How to get a good night’s sleep.
Text by Tiffany Chan, photo by Argusphoto, illustrations by Yanny Cheng
Eat Your Dreams
Dr Michael Grandner explains the sleep-food connection.
What is “healthy sleep”?
Healthy sleep requires quantity and quality. Regarding quantity, the recommended amount for most adults is seven to eight hours daily. More or less than that increases risk for conditions such as heart disease, obesity, brain problems and shorter lifespan. Regarding quality, sleep should be restful – if it is restless and involves many awakenings then your body is not able to do the work it needs to while you sleep. If you have insufficient or inadequate quality of sleep, your mind and body will feel the consequences.
How does diet affect the length and quality of sleep?
Healthy eating habits support healthy sleep, and vice versa. One of our studies showed that, on average, short sleepers consume more calories. Other studies have shown sleep deprivation leads to greater caloric consumption, especially at night. There is evidence that disrupted sleep disrupts your metabolism and food cravings, which can lead to more unhealthy eating habits and weight gain. So the more sleep deprived you are, the more you are likely to overeat at night.
What nutrients are important in promoting sleep?
While there does not seem to be one particular nutrient or set of nutrients that support optimal sleep for everyone, we found that, compared to sleepers with seven to eight hours of sleep, sleepers with less than five hours of sleep consumed less water, lycopene and carbohydrates. Sleepers with five to six hours of sleep consumed less water, lutein and selenium, and long sleepers consumed less theobromine, dodecanoic acid and choline. The best advice is to keep your diet as healthy as possible. Avoid eating too many calories too close to bedtime and you should be fine.
What types of food should we avoid to sleep better?
Large meals can induce reflux while lying down, which can get in the way of healthy sleep. Some foods raise body temperature (especially spicy foods), which can impair sleep. Foods and beverages containing caffeine is also an issue: caffeine reduces sleep pressure at night and can make it difficult to wind down even six to
10 hours after consumption. Liquid consumed later in the evening makes it more likely you will have to urinate during the night. Alcohol leads to shallower sleep at the beginning of the night and wakes you up towards the end of the night, especially if you have had several drinks.
What is a healthy diet?
It is a varied diet, relatively high in nutrition, and avoiding foods that are very high in calories, especially late at night. Food should be consumed at least a couple of hours before sleep with a small snack before bed.
Certain foods are said to make you sleepy. What are they?
Tryptophan can induce sleepiness, though it’s not known exactly how. It is likely because when tryptophan is processed by the body, it becomes serotonin and melatonin, which can play a role in sleep. Meat, eggs and hard cheeses are high in tryptophan, although it would take a large amount (maybe up to a pound of meat) to get a strong effect.
Is food coma real?
Yes, it is real. When you eat a large amount of food, a lot of energy is diverted to digestion and your insulin stores are quickly depleted, which can lead to sensations of sleepiness and sluggishness.
Sleep Like a Yogi
Hong Kong-based yogi Claudia Whitney strikes a pose for better sleep.
How does yoga help with sleep?
Yoga can be an effective natural sleep remedy. It reduces stress levels, calms the mind and relieves tension in the body. Certain poses affect the nervous system and balance the hormones in the brain, which can normalise your sleep cycle. Certain resting and inversion poses can be particularly helpful for combating restlessness and insomnia. You will have a more restful sleep because of yoga’s relaxing aspect and the subsequent relief of stress, tension and fatigue.
Can you recommend bedtime yoga poses for better sleep?