Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
Getting a good night’s sleep is not only important for mental health but also for the regeneration of our body cells, our skin (as it allows skin cells to repair), the body to destress, the removal of toxins to occur and improved mood too
It is a complex psychological and physiological restorative process and involves a transition through different states of brain and muscle activity. There has been an increasing awareness of the value of adequate sleep in recent years, and this relates to preconception health just as much as any other aspect of life.
Working night shifts has been shown to cause irregular menstruation in some women, and disrupted sleep has been shown to affect ovulation. Even if your work doesn’t include night shift’s, today’s lifestyle is hectic – eating or working too late, taking too little exercise, consuming alcohol, stress and fluctuating blood sugar levels also contribute to insomnia.
Obesity is linked to people who sleep for less than five hours a night, according to studies, and this may have a negative effect on fertility. One of the main links between healthy sleep habits and fertility lies in the circadian rhythm’s effect on hormone production.
Our body relies on sleep to recharge its batteries, process our subconscious and conscious memories, and sleep is also responsible for certain hormone secretions. Too much or too little sleep has a negative impact on our endocrine system, which is responsible for hormone production.
What are the important nutrients and foods to consume to help get a good night’s sleep?
There are some key nutrients involved in helping to get a good night’s sleep and these include vitamin C, magnesium and vitamin B5. These nutrients help to feed depleted adrenal glands, helping to restore sleep.
- Try to include a good amount of magnesium rich foods in your diet daily – such as: peas and beans, cashews, avocados, almonds, dried apricots, bananas – a lack of magnesium can sometimes lead to insomnia.
- Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, guava, broccoli, peppers, kale, berries, cherries and squash.
- Foods rich in vitamin B5(pantothenic acid) also help when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep – good sources are eggs, nuts, fresh fruit, wholegrains and fresh fish.
- Turkey is great nutritionally as it is low in saturated fat and provides a good amount of B vitamins, protein, zinc and selenium. It also contains Tryptophan which is an amino acid that cannot be made by the body but is a natural precursor to serotonin (known as the happy chemical) – an important chemical and neurotransmitter in the body. Serotonin is used to transmit messages between nerve cells, it is thought to be active in constricting smooth muscles, and it contributes to wellbeing and happiness, among other things. As the precursor for melatonin, it helps in the regulation of the body’s sleep-wake cycles and the internal body clock. Quorn, eggs, anchovies, ham, beef and mixed seeds are also good sources.
- A study has suggested that having a glass of tart cherry juice before bed helps produce melatonin and aids sleep.
How can you improve the amount of good quality sleep you are getting?
Here are a few strategies to help you get more:
Turn off mobile phone devices and computers at least an hour before bed – these may impair melatonin secretion which disrupts sleep onset.
Try to keep to your normal bedtimes and at the weekend too. Ideally sleep between the times of 10pm- 7am. Too much sleep can also be a problem.
Make sure where possible your room is dark and not too hot or cold.
Have a nice warm bath (with some of your favourite salts or oils) and warm milk drink (or equivalent for you) an hour before bed.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol or eat a heavy meal before going to bed.
Try to relax before going to bed.
Spending some time each day outside has been linked to helping improve sleep
Why not try some of these sleep aiding recipes?
Fresh Cherry smoothie
10oz pitted sweet cherries
Handful of ice
10oz plain fat-free yogurt
Place all in a blender until smooth and enjoy top off with some fresh mint!
Cherry, Wild rice and Quinoa Salad
Ingredients (makes 4 portions) – save some for lunch the next day!
- 6 oz wild rice
- 4 oz quinoa
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fruity vinegar, such as raspberry or pomegranate
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 12 oz halved pitted fresh sweet cherries
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 6 oz diced smoked Cheddar or other smoked cheese
- 4 oz chopped pecans, toasted
- Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add wild rice and cook for 30 minutes. Add quinoa and cook until the rice and quinoa are tender, about 15 minutes more. Drain and rinse with cold water until cool to the touch; drain well.
- Meanwhile, whisk oil, vinegar and pepper in a large bowl. Add the rice and quinoa, cherries, celery, cheese and pecans and mix together. Serve at room temperature or cold. Enjoy!
Some interesting reading:
Goldstein CA, Smith YR. Sleep, Circadian Rhythms, and Fertility. Current Sleep Medicine Reports. 2016;2(4):206-217. doi:10.1007/s40675-016-0057-9
Kloss JD, Perlis ML, Zamzow JA, Culnan EJ, Gracia CR. Sleep, sleep disturbance, and fertility in women. Sleep Med Rev. 2015;22:78-87. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2014.10.005
Medic G, Wille M, Hemels ME. Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Nat Sci Sleep. 2017;9:151-161. doi:10.2147/NSS.S134864