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.

Children and Veggies

I am sure you remember the mantra at meal times ‘you must eat up all your vegetables, they are good for you’ when we were children and those of us that have had children know how difficult it is to encourage them to do the same. This article explains why it is important for children to eat fruit and vegetables and what research has found that gives insight in helping children to grow up to be healthy eaters of fruits and vegetables.

Why are vegetables so important for the health of our bodies?
Firstly, they provide antioxidants and phytonutrients. These nutrients are vital for the immune system to help our children stay strong against the attacks of the outside world of virus’s, bacteria and pollutants and so protect them from disease.
Secondly, they help keep our body alkaline which prevents our body being acidic which increases risk of diseases such as cancer and arthritis.
Thirdly they provide minerals, especially magnesium, important for growth, blood sugar management and energy.
Fourthly they provide cellulose, which is soluble fibre, and it is this which reduces cholesterol and prevents constipation and so prevents toxic build up.  Soluble fibre helps eliminate and detoxify old hormones and other waste products. It also provides a substrate for the growth of beneficial bacteria which provide us with nutrients and important biochemicals for our bodily processes as well as optimising brain chemicals.
Finally, adequate fruit and vegetables helps to prevent obesity and this is important due to the increasing prevalence of type 2 diabetes in children and the added risk to the prevalence of other conditions such as cardiovascular disease in older age.

All of these functions help a child grow strong physically, develop mentally and give emotional well being. Vegetables are vital, not a choice, to reduced disease risk and increased longevity.

Apparently vegetable consumption in the western world is below recommended levels for both adults and children, so what hope do we have for our children to eat optimum amounts of vegetables?
In the bible it says that we should train up our children in the way they should go. What can we do to help teach children ‘the way they should go?’ that is going to result in eating their vegetables?

Food preferences start in the womb. Apparently if a child is breastfed, this significantly affects their acceptance of different foods such as vegetables in later life compared to non breast fed babies and also will be happier to eat those foods that they were subjected to through the amniotic fluid or breast milk. Being breastfed increases the likelihood that one would have a healthy diet later in life.

Preschoolers naturally avoid vegetables when given free choice. From birth children prefer sweeter foods rather than bitter and chose higher density foods which are packed with calories. I suppose that is understandable as children are programmed to grow and so to prefer calorific foods to survive.

However, by 2 to 3 years old, most children restrict their food to a few favourites but by repeating exposure and familiarity, the child is more likely to go back to eating a wider variety. Repeated exposure has been significant in increased learning of liking a novel food.

So how do you increase exposure to either new fruits and vegetables  or those your children don’t want to eat without causing meal times to be like a battleground and the dinner table a war zone?

  • Be creative.
  • Teaching children to eat a variety of fruit and vegetables mirroring the colours of the rainbow is a very creative way to help your child eat a balance of fruit and veg that are high in a variety of antioxidants and phytonutrients. These are the key nutrients that protect our body from disease and cannot be replaced by supplements. Eg
    • Carrots, beta carotene
    • Blueberries, anthocyadins
    • Tomatoes, lycopenes can be used as tomato sauce as in the cooked form, the lycopenes are more concentrated
    • Curly kale high in vitamin c
    • Sweet potato, high in caratenoids
    • Brocolli high in magnesium
  • Involve  your child and educate them in the best choices of foods. Use food charts with pictures and stickers
  • Let them help you cook with them
  • Let them grow their own (or help you!)
  • Do pick your own
  • Hide vegetables by mashing softer vegetables and adding to pasta sauces or mixing them into fish cakes pies and homemade burgers. Eg carrots, brocolli, corgettes, cauliflower.
  • make or mix them into soups.
  • If all else fails use the vegetable water for making gravy or a soup
  • Use their favorite foods and use as a theme eg try making sweet potato chips
  • Can also use vegetables as a dessert eg sweet pumpkin pie
  • Add mashed banana with a drizzle of honey into sandwiches or yoghurts or make into smoothies
  • Strawberries into ice cream or also add to smoothies for extra antioxidants
  • Add good fibre by adding red lentils to bolognaise dishes, either cooked or add raw to the dish during cooking.
  • Make your own muffins and add grated carrot or blueberries
  • Use a fondue, savory with vegetables or sweet with fruit
  • Use bargaining but not force
  • Be creative in your names and presentation
  • Make sure you give them choice.
  • Eat together
  • Let meal times be about sharing, listening and hearing each other, developing good communication skills and associating food with safe enjoyable experiences. This is what being family and community is all about. Jesus shared food as a way of showing love and care.

So eating fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy way of living helps our children to do the same and make similar choices. Encouraging our children to eat foods that nourish their bodies, helps them live an abundant life, emotionally as well as spiritually and physically and reach their full potential. Food choices are formed early and generally stay into adulthood so it is important to introduce as many different varieties of fruit and veg in the earliest years before the terrible two’s! Repeated exposure may be effective for most children but in those that are more fussy, perseverance and creativity is greatly needed but the nutritional advantages far outway the hard work.