in different ways and refined sugar and carbs are my downfall when consumed in high quantities. I get; anxiety, heart palpitations, insomnia, mood swings and depression, which is why I’ve cut back on nightly flexbowls and started making more heathy bakes to keep in my fridge, for when that sugar craving hits. While I have never been one for refined sugar, I have always eaten and added natural sugars to my food and when I started flexible dieting my refined sugar consumption increased. Don’t get me wrong, I was still eating around 45-50g a day with the majority of that being from natural sugars: fruits and vegetables; but by the time my monthly cycle came around, my need for sugar would increase. It was strange, because I have always had control over my eating and I haven’t really been the type of person who craves sugar during that period of time. However, during some months I have almost been out of control and my sleep patterns have suffered the most; which is why I think sugar plays a huge part in insomnia.
Insomnia effects around 1 in 3 people, in the UK. It’s an awful condition where a person struggles to fall asleep, or has trouble staying asleep and there are many things that can bring it on: stress, lifestyle, sleeping environment, alcohol, PMS; the list is quite long and insomnia can strike at anytime without any warning. It may sound like a trivial matter, students do it all the time right? Out all night partying, then off to their Uni classes they go. But without enough sleep each night, our bodies become tired and weak and everyday tasks become harder; our moods can change, concentration levels go awry and it can even effect relationships with family, spouses and friends. Sleep is important and it is suggested that the average person should get around 6-9 hours per night, in order to feel re-energised and fresh the next morning and ready to take on the world.
So how do we beat this nightmare condition? It is said that finding a method of relaxation before bedtime can help improve sleep patterns and our ability to fall asleep, as well as certain foods which can also help promote sleep. Activities which over exert the mind, such as; TV and exercise should be avoided, while also abstaining from consuming high fat, heavy meals just before bedtime. Things such as reading, warm baths, music and using earplugs and an eye mask can help too, while making sure all lights are switched off and curtains closed in the bedroom. I will admit I use earplugs every night; I am a very light sleeper and even minute noise can keep me awake, even as a child the slightest sound would stir me. However, even with earplugs sleep still doesn’t happen all too quickly, sometimes not at all (like tonight) and it can be infuriating watching the minutes turn to hours and the sky turn to blue. So with all these sleepless night, what foods should we be eating and which should we be avoiding, in order to get a good nights sleep?
Warm Milk: There’s something about a cup of warm milk in the evening which makes me a little sleepy and after a visit to WebMD, I found that dairy contains Tryptophan; which is an amino acid that helps promote sleep: also found in bananas, nuts, seeds, honey and eggs. So next time you are laying awake staring at the ceiling, go and make yourself a glass of warm milk and you may find yourself in the land of nod in no time.
Carbs: If the warm milk doesn’t help your insomnia, maybe some buttery wholemeal toast, or a bowl of yoghurt and berries will. According to WebMD, carbohydrate rich-foods compliment Tryptophan by increasing the number of Tryptophan in the blood, so where as people say – no carbs before bed – in this instance, a small, low GI, meal 3 hours before bedtime may do you the world of good.
Caffeine: I don’t allow myself caffeine after 7pm, but that doesn’t mean its not hiding in other beverages and food: chocolate, cola, tea, decaffeinated coffee and even medications contain caffeine, so the culprit behind your insomnia could be down to that addictive little substance, which we all know and love. However, by simply reducing your caffeine consumption each day, it could help you get that sleep you’ve been pining for, for so long.
Alcohol: Just like caffeine, alcohol can harm our sleep too, it can cause headaches, night sweats, nightmares and disturbed sleep patterns; this one I know is true. I abused alcohol for over a decade and for the last 12 weeks I have been sober; whether I’ve been sleeping better, that’s left to be desired. However, I do know that it does effect sleep tremendously, so maybe skip the night cap and opt for that glass of warm milk instead.
High Fat Foods: High fat foods have a tendency to reduce sleep: burgers, chips, pizza; they all promote acid reflux and the high salt content, plus sugar can cause an elevated heart rate,leaving you tossing and turning in the night wishing you hadn’t eaten that ‘treat meal’ just before bed. Plus, high-fat, protein rich foods can be harder to digest, especially just before bedtime.
So next time you’re laying in bed, counting sheep and wishing you were Sleeping Beauty, maybe try the tips above before you want to attempt any self-harm on a magical spinning wheel – yeah I still think she was a lucky bitch.