Diet Tips to Combat Sleep Disorders
Each year in March we lose an hour of sleep. This change can result in difficulty falling asleep, waking up in the night, disrupted sleep…. With as a consequence, tiredness that can last days or even weeks.
These problems are significant, especially since one in four people suffers from sleep problems (insomnia, sleep disorders, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea) and sleeps less than six hours per night all year round.
What Causes Sleep Disorders?
Stress or a change in sleeping patterns (jet lag, time change…), can disturb sleep. This can manifest as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, waking up through the night or earlier than planned.
These disruptions are most of the time linked with deficiencies in certain neurotransmitters, which play a role in our sleep cycles in relation to light.
- Dopamine is a neurotransmitter synthesized at around 7-8am to help us get started in the morning.
- Serotonin intervenes in sleep as the precursor to melatonin. It regulates sleep and the entry into different phases of sleep.
- Melatonin is the sleep neurotransmitter, secreted when there is no light and inhibited by light between 9 and 10pm (hence the importance of not going to bed too late).
For these neurotransmitters to be synthesized, you need optimum amounts of iron and magnesium. The latter also helps to regulate stress and helps promote feelings of relaxation.
Consequences of Sleep Disorders
Today we understand that not getting enough sleep has many consequences on the body’s functions:
- Reduced immune response
- Irritability and increased sensitivity to stress
- Impaired memory and learning
- Increased insulin resistance and diabetes
- Disruptions in growth hormone and ghrelin (the appetite stimulating hormone)
Treatment and Prevention for Sleep Disorders
The first step to preventing and treating sleep disorders is to ensure a balanced diet that will promote a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Some foods will help you start the day right (those rich in tyrosine), others help to relax in the evening (those rich in tryptophan).
Introduce some high protein foods (cheese, cream cheese, ham, egg, bacon, dried meat…). These are rich in tyrosine, precursor to dopamine, which helps energize you in the morning and prevents that late morning slump.
Snack on dried fruits (apricots, figs, raisins…) and nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts…). Rich in magnesium, these foods help absorb tryptophan (precursor to serotonin and melatonin) and help you prepare for sleep.
Limit tyrosine-rich red meats (precursor to dopamine) and instead favor tryptophan-rich fish (precursor to serotonin and melatonin). Focus on slow-release complex carbohydrates (rice, pasta, potatoes…) that improve tryptophan absorption and therefore help you fall asleep.
To enjoy a deep sleep, avoid meals that are too heavy or too rich in fat or protein, as these are difficult to digest and can increase body temperature. Make sure you reduce stimulants (tea, coffee, alcohol, tobacco…) and make time for relaxing activities before bed.