At the end of last year, we took a look at the Science of Sleep and reviewed critical factors that influence your circadian rhythm and potential for restorative sleep. Whilst starting the new year off returning to the topic of slumber may seem a bit counter intuitive to the rejuvenation and vigor that a new year brings, how we rest and recover is paramount to how much zeal we have for our active and awake cycles. Investing handsomely in rest will yield bounty in terms of tackling the upcoming year with alertness, focus and vigilance. A 2016 study revealed that 1 in 5 people across the world is sleep deprived… so let’s start the new year with improved sleep hygiene.
Building on from last year’s features of the Science of Sleep and how to Biohack your Deep Sleep, this week we review how exercise, food and supplements can enhance your sleep- especially if the timing is right.
Foods that support serotonin production
As we learnt, serotonin is an important hormone for regulating sleep and so foods containing nutrients that normalise serotonin production, are beneficial. These include fatty, cold water fish which contain excellent sources of Vitamin D and Omega 3 (serotonin-regulating nutrients). Studies have also shown that the consumption of certain types of low glycemic index fruit may have an impact on serotonin production. For example, consuming 2 kiwi fruit one hour before going to sleep, increased the efficiency of sleep in a sample study over a 4 week period. Tart cherries have also been shown to improve sleep as their nutrients increase melatonin production. A higher fibre meal at night will also improve sleep- likely because of the satiating effect of the water absorption.
Foods that result in higher blood sugar response
If you do enjoy the odd higher glycemic index fruit, be mindful that this will spike blood sugar and so should rather be consumed after a morning exercise session or at least 4 hours prior to bed time. The same goes for a higher carbohydrate meal in the evening. Sleep latency references the time it takes one to fall asleep and studies have shown that high blood sugar spikes in the evening, negatively impact latency. This is often a challenge for those of us with a sweet tooth for a post-dinner dessert of coconut ice cream or dark chocolate. If that is your nemesis, rather save this for after an intense workout session when your body will ‘pacman’ up the energy!
Timing of food consumption before sleep
South African culture is such that we often enjoy our largest meal of the day at dinner time. This is a great family time of connecting and catching up on the day with our loved ones. Over this time, we should be mindful not to consume an excessively large meal right before bed. Practicing mindful eating can help with this. Mindful eating engages all of our senses to be present in the moment of consumption, dialing into the sight and appreciation of the colours of the food, the smells and flavours that are emitted as well as gratitude for what is on our plate. Becoming mindful of our consumption, chewing our food and connecting with the process of ingestion, means that we should be able to push ourselves away from the table when we are 80% full. This allows time for the food to settle and for us to tap into whether our body requires further nutrition. A 5 to 15 minute walk around the block will not only distract you from food thoughts, but will also aid digestion. If you are feeling uncomfortable from a larger meal, consider taking a cold shower to lower your body’s core temperature to avoid night sweats.
For those who are highly active and are restless at night, this may be because you require more carbohydrates. A higher carbohydrate diet (of low glycemic index carbs such as legumes, quinoa and sweet potato) can shorten wake times during the night and result in deeper sleep.
For those of you who go to sleep with an ‘over full feeling’ in your stomachs, you may want to consider reducing your saturated fat intake at dinner. Avoid fatty meat cuts or chicken that still has the crispy skin on it. Stay away from buttered veg or stir fry heavily sautéed in coconut oil . This may be too heavy for your system’s energy requirements as you dip into the lower energy cycle of sleep and rest.
Partnering with your medical practitioner and health coach, is invaluable when it comes to understanding if or what supplementation may aid your sleep hygiene. Our pharmacy and health shop shelves are bountiful with ‘sleep supplements’ but it is important to know and understand the quality of the supplement, what your nutrient deficits may be and which of these will be sublime for the quality of sleep you require.
The following supplements have been shown to affect sleep quality and quantity.
Found in turkey, increases in this amino acid cross the blood brain barrier and are transformed into a precursor of serotonin or 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT). One of the functions of 5-HT is to cause drowsiness and lethargy as it acts as a precursor to melatonin in the pineal gland. Research has shown that as little as 1 gram is sufficient to improve the quantity and quality of sleep but it is important to consult your health practitioner for a dose that is right for you.
Magnesium is a mineral which us important to convert the above mentioned 5-Hydroxytryptamine into N-Acetyl-5-Hydroxytryptamine. N-Acetyl-5-Hydroxytyptamine is another word for melatonin which we know is an important hormone impacting sleep quantity and quality. As we explored in our blog on Biohack your Pain, soaking in a bath of epsom salts ensures you’re getting magnesium sulphate but it is also important to supplement with magnesium glycinate, magnesium malate, magnesium citrate, magnesium threonate (good for brain function too). Partner with your medical practitioner for advice on a good quality supplement and dosage that is right for you.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland (provided you are in complete darkness– another case for ensuring good black out curtains or an eye mask such as the REMedy eye mask from BLUBlox. Made To Thrive Clients receive a 15% discount on all orders). Melatonin supplementation is particularly useful for people suffering with chronic sleep disturbances and is preferable over pharmaceutical sleeping tablets which interfere with your circadian rhythm. Melatonin is also fantastic for assisting to ‘reset’ your body if you are experiencing jetlag. Chat to your medical practitioner about how to supplement for this transition.
Research studies have shown a relationship between zinc deficiency and reduced levels of melatonin. Athletes should be particularly careful about monitoring their zinc levels- a mineral often overlooked. Book a consultation to have your blood markers assessed. Many nutritious foods are great sources of zinc as depicted below.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea leaves which lowers the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. This amino acid has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and increase mental relaxation, sometimes resulting in drowsiness. So consider enjoying a mug of steaming pure green tea 1 hour prior to bed time.
Chronically low vitamin D has been shown to impact sleep. It is important to have a blood panel, including vitamin D, tested so that if you do require supplementation, this can be managed together with your health practitioner or health coach.
Studies have shown that exercise has a positive impact on the duration of sleep as well as the time it takes to fall asleep. Aside from all of the other benefits that exercise affords one, getting the blood circulating through your system has a positive impact on circadian rhythm. Be sure however, to avoid exercise too close to bed time as this can have a counter effect on inducing a hygienic sleep cycle.