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Top 10 sleep tight tricks
1. Eat little and often
Having something nutritious every few hours helps your body and brain maintain the right balance of hormones and neurotransmitters, essential for falling – and staying – asleep at night. Rather than large meals with gaps in between, aim for six mini meals a day.
If you go to bed hungry, your body’s innate biological need for food will send signals to keep you awake to find subsistence – a survival throwback to our cavemen days when food was scarce. So a small snack is better than nothing.
2. Eat early
Avoid eating your evening meal any later than three hours before bed, as this will optimise your blood sugar and melatonin levels.
Eating a big meal increases the blood flow to your digestive tract, causing your stomach to secrete more gastric acid and making your intestinal muscles work harder. This stimulates your body’s metabolic systems at the very time when you want them to be slowing down.
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Some studies even suggest that eating too close to bedtime, or very late at night when you’d normally be sleeping, may throw your body’s internal clock into confusion and lead to overeating and weight gain.
Avoiding large late meals also reduces reflux, when stomach acids rise up into the oesophagus, which can be a serious sleep disrupter. Indeed, US research suggests that that up to 25% of people who report bad sleep without a diagnosed cause actually have acid reflux without realising it.
3. Go bananas
Have a banana – ideally in the second half of the day.
This sleep wonder fruit is packed with potassium and magnesium, nutrients that double as natural muscle relaxants.
Plus, they contain the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan, which ultimately turns into serotonin and melatonin in the brain.
Serotonin is a natural chemical that promotes relaxation, while melatonin is the hormone that promotes sleepiness.
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4. Have a carb-rich dinner
A recent study at The University of Sydney, Australia, found that people who ate rice before bedtime fell asleep faster than those who didn’t as rice is rich in sugars, which increase production of tryptophan, the amino acid that makes you sleepy.
Bread, pasta and cereal can have the same effect.
5. Avoid fatty meals
Not only will greasy takeaways scupper your diet, they’re a recipe for sleep disaster.
Research suggests people who have fatty meals in the evening clock fewer hours of total sleep than those who don’t, so stick to lean meat and plenty of veg.
6. But don’t crash-diet
If you’re eating fewer than 1,200 calories a day, as many diets recommend, there’s a good chance you’re missing out on key nutrients, which can seriously affect your sleep.
Low levels of calcium, from dairy products, and magnesium, which is found in green veg and nuts, are linked to poor sleep, as both are natural relaxants.
Low iron can trigger restless leg syndrome symptoms in which twitching leg movements disrupt your sleep.
A deficiency in the B vitamin, folic acid, found in wholegrains and green leafy veg, may also lead to insomnia.
People who don’t get much vitamin C – in fruit and veg – or selenium from nuts, meat and fish have been shown to sleep for fewer hours.
The answer? Follow a healthy, varied diet rich in fruit and veg, wholegrains, low-fat dairy, nuts, fish and lean red meat to ensure a good supply of vital nutrients.
7. Lay off the booze
Initially drinking induces sleep, but if you indulge in more than one or two small drinks you’re in for a fragmented night.
One recent study showed alcohol increased slow-wave deep sleep in the first half of the night, but increased sleep disruptions in the second half – thus wiping out all the earlier benefits!
8. Watch the salt
Processed foods such as ready meals and even many breads and soups contain a lot of sodium, which can interrupt sleep by raising your blood pressure and dehydrating you.
9. Drink plenty of water
Research shows the more hydrated you are, the more hours kip you get.
Aim to drink around six to eight glasses of water a day.
But if getting up for the loo disrupts your sleep, avoid liquids for three hours before bedtime.
10. Skip coffee
People often stop drinking coffee at lunchtime, but experiments shows that caffeine stays in your system for up to 12 hours – an 11am latte could linger until 11pm.
Avoiding caffeine for one day, on the other hand, can improve sleep quality that night, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Nursing.
Even chocolate and tea, which contain the stimulant theobromine, have been shown to disrupt sleep and may be best avoided.
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