Foods to help you sleep

Sleep is so important not only for our physical health but also our emotional and spiritual health. It has a major impact on cognitive functioning. One in ten visits to the GP are about poor ability to sleep. When you are tired, life problems seem worse as sleep deprivation has a major impact on the part of the brain that controls language, memory, planning and sense of time and 17 hours of sustained wakefulness leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.05% (two glasses of wine). This is the legal drink driving limit in the UK!
The advice is to eat and live to help good sleep.

Child sleeping


Fish – salmon, haibut and tuna – these fish have high levels of vitamin B6 which is needed to make melatonin. Melatonin is a sleep-inducing hormone triggered by darkness.

Carbohydrate-rich dinners – a meal with a high-glycemic-index triggering high amounts of insulin increases the ratio of sleep-inducing tryptophan relative to other amino acids in the blood – allowing proportionately more to get to the brain. (Suggested by a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).

Tart cherry juice – rich in melatonin, in a small study it was shown to aid sleep. When adults with chronic insomnia drank a cup of tart cherry juice twice a day they experienced some relief in the severity of their insomnia.

Yoghurt – dairy products like yoghurt and milk have high doses of calcium and there is research that suggests being calcium-deficient may make it difficult to sleep.

Whole grains – such as bulgur and barley are rich in magnesium. Magnesium plays an important role in muscle relaxation, energy production and the deactivation of adrenaline.

Green leafy vegetables – such as kale also have healthy doses of calcium.

Bananas – as well as being a good source of potassium, bananas also contain B6 which is needed to make melatonin.

Chickpeas – high levels of vitamin B6

Fortified cereals – high levels of vitamin B6

Seafood, red meat/pork and eggs – high levels of taurine which raises the chemical transmitter GABA. GABA has a calming effect on the nervous system, lowers anxiety and the production of stress hormones that hinder rest.

Citrus fruits and nuts – a form of sugar called inositol is found from these sources. It activates pathways in the brain that stop your mind from racing. Research shows inositol activates serotonin and the orexin pathway to calm your brain and help you go to sleep.

Chamomile and ginseng – chamomile has a sedative effect and research suggests it can calm the brain and help you go to sleep sooner. You can buy chamomile tea or a more concentrated dose in extract form. Ginseng is known for reducing stress therefore helping you get to sleep faster – it can be bought as a tea.


Caffeine as in coffee and tea and coke

Spicy and fatty foods can cause heart burn and leads to difficulty in falling asleep.

Bacon, cheese, nuts and red wine contain amines which not only can cause headaches in some, contains a tyramine and can keep us awake causing the release of noradrenaline a brain stimulant.

Eating too late also disrupts sleep. Best to eat at least 2 hours before bedtime.


Chorizo with Chickpeas
Chorizo with chickpeas (serves 2)

400g can chopped tomatoes
110g pack chorizo (unsliced)
140g wedge Savoy cabbage
Sprinkling dried chilli flakes
410g can chickpeas, drained
1 chicken or vegetable stock cube


  • Put a medium pan on the heat and tip in the tomatoes followed by a canful of water. While the tomatoes are heating, quickly chop the chorizo into chunky pieces and shred the cabbage.
  • Pile the chorizo and cabbage into the pan with the chilli flakes and chickpeas, then crumble in the stock cube. Stir well, cover and leave to bubble over a high heat for 6 minutes until the cabbage is just tender. Ladle into bowls and eat with crusty or garlic bread.

Baked Salmon and Eggs
Baked salmon and eggs (serves 6)

6 crusty white rolls
25g butter, melted
6 slices smoked salmon
6 medium eggs
A few snipped chives


  • Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Slice off the top of each roll, then gently remove the bread inside until there is a hole large enough to accommodate a slice of salmon and an egg. Arrange the rolls on a baking sheet, reserving the tops. (If you like, whizz the middles into crumbs and keep in the freezer for another recipe.)
  • Brush the inside and edges of the rolls with a little melted butter, then arrange a slice of salmon inside each one. Crack an egg into each and season. Bake for 10-15 mins or until the eggs are cooked to your liking. Scatter with snipped chives. Toast the tops, brush with the remaining butter, then cut into soldiers and use to dip into eggs.

