Sleep, Nutrition and our Mental Health:
What can you do to help?
Sleep deficiency is a major concern in Australia, with insomnia reported to affect up to 45% of the population at any given time. Sleep is often the first thing of our daily lives to be sacrificed when you are feeling stressed or when life just doesn’t slow down.
During sleep, we make human growth hormone, a powerful anti-aging hormone, which helps repair and regenerates while we sleep. Sleep heals and repairs the heart and blood vessels, plays a vital role in reproductive hormone production, especially in puberty and fertility, and maintains a healthy balance of hormones that regulate appetite.
Sleep is also important to healthy brain function (we all know how we can feel with no sleep), enabling the brain to form new pathways to help you learn and remember information. While we sleep our bodies remove free radicals and metabolic waste from the brain.
So, what can we do to get enough sleep?
Nutrients can help to promote restful and restorative sleep. For example, magnesium is useful for helping your muscles relax and supporting your body’s ability to repair while you sleep. And while there is a debate whether b-vitamins should be taken in the morning due to their mitochondrial energy support, the full suite of eight B vitamins is essential for healthy sleep. They have a collective effect on neurological functioning, including the synthesis of neurochemicals. For example, insufficient B6 is directly linked to both sleeplessness and insomnia as it is a co-factor for the production of serotonin, melatonin, and GABA. Sour cherry naturally contains melatonin and supports your body’s own natural production of this sleep hormone.
Your gut microbiota (gut bacteria) needs to be correctly managed with the correct diet and nutrients as this may also influence normal sleep patterns by helping create important chemical messengers in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine. There is considerable evidence showing that the gut microbiome not only affects the digestive, metabolic, and immune function but also regulates sleep and mental states through the microbiome-gut-brain axis.
Sleep hygiene is a variety of practices or behaviors around sleep that help to promote melatonin production. These can include but not limited to:
- Know how much sleep you need as an individual and allow enough time
- Limit excess alcohol intake
- Avoid nicotine and caffeine as these are stimulants
- Don’t exercise late at night
- Don’t eat too late or too close to bed
- Routine: Try to maintain the same daily bedtime and wake time
- Make the bedroom a place for sleep and intimacy only – don’t use it to do work, eat, scroll on your phone, use the computer or watch TV
- Use the hour before bed for quiet time. Take a bath, meditate or do some light reading (in dimmed lighting)
- Spend time outside every day, exposing your eyes to natural daylight, especially on waking and in the morning
- Avoid blue light exposure in the late evening or night
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- Report to the Sleep Health Foundation 2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults. Viewed 29 May 2019, https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/pdfs/surveys/SleepHealthFoundation-Survey.pdf
- Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency. Viewed 29 May 2019, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency
- Zadeh, S. S. & Begum, K. Comparison of nutrient intake by sleep status in selected adults in Mysore, India. Nutr. Res. Pract. 5, 230–5 (2011).