Perfect Night’s Sleep: write down what and when you eat and drink in your sleep diary for a week, and see if there are any correlations between your diets and sleep patterns. You can then start by eliminating potential trouble-makers. You’ll probably find, like one sleepless friend, that however much you like them late-night pizzas will just have to go.
As we all know, Friday night vindaloos washed down with several lagers are not the recipe for sleep; nor is tucking into your favourite cheese at midnight (cheese contains a substance called tyramine, which indirectly leads to an increase in blood pressure, a symptom associated with nightmares).
Foods which are difficult or take a long time to digest, high-sugar foods which take no time to digest but which give the body and brain a rush of fuel, too much alcohol and caffeine, foods containing the additive MSG (monosodium glutamate, found in many processed foods and take away) which causes, among other things, digestive problems, headaches and heartburn, foods and drinks containing the yellow peril, tartrazene (E-102), notorious for its link with hyperactivity in children – all of these can negatively affect your sleep.
Life as an insomniac is already miserable enough. Cut them out or reduce them as much as you can from your diet. The other substance nutritionists advise to avoid is aspartame (Nutrasweet). Apart from being a stimulant, it depletes tryptophan and serotonin levels.
As we all know, too, large quantities of fat and protein hang around in the system and are difficult to digest. Both take twice as long (about 4 hours) as carbohydrate to metabolize another reason to go easy on the butter and cream (or olive oil) in the evening. Furthermore, despite what Mediterranean’s do, the digestive system does not work half as well in the evening as during the day.
Other foods to avoid are: processed foods, which are poor-value nutrition and, biologically speaking, just a waste of space; spicy foods hot spices such as chili and mustard, which act as stimulants foods high in tyrosine, especially before bedtime.
Tyrosine is an amino acid that increases the release of norepinephrine the neurotransmitter that does for the brain what adrenaline does for body. Examples are bacon and other cured meats, aged cheeses such as parmesan, blue cheeses such as Stilton, soft cheeses such as mozzarella, potatoes, and tomatoes, chocolate and also wine. Now we know why pizzas and chianti give us a buzz.
Junk food diets are a no-no. So is not eating – I’ve been there myself, when you are literally too tired to eat, and know of other insomniacs who, through stress and anxiety, end up not eating. As far as your body is concerned, both are extremely stressful. The final aspects of your diet worth checking are food allergens: wheat (gluten), dairy, nuts and oranges are among the most common culprits.
All this makes very good sense, but don’t go into a panic. It doesn’t mean these are banned foods, or that your insomnia will spiral out of control if you have a bacon busty at 9 p.m. You know what you can eat and what you can’t. If you don’t, this is a very good time to find out. Even if you do nothing else, you can at least become more strategic about when you eat what. Your sleep will thank you for it.
Don’t eat large meals close to bedtime; in fact, if you can, ideally aim to eat lightly in the evening, and save binges for lunchtime. At the very least, avoid foods which give your liver a hard time and are difficult to digest. Absolutely avoid any kind of sugar at bedtime in the form of food or drink. It’s an instant source of energy for the brain at exactly at the wrong time. Incorporate sleep-friendly foods into your diet.