Pork, lemon and potato kebabs
Pork, lemon and potato kebabs (serves 4)

16 baby new potatoes
700g pork tenderloins
Lemon wedges, to serve

For the lemon marinade
2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves, or 2 tsp dried
3 tbsp olive oil
½ lemon, juice only
Oil, for spraying or brushing


  • Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 10-12 minutes until barely tender. Drain well. Trim the pork of any excess fat and cut the meat into 3cm cubes. Thread the pork alternately with the potatoes on to 8 skewers.
  • First get the barbecue going or put the grill on to heat up. Mix the chopped rosemary, olive oil and lemon juice together and season with salt and pepper.
  • Brush the marinade over the pork and potatoes. Barbecue or grill for 14 minutes, turning once and brushing again halfway through cooking. Serve with lemon wedges.

Squash, Feta and Bulgar Salad
Squash, feta and bulgar salad (serves 2)

1 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded, cut into 3 cm chunks
2 tbsp harissa paste
100g bulghar wheat
Juice 2 limes
1 red onion, diced
3 tbsp crumbled feta cheese
1 tbsp chopped coriander
2 handfuls baby spinach, roughly chopped
50g pumpkin seeds
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


  • Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Place the squash on a baking sheet and toss with the harissa and some seasoning. Roast for 30 mins or until golden and tender.
  • Put the bulghar wheat in a saucepan, cover with boiling water, then cook for 15 mins, drain and cool. Put half the lime juice in a small bowl and add the onion. Leave to sit for 5 mins, then add to the bulghar wheat along with the feta, cooled squash, coriander and spinach.
  • In a frying pan, toast the pumpkin seeds for 3-4 mins or until they start popping in the pan. Remove, chop 2 tbsp of the seeds and put in a bowl. Pour the rest over the salad. Add the remaining lime juice to the chopped seeds, with the oil, and seasoning. Mix and pour over the salad.

April 2015 – Nutritional Support for Running a Marathon 

With the start of the warmer weather and the marathon season, all types of joggers are out and about attempting to get fit and healthy. However, what you eat can make all the difference to your performance and wear and tear on the body.

The aim of a nutritional program for a marathon is to help your body healthily build up the right energy reserves for the marathon and accomplish recovery and tissue repair, speedily and efficiently. Eating enough of the right foods in the right balance will enhance your achievement and keep you from injury keeping you be fit and healthy.



You will need high quality protein several times a day;

You need a hand sized piece of protein or 1gm of protein per kg of body weight as a minimum per meal 3x a day.

Choose from;

  • Egg-6.3g/1oz each
  • Cheese-cottage-14g/4oz
  • Milk-skimmed-8.4g/8oz
  • Yoghurt-10g/8oz
  • Chicken-6gm/1oz
  • Lamb-6.5g/1oz
  • Beef-5.5gm/1oz
  • Ham-6g/1oz
  • Bacon-11.3g/2slices
  • Turkey-6g/1oz
  • Tuna-14g/2oz
  • Sardines 14g/2oz
  • Salmon 14g/2oz
  • Other fish-5g/1oz
  • Soya-tofu/other soya products

You also need high quality carbohydrates several times a day.

This should consist of wholegrains which are slower burning energy than white refined grains and stop the spikes of blood sugar highs and lows from fast acting carbohydrates which can cause fatigue in your training or on your marathon.

Choose from;

  • Wholemeal bread (Hovis high fibre white variety is fine)
  • Wholegrain cereals (lower sugar types) such as porridge, Cherrios, Quakers Oat Krunchies, Quaker Oat Bran Krispies, Shreddied Wheat, Wheatabix
  • Fruit especially bananas and apples
  • Lower sugar varieties of cereal bars eg Fruesli/ Brunch Bars
  • Wholemeal rice
  • Wholemeal pasta
  • Jacket potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Rye
  • Barley

Keep up your intake of “good fats” such as olive oil, nuts and seeds, oily fish, avocado’s.

