Countless studies have warned of the dangers of not getting between six to eight hours sleep a night – generally accepted as the gold standard in sleep terms.
Research has linked sleep disorders to life-threatening conditions including heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
But, as well as relaxation techniques and ditching your blue-light emitting smartphone and tablet, there is another way to maximise the chances of getting a good night’s sleep.
Nutritionists purport the benefits of a healthy diet, including key food groups packed with snooze-inducing nutrients and vitamins.
Here we reveal the eight foods the experts advise you eat to sleep tight each night.
1. SLOW-RELEASE CARBS
Carbohydrates that slowly release energy into the body, such as oats or oatcakes, and brown rice, can help transform a person’s sleep pattern.
Nutritionist Cassandra Barns, said: ‘Slow-releasing carbohydrates such as whole grains help to keep the levels of sugar (glucose) in your blood stable, and so provide your body with sustained energy.
‘You may not think you need much energy while you’re asleep, but your brain and body still need glucose to keep working.
‘If levels fall too low, this can cause the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which can wake you up.’
To avoid a rude awakening mid-way through the night, Ms Barns said ensure you stock the cupboards with slow-releasing carbohydrates, a serving of brown rice or a slice of rye bread with dinner, for example.
‘If you have your last meal a long time before going to bed, try eating a half-size bowl of porridge or a couple of oatcakes with nut butter later in the evening,’ she added.
‘Note, sugary foods and refined white carbohydrates can have the opposite effect, as they quickly enter and leave the bloodstream, leaving your blood low in glucose again after only a short period of time.’
High protein foods, such as meat, fish, beans and lentils, seeds and nuts are also vital in helping promote a better night’s sleep.
Shona Wilkinson, head nutritionist at www.nutricentre.com, said: ‘Protein foods provide the amino acid, tryptophan, which converts into the hormones serotonin and melatonin.
‘Melatonin in particular is needed for good sleep.’
She advises a good portion of protein is about 0.8 to 1g per kg of body weight, each day.
So, a woman who weighs 50kg, for example, should eat between 40 and 50g of protein a day.
‘Avoid too much high-protein food in the last few hours before bed however, as they can be hard to digest – especially red meat and nuts,’ Ms Wilkinson warned.
3. PUMPKIN SEEDS
Pumpkin seeds are high in natural magnesium, making them beneficial to those people who struggle to drift off each night.
‘One of the roles of magnesium is allowing the muscle fibres in our body to relax,’ explained Dr Marilyn Glenville, one of the UK’s leading nutritionists and author of the Natural Health Bible for Women.
‘It counteracts calcium, which causes muscles to contract.
‘It is also thought that magnesium has a role in the normal function of the pineal gland, which produces melatonin – a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and helps us to fall asleep.’
Dr Glenville advises trying one to two tablespoons of pumpkin seeds a day, adding them to sugar-free yoghurt or salads, or grinding them up and adding them to porridge.
‘Other raw seeds and nuts are also good sources of magnesium, as are leafy green vegetables,’ she added.
4. COCONUT WATER
A glass of pure coconut water in the evening could help you to have a restful night’s sleep, Ms Barns said.
‘Coconut water is an excellent source of electrolyte minerals: potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and sodium,’ she explained.
‘Balanced levels of these minerals are necessary to maintain normal muscle action, nerve function and hydration in our body.’
Deficiencies or imbalances can cause cramping and restless legs at night, and therefore disturbed sleep.
‘Coconut water products from young green coconuts are thought to be the best,’ said Ms Barns.
Cherries have been found to contain small amounts of melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep cycles.
‘Although all cherries may contain some melatonin, tart Montmorency cherries in particular have been found in a clinical trial to increase the body’s melatonin levels and increase sleep time,‘ said Ms Barns.
Zinc-rich foods such as oysters and other seafood, whole grains and nuts, especially pecans and brazil nuts, will help send you off to the land of nod, Dr Glenville said.
‘Zinc is also needed for conversion of tryptophan into serotonin and melatonin,’ she added.
Turkey is often hailed as a food that promotes sleep, due to high levels of trytophan, the amino acid that converts into serotonin and then melatonin in the body.
However, tryptophan is not the only sleep-promoting nutrient hidden inside the humble bird.
It is also a good source of zinc and vitamin B6, which help the body produce melatonin from tryptophan.
But, Ms Wilkinson recommends eating turkey earlier in the day, because a big serving of protein can stop you from falling asleep.
Foods such as buckwheat, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, fish and seafood, leafy green vegetables including spinach and kale, and dried fruits are a great source of magnesium.
‘Magnesium is known as “nature’s tranquiliser” and is needed to relax our muscles,’ said Ms Barns.
‘It is also needed to convert trytophan into serotonin and melatonin, and a deficiency in magnesium may be a cause of insomnia.’
She recommends trying New Magnesium Powder, KalmAssure by Naure’s Plus.
9. HERBAL TEAS
For many, nothing soothes them into a dreamy state better than a warm cuppa.
But, it is vital you avoid regular builders tea, which is high in caffeine.
‘Calming herbal teas such as chamomile, passionflower or valerian, or specific sleep blends can be helpful to drink before bedtime,’ said Ms Wilkinson.
‘According to researchers, drinking the tea is associated with an increase of glycine, a chemical that relaxes nerves and muscles and acts like a mild sedative.’