Nutritional Therapy:

How can it help?

Sleep plays an extremely important part in a healthy lifestyle and far too many people get too little of it. Sleep give your body time to recharge its batteries, rejuvenate enabling tissue repair and cell growth.

Today in society with 24 hour shopping, surfing the internet late into the night, cramming more activity into our days – sleep has become less of a necessity for many people.

Stress and sleep are inversely related – the less we sleep the more difficulty we have adapting to challenges of the day – adequate sleep helps us cope better with day to day life and its pressures. Physical aches and pains can lead to worry and tension and thus difficulty sleeping. Emotional worry can also make the body tense, difficulty relaxing and thus difficulty falling asleep. A lack of sleep in itself can be perceived as another stress by the body.

Obviously we all need differing amounts of sleep and certain past figures in society such as Margaret Thatcher reportedly got by running the country on 4 hours sleep a night – probably why she was called the iron lady! However most adults need between 7 – 9 hours sleep per night.

So what happens to our body when we are sleep deprived?
Inadequate sleep can cause insulin resistance, irritability and reduced concentration and memory. With less sleep we are more likely to eat more the following day due to increased chemicals which promote hunger and physical feelings of hunger. Did you know sleeping 1 hour more a night can help you loose weight? Leptin a chemical produced during sleep, suppresses the production of fat cells by curbing appetite. Leptin helps control feelings of fullness – when sleep is restricted leptin levels fall. Lack of sleep can also lead to reduce immune response so we end up catching more colds, flus and other infections and can also hasten the ageing process. Think Sleeping Beauty! Long term sleep deprivation has been linked to more serious conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, irritability and increased inflammation in arthritic conditions and back pain.

What can we do to help with our sleep?
Food – start to balance your blood sugar levels throughout the day to help keep energy stable and the hormone adrenalin stable. Always eat breakfast to kick start your day – your digestion usually works best in the morning. Have small frequent meals and snacks throughout the day. Eat a little protein at each of your meals such as fish, meat, eggs, diary products, yoghurt, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils. This helps control your blood sugar. Reduce sugary foods and drinks which upset blood sugar control. Nocturnal hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar during the night) can wake us up and this can be quite sudden sometimes with palpitations. So it is a good idea to make sure you have a complex carbohydrate based snack before bed eg rye bread / toast or oatcake with hummus / nut butter etc, wholegrain cracker and banana, calcium enriched soya milk with a little honey, some dates with natural yoghurt.

Foods which help promote sleep, calm your body and nourish your nervous system include green leafy veg such as broccoli, pak choy, cabbage, watercress; avocados, celery, garlic, asparagus, mushrooms, lettuce, bananas, natural yoghurt, cottage cheese, seeds and nuts including almonds, prawns, chicken, turkey, oily fish, beans and lentils, brown rice wholewheat crackers, and oats. A lot of these foods contain tryptophan which enters the brain and boosts serotonin levels – a neurotransmitter which help aid sleep. So try to include some of these foods for your dinner and bedtime snack.

Sleep stealers – alcohol, coffee, excess chocolate and cola drinks, red bull, spicy foods, chemicals and additives in foods, heavy meals and fatty foods eaten late at night, some prescription medications, smoking, relationship problems, worry and stress. Remember always consult your doctor before reducing or stopping any medication.

Foods containing tyramine, an amino acid found in tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes and potatoes and spinach all stimulate the production of adrenaline, which may interfere with a good nights sleep. Tyramine is also found in alcohol, bacon, ham and sausage so keeping them to a minimum or omitting at dinner is advisable.

    Sleep promoting tips:
  • Get into a routine whereby you go to bed and get up at the same times each day ( as much as possible – we all like a lie in at the weekend!)
  • Avoid eating heavy meals at least 2 hours before going to bed
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol late in the day or at night
  • Try some chamomile tea or relaxing herb tea blends
  • Listen to a self-hypnosis tape before going to bed
  • Try a relaxation technique and deep breathing
  • Avoid naps after 3pm
  • Get regular exercise, but make sure you don`t do excessive exercise later at night
  • If light is a problem use a sleeping mask, if noise use ear plugs
  • Follow a routine to help you relax and wind down before sleep eg taking a warm bath, having a hot drink, reading a book or listening to music
  • Take a warm bath with lavender oil to unwind. Geranium, Roman Chamomile, marjoram and rosemary are also good for stress and relaxation
  • Keep your bedroom for sleep and intimacy, not for TV etc
  • Keep your bedroom in complete darkness while you sleep
  • Keep a slightly cool temperature in the room
  • If you have things on your mind try off loading them into a journal, talking about them or trying some relaxation
  • If you are still awake after 20 mins of attempting to sleep, get up and do something relaxing such as drink a cup of chamomile tea
  • Try yoga and meditation or visualization techniques eg imagine yourself relaxing on a warm, beach – feel the sand in between your toes etc etc
  • Sex can help us relax and drift off to sleep
  • Don`t watch violent TV or emotionally upsetting TV as this can stimulate your brain and prevent sleep
  • Try to make a to do list for the following day so you don`t end up mulling over what needs to be done the next day

There are many herbs and nutrients which can help calm our body and mind. The herbs valerian, hops, passioflora and wild lettuce are well known to aid relaxation and sleep. The mineral magnesium is known as nature`s tranquillizer and helps sleep problems. There is another nutrient called 5-HTP. – gets converted into serotonin and then melatonin, the sleep hormone. Although the body produces its own melatonin throughout the day and maximally in the early hours of the morning, levels can drop by 50% by the time someone reaches age of 50. By taking 50 – 100mg just before bedtime you not only induce sleep but also help to stimulate your immune system, neutralize free radicals and even help to reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Do not take 5-HTP if you are on SSRI anti-depressants.

As always it is best to have a 1:1 consultation to deal with your specific problems and tailor a supplement programme to your needs.