Eat well, sleep tight

2015-09-02 06:00

EAT BAD, sleep bad . . .

Did you know that sleep can be improved by making better food choices before going to bed?

In addition to the food you choose to eat, other factors such as darkness of the room and avoiding strenuous exercise prior to sleeping can also contribute to better sleep.

Certain plants are widely used to aid in better sleep.

Valerian has a sedative effect which has been shown to improve sleep and chamomile induces sedation through the flavonoids it contains, which contribute to its calming effect.

Sleep can be improved by drinking chamomile tea or inhaling the vapour of chamomile oil.

Chamomile also contains phytochemicals which can help reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease and stimulate the immune system.

Other nutrients that contribute to better sleep include tryptophan, vitamin B6 and -B12.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid.

Supplementing the diet with tryptophan can relieve insomnia as tryptophan is the precursor of serotonin, the brain hormone that regulates sleep.

High doses of tryptophan induce sleepiness, but can cause side effects such as nausea, skin disorders as well as gastro-intestinal disturbances. It is important to consult your doctor when supplementing amino acids.

A safer option is to eat more foods containing high amounts of tryptophan, such as meat, seafood, milk, cheese, whey protein, bananas, legumes such as soy, as well as dark chocolate.

Vitamin B6 assists in converting tryptophan into serotonin. Ensuring an adequate vitamin B6 intake may therefore contribute to better sleep.

Vitamin B6 rich foods include protein-rich food such as meat, fish and poultry, leafy green vegetables and bananas.

Vitamin B12 contributes to melatonin secretion. Sources of vitamin B12 can be found in animal food products such as eggs, milk, cheese, meat, fish and poultry.

Melatonin is a hormone, SRsecreted at night that helps induce and maintain sleep. Melatonin is also found in food sources such as tart cherries, tomatoes, grapes and walnuts.

In various studies, tart cherries and kiwi fruit have been shown to improve sleep in adults.

Insomnia (sleeplessness) can be reduced by consuming two glasses of cherry juice per day.

Cherries contain several phytonutrients and have high levels of anti-inflammatory substances.

Better sleep is promoted by tart cherries’ high melatonin content that regulates sleep.

The high anti-inflammatory cytokines also contribute to the modulation of sleep.

Two kiwis an hour before bedtime also promote better sleep.

Kiwi fruit is a good source of antioxidants and serotonin.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which controls most of the brain’s functions such as sleep cycles.

Insomnia can also result from a folate deficiency and kiwi fruits are rich in folate.

Then there are foods to avoid that are known to compromise sleep. These include caffeine, alcohol and sugary or fatty foods.

As Virgina Woolf said: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

) Lara Jacobs is a fourth-year Dietetics student at the University of the Free State

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