• Rachel Clarkson RD


The wellness community widely recognises sleep as one of the four pillars contributing to good health -- along with nutrition, exercise, and stress management. Let’s be honest, we all require a good night’s sleep in order to breeze through each day productively with a smile on our face – or at least that’s what we thought! The act of sleeping, when our bodies drift into deep restorative calm, is where we find balance in everything including our hormones. Interestingly, not sleeping for long enough or having poor quality sleep has a profound effect on our cravings, food choices and risk of future chronic disease.

Poor sleep = sugar cravings

Who would have thought that being tired would cause you to crave unhealthy sweet treats!? Studies have actually observed overeating and weight gain in participants who are sleep deprived! In simple terms, you are much more likely to eat unhealthy food if you don’t sleep very well… scientists predict this is due to the high fat and carbohydrate (sugar) content that release wonderful reward signals in the brain that make you feel good on days you are tired. It is therefore recommended you get between 6-8 hours of quality sleep each night and you can use food to assist with this…

Eat for a good night’s sleep

We’ve all heard the stories that eating cheese before bed time will give you nightmares... I’m not sure about nightmares, but cheese may actually aid your night’s sleep!

It’s important to understand some simple science before we go into the foods that can help with sleep... Melatonin, a.k.a. the “sleep hormone,” is released by the brain to gently signal you to fall into a deep slumber, and the amount of melatonin released by your brain is actually dependent on the foods we eat.

The most notable food to affect melatonin release by the body is a protein amino acid called Tryptophan. This amino acid is classed as ‘essential’ in the diet because our bodies cannot make it and therefore it must be consumed from food!

Foods containing Tryptophan:

  • Fish

  • Eggs

  • Poultry

  • Spinach

  • Tofu

  • Beans

  • Lentils

The science doesn’t stop there because other nutrients actually affect whether Tryptophan is available in the body. You’ve probably heard that magnesium is important for sleep and this is why!

Magnesium, along with B vitamins regulate Tryptophan availability which has an effect on the sleep hormone, melatonin, and therefore the quality of your sleep.

Foods containing Magnesium:

  • Nuts

  • Seeds

  • Milk

  • Cheese

Foods containing B vitamins:

  • Lentils

  • Soya

  • Spinach

  • Dairy

  • Fish

Incorporating these foods into a healthy, balanced diet will hopefully aid you with a peaceful night’s sleep. To put it simply, overly restrictive diets could put you at risk of low levels of magnesium, B vitamins or Tryptophan which will no doubt affect your sleep.

Trouble sleeping?

We’ve all been there. Lying wide awake, panicking that we need to be up in a few hours... Trouble sleeping isn’t uncommon. Thankfully, we can implement a few simple steps into our daily routine to try to manage the highly frustrating and tiresome challenge of insomnia.

1. Improve your sleep hygiene

This may sound strange, but this term is used to describe the steps you take before bed that will determine the quality of your sleep. Funnily enough, most of the steps below increase the melatonin in your body – aiding with that deep sleep.

  • Dim the bedroom lights and light a candle

  • Refrain from looking at screens emitting blue light 1 hour before bed (including phones and TV) or switch them to an orange light setting

  • Take a hot shower or bath

  • Spray an essential oil onto your pillow such as lavender

  • Choose a time to go to bed and wake up every day and try to stick to it

  • Use an eye mask to ensure complete darkness

  • Use a guided meditation or relaxing piece of music to drift off. Insight Timer is an app that has over 15,000 free tracks. Headspace and Calm are also great.

2. Increase your workouts

Exercise aids with sleep quality so why not try to move more!

3. Consider a quality mattress, duvet and bedding

This will ensure you are getting the comfort you desire. You sleep for 1/3 of your life so it’s worth the investment!

4. Eat for a good night’s sleep using the tips above

This is a given and no surprise that what we eat affects the way our body lives, or sleeps in this instance.

To summarize, what you eat can profoundly impact your sleep, for better or worse. Make sure you get enough sleep to curb bad cravings; incorporate foods that will stimulate the production of melatonin, or the "sleep hormone," in your body; and adopt sleep-promoting habits like proper sleep hygiene and increased exercise!

Rachel is the founder of The DNA Dietitian. She often helps clients at her Harley Street Clinic or via online video call to enhance mental performance through food and lifestyle. Get to know her more in her ICBRKR Extraordinaires interview, and quote ICBRKR for 15% off your first consultation!

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