Sleep tight

Although the reasons for sleep problems can be complex, unstable blood sugar is a common (and easily rectifiable) cause of insomnia. A drop in sugar levels can prompt the release of hormones which stimulate the brain, making it difficult to drift off to sleep.

A drink or snack before bed can help counter this, but what should you choose?

Bananas are a good source of potassium and magnesium, which are natural muscle relaxants. They also contain the amino acid L-tryptophan, which is converted in the brain to serotonin (a relaxing, sleep-regulating neurotransmitter) and melatonin (a hormone that helps control your sleep and wake cycles). Try served with live yogurt and Manuka honey before bed.

Chamomile – this flowering plant belongingmoon-march-2012-senin-4264 to the daisy family is one of the oldest and most widely used medicinal plants in the world. Chamomile preparations (such as teas) are used to treat insomnia and induce calm; the effects are thought to be due to the flavonoid apigenin that binds to receptors in the brain. Try avoiding coffee, tea, chocolate and cola in the six hours before bed and swapping for this calming herbal infusion.

Almonds contain magnesium and are a good source of protein, helping keep blood sugar levels steady while you sleep. They are also a natural source of melatonin – consuming foods rich in melatonin can help raise blood levels of melatonin significantly. Try almond butter on an oatcake or wholemeal toast as a pre-bedtime snack.

Oatmeal is a source of complex carbohydrate, which triggers a rise in blood sugar and insulin production, stimulating the release of sleep-inducing brain chemicals. Oatmeal is also rich in vitamin B6 – an anti-stress vitamin. Try mixed with ground flaxseeds and sprinkled on natural yogurt.

Kiwi fruit contains many medicinally useful compounds, among which antioxidants and serotonin may be beneficial to aid sleep onset and duration. Oxidative stress has been shown to be higher in people who have sleep problems so eating foods high in antioxidants before bed may help combat this.

© Sarah West Nutrition