Dr Michael Mosley on the importance of routine for sleep
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Dr Clare Morrison of MedExpress, says sugary foods “are particularly bad at night” as well as being renowned for their unhealthy properties. She said the reason they are bad for sleep is because they cause a sudden but brief rise in blood sugar. The Dr explained: “The consequent spike in insulin then leads to low blood sugar later during the night, causing hunger and wakefulness.”
Instead, the Dr said it is much better to eat unrefined carbohydrates, such as a banana or wholegrain cereal, at bedtime, as this is digested more gradually.
She also advised: “Foods and drinks high in caffeine, such as coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate, should be avoided within six hours of going to bed.
“This is because caffeine interferes with the production of ‘melatonin’, a hormone that helps induce sleep at bedtime.“
She added: “Foods high in ‘tyramine’ can also disturb sleep, because this amino acid encourages the production of the ‘fight or flight’ chemical, ‘noradrenaline’, by the adrenal glands, leading to increased mental stimulation and alertness.”
Dr Claire said tyramine-rich foods include mature cheeses, smoked ham, soy sauce, tofu, yeast extract, and sauerkraut.
She said: “Spicy or acidic foods, such as curry and raw onion, are best avoided late in the evening, because they irritate the lining of the stomach and increase the production of stomach acid.
“Lying down then causes the acid to travel up the gullet, leading to acid reflux and a disturbed night’s sleep.”
Indeed, the Sleep Foundation says that overeating can affect sleep, and “eating too much, especially when it involves heavy or spicy foods, can worsen sleep by interfering with digestion and raising the risk of heartburn”.
It states: “For this reason, most experts advise against eating too much and too close to bedtime.”
The Sleep Charity explains that achieving a great night’s sleep can be affected by what you eat in the hours before bedtime.
The charity says: “Certain foods are known to calm the brain and help promote sleep so eating the right things in the evening is definitely part of the recipe for a good night’s kip.”
It adds that the charity does not recommend eating a big meal just before bedtime “as it can lead to discomfort and indigestion”.
People with insomnia will regularly find it hard to go to sleep, can wake up several times during the night and lie awake at night.
If you have insomnia for less than three months, it is called short-term insomnia. Insomnia that lasts three months or longer is called long-term insomnia.
For most, sleep problems tend to sort themselves out within about a month, according to the NHS.
Everyone needs different amounts of sleep. On average adults need seven to nine hours, while children need nine to 13 hours. Toddlers and babies need 12 to 17 hours of sleep, every day.
“Some people are naturally lighter sleepers or take longer to drop off, while some life circumstances might make it more likely for your sleep to be interrupted, like stressful events or having a new baby,” the NHS states.
If poor sleep is affecting your daily life or causing you distress, you can talk to your GP.
The NHS says: “Most people experience problems with sleep in their life. In fact, it’s thought that a third of Brits will have episodes of insomnia at some point.”
People who smoke also tend to take longer to fall asleep, wake up more frequently, and often have more disrupted sleep.
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