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.
FOODS TO EAT THAT HELP YOU SLEEP
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.
FOODS TO AVOID TO HELP YOU SLEEP
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 (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 (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 (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 (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.