Eat to sleep – Take me to the land of Nod

June 12th, 2012 | Posted by natalie in Uncategorized

It’s known as one of the worst forms of torture. Lack of sleep not only leaves you feeling exhausted but can increase your risk of illness, heart disease and depression. Sleep deprivation can also reduce your ability to cope with pain and makes you very irritable. It is no surprise that the mental health foundation found 55% of those with insomnia report relationship problems.Read on to gain tips on how to eat for a good nights sleep.

Stress, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, and in particular the use of stimulants (coffee, tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs, recreational drugs) all contribute to poor sleeping patterns.

Neurotransmitters play a crucial role in whether or not we are able to get to sleep and how well we sleep. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that process information transferred from neurons (nerve cells) to other types of cells. These chemicals can carry messages that calm, or messages that excite, the nervous system. Chronic anxiety and depression can occur if certain neurotransmitter levels are too high or too low.

Neurotransmitters associated with healthy sleep include:

Adrenaline, noradrenaline and Dopamine–:Help to stimulate, motivate and tackle stress

GABA (Gamma-Amino-Butyric-Acid)-:is calming, helps improve focus, learning and memory

Serotonin – the mood boosting hormone which is then converted to melatonin the hormone that assists sleep

An imbalance of neurotransmitters can be caused by nutrient deficiencies. Nutrients that are important for the synthesis of these neurochemicals include B vitamins, zinc and magnesium. They are cofactors, which help to convert dopamine and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) to serotonin. Thus a deficiency in vitamin B6, zinc or magnesium can result in a decrease of a particular neurotransmitter.

For a healthy balance of neurotransmitters it is also important to have good quality protein with each meal because the amino acids found in protein provide the building blocks and compounds to form healthy neurotransmitters.

Foods that increase levels of these neurotransmitters include:

Serotonin – Foods rich in the amino acid L-tryptophan which is then converted to serotonin and then melatonin include: Turkey, cottage cheese and banana’s

Dopamine – Foods rich in tyrosine needed to convert to dopamine which include nuts & seeds, avocados, banana’s ,eggs, oats and beans

GABA– Found in fish especially mackerel, wheat bran and L-glutamine rich foods, such as beef, fish, eggs and dairy

The impact of stress

High stress levels can also lead to an imbalance of neurotransmitters. Daily stress can greatly reduce your serotonin levels. This is because when we are stressed we release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which can block the production of serotonin. High levels of stress also deplete our levels of magnesium, which is an essential cofactor for neurotransmitters.


It is important to try and minimize stress levels by trying relaxing exercise such as yoga. The herb rhodiola can also help us adapt to stress and prevent the release of stress hormones. Try using a magnesium oil spray at night such as Better you goodnight spray, which is easily absorbed into the skin and contains relaxing essential oils such as chamomile.

Imbalances in blood sugar levels

Sudden dips in blood sugar during the night can also lead to the release of stress hormones that make us wake suddenly. If you wake in the night and can not get back to sleep, try having a small bowl of porridge with a chopped banana which is rich in tryptophan an amino acid that aids sleep as it can lead to the production of serotonin and melatonin.

Eat a balanced diet : Skipping meals and eating too few calories can cause nutritional gaps that affect sleep quality. Iron deficiency has been linked to restless leg syndrome, for example, and lack of folic acid may cause sleeplessness. Foods rich in B vitamins (whole-grains), zinc (pumpkin seeds, fish & meats) and calcium (dairy and green vegetables) are known to calm and relax, which promotes better sleep.

Steps to take for a good nights sleep:

Nuts & seeds make a good pre-bedtime snack as they are wonderful sources of magnesium, known as nature’s tranquilizer. It is also needed for the production of serotonin the happy hormone

Cut down on alcohol, studies show it affects the quality of sleep because it blocks the transport of tryptophan (a sleep inducing amino acid) into the blood stream

Avoid caffeine after 2pm particularly f you are susceptible to its effects

•Try having a hot bath with 2 cups of Epsom salts before bed, Epsom salts help to relax tired muscles and a hot bath will help you to sleep

•If your sleepless nights persist, a herbal remedy that may help is valerian. Valerian works by increasing the neurotransmitter GABA which has a calming effect on the body. In one Swedish study, 89 per cent of a group of patients with fatigue due to sleep problems benefited from taking it. The effective dosage, to be taken a bed time, is around 400mg of the dried root, or an extract providing an equivalent amount

•Try sipping Pukka night time tea which is naturally caffeine free and contains oat flower which calms and nourishes and lavender to help soothe and relax the mind

•Try Patrick Holfords Mood food supplement which contains L-tyrosine, 5-HTP and B vitamins to support neurotransmitter production and balance needed for a good nights sleep.

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