Eat 3 meals a day and also 3 small snacks inbetween to keep up blood sugar levels and hence energy. Always have equal protein and complex carbohydrate snacks.

Best Examples;

  1. Fresh fruit with some nuts and seeds – slow release energy and protein for muscle recovery PLUS essential fatty acids to reduce inflammation
  2. Wholemeal chicken and salad sandwich – slow release energy and protein for muscle recovery
  3. Apple and cottage cheese – slow release energy and protein for muscle recovery
  4. Palm – full of seeds and a small banana in yoghurt – high in essential fatty acids for reducing inflammation with protein for muscle renewal
  5. Half an avocado with tuna or prawns – high in essential fatty acids for reducing inflammation with protein for muscle renewal
  6. Organic corn chips and hummous – slow release energy and protein for muscle recovery
  7. Oat cakes and ham
  8. Rice cakes with 3 nut butter or Peanut butter
  9. Low fat Babybel with a Satsuma
  10. Walnuts or almonds with fruit – and magnesium and slow release sugar

Drink 8 glasses of water a day – dehydration can effect athletic performance.  You should urinate once every 2 hours to show good hydration. Thirst is not a good indicator of hydration. Remember caffeine dehydrates you.

Improve your performance by drinking during the run.

Sample Menu for the two days preceding a marathon

Day before your Marathon Day of your Marathon
Start upping fuel and hydration for tomorrow. Carbohydrates need to make up bulk of lunch and dinner which will be available for tomorrow


1 WEEK BEFORE eat 55-60% carbs until 3 days before race when you up the carbs to 70%

Start fuelling up 3 hours before you go and aim to consume 300cals for each hour either in one hit or in increments
Breakfast Breakfast
3 hours to go
Porridge and rye 2 eggs with rye toast and porridge with jam
Morning Snack Morning Snack
1 to 1/2 hours to go
Banana with 2Tbs peanut butter on 2 slices rye bread Salted Rice cakes for electrolytes and fast release carbs with almond butter – high in magnesium for the muscles
Baked potato with beans and cheese Straight after run, start sipping a lucozade recovery drink or something equivalent

Then eat a high protein bar.

Afternoon Snack Afternoon Snack
1 Naked bar and handful almonds

Beetroot juice from M&S

Maybe some chocolate!!
Dinner Dinner
Plate of Wholemeal pasta salad with a tin of oily fish such as sardines Whatever you fancy – you deserve it but I would suggest a nice steak and salad with good quality chips or another form of carbohydrate and let yourself have a desert!!


For a Sample Menu for the week preceding a marathon please contact Diana Wright.

Tel/Fax 01494 722777

  1. Wholegrains and low glycaemic carbs release a steady flow of energy to muscles and brain.
  2. Beef is high in iron but also creatine which increases blood oxygen as well as reducing mental fatigue and boosts cognitive performance.
  3. Ground Flax seeds or linseeds (available in Holland and Barratt) contain Alpha linolenic acid- improves functioning of the cerebral cortex which helps your spacial awareness and motor skills plus acts as an anti-inflammatory to reduce muscle pain and stiffness after the run. Add a teaspoon or 2 to your porridge.
  4. Tyrosine available in chicken and tahini or sesame seeds reduces brain fatigue on the run and improves performance.
  5. Beetroot increases nitrate which the body and converts to nitrous oxide which helps motivation and attention and widens blood vessels for more oxygen flow.
  6. Walnuts contain vitamin E which protects your essential fatty acids from oxidation and is beneficial for blood vessels in the brain and also cognitive function important in concentration.
  7. Choline is in eggs which will help the legs respond to the brain messaging system more efficiently and prevents fatigue for longer in the last miles.
  8. Magnesium is in almonds that reduces cramps in the muscles.
  9. DHA in eggs and avocado helps boost metal focus in a run and especially before a run.
  10. Don’t forget the Epson salt baths after your run and perhaps try one this week – 1/2 a tea cup in a bath-will relax your muscles and help them recover.