Nutrition

As a human being, there are only two ways to recharge your batteries the natural, healthy way: (1) sleep, and (2) eat. The two options are linked. But, when you’re scrambling to meet the demands of modern life, you tend to start taking short-cuts with your diet.

We all know the story here: we start taking on more processed foods, and excesses of sugar, fat, and preservatives. But eating like this can cause digestive discomfort, and wakefulness at night. Spicy foods have a similar effect. If you must snack before bedtime, try low-fat yoghurt, or even cereal and milk. Lying down on a full stomach will also exacerbate heartburn and acid reflux if you are prone to these complaints. A good rule of thumb for everyone is not to eat too late at night.

The effects of caffeine and alcohol are more complex. It may not be necessary to rule them out entirely. Caffeine for example, doesn’t affect everyone badly. But research does show that older people who suffer from insomnia do report higher intakes of stimulants like coffee and tea. Similarly, a small amount of alcohol can actually help you nod off. But, as the body metabolises the fluid, sleep may become fragmented. The dehydrating effect of alcohol will also leave you feeling tired the following day. You need to work out your own limits here.

Try to avoid drinking water or other liquids one hour before bed if the need to urinate wakes you up during the night.

Foods that promote sleep include those famously familiar features of old wives’ tales: milk and honey. Milk contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid that stimulates natural sedatives in the brain. (A turkey sandwich will produce a similar effect!) While many herbs are said to be effective, the usefulness of the valerian root is backed up by research. (It has not, however, been tested with women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.)

In general, though, if you eat healthily and follow a balanced diet, you will feel better both physically and emotionally. The effect on sleep can only be a good one. In turn, the quality of your sleep directly affects the quality of your waking life, including your mental sharpness, productivity, sense of balance, creativity, vitality, and even your weight. No other activity delivers so many benefits with so little effort!

And so the virtuous cycle continues.