Sleep is a chemical process and our bodies require particular hormones, minerals and vitamins to make process happen. The act of eating, in itself, can help bring on sleep... particularly after a blood-sugar spike! But which foods have the ingredients we need?
Here, our experts explain which nutrients are most important to sleep, why, and what you could eat more of to bring about fewer restless nights. We also look at herbal remedies and ancient medicines that are thought to improve sleep.
Eat Well, Sleep Well
Magnesium This helps you sleep better in several ways. First, if your magnesium levels are low it can cause health issues, including insomnia.
The problem with magnesium is there are many of us may not be getting enough, including women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, older folk and those with health conditions such as Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease and type 2 diabetes. Even some medicines and stress can sap your magnesium status.
Eating more magnesium-rich foods is the best solution – so eat more…
- Whole grains
- Soya milk
- Natural yoghurt
However, magnesium is a fairly common deficiency in the UK, so if you're someone who struggles to get enough in your diet all the time - try our Magnesium Citrate supplement, it's great value and more easily absorbed than other magnesium forms.
DID YOU KNOW? Dark chocolate is a tasty source of magnesium, the darker the better (the magnesium is in the cocoa content), however it may not be the best choice just before bedtime due to the presence of high levels of chemicals; caffeine and theobromine, both of which can cause sleeplessness.
Glycine This amino acid has several functions, including promoting sleep and improving sleep quality. How? By calming your brain and reducing your core body temperature. Some studies claim taking glycine before going to bed helps you fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep – though the studies in question use animals as test subjects, so they’re not as reliable as human trials.
Your body makes glycine from other amino acids fairly efficiently, but you can also find it directly in meat and gelatine as well as nutritional supplements.
Omega 3 Oil Best known for heart, brain and joint benefits, the omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish also help you get a good night’s sleep. One study concludes eating fish has a positive impact on sleep in general, while scientists elsewhere have reported people with low levels of DHA (one of the two main omega 3s in fish) have low melatonin levels.
If you do choose to take a fish oil supplement, make sure it is good-quality, high-strength and from a reputable supplier. Our pure, specially filtered, Omega 3 Super Strength Fish Oil is exactly that, with each two-capsule dose providing a potent 440mg DHA & 660 EPA.
Vitamin D Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to sleep disorders. One review of nine studies suggests people with low levels experience poor sleep quality and don’t get enough sleep. Nobody knows exactly why this happens, but we do know many of us in the UK aren’t getting enough vitamin D, especially during the autumn and winter months.
Our high-strength Vitamin D3 offers incredible value, providing a 14 month supply of superior vitamin D3 in tiny, easy to swallow, softgel capsules.
Vitamin B12 Some people don’t get much – or any – B12 in their diets either, largely because it’s mostly found in animal-derived foods like meat, fish and dairy. And while B12 is needed for many functions it could also be important for sleep, since studies suggest it helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
Elsewhere, one report suggests taking B complex relieves the symptoms of night-time leg cramps (if they don’t keep you awake, nothing will). VitaBright's High-Strength Vitamin B12 365 and Multivitamin & Mineral Complex (100% RDA of all B-vitamins) both provide excellent value
Melatonin is the actual neurochemical that tells your body to sleep, but it is only available as a supplement on prescription in the UK. Your body makes melatonin from serotonin, which is made from 5-HTP, which in turn is made from tryptophan.
Both 5HTP and tryptophan used to be prescription only too, but can now be bought as supplements. 5-HTP is the smarter choice in our opinion, since it allows your body to find it's optimum balance of these crucial hormones, rather than forcing the levels up. Also, tryptophan is also used for other body processes besides making serotonin. Other potential benefits of taking 5-HTP include:
- Weight loss (studies suggest 5-HTP suppresses hormones that make you feel hungry)
- Depression relief (there’s evidence an imbalance of serotonin affects mood)
- Fewer migraines (taking 5-HTP reduced migraine attacks in one small-scale study)
Our coveted 5-HTP with Lemon Balm Complex is a high-strength, superior-quality tsupplement that offers great value for money.
Did you know? We spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping, and the record for the longest period without sleep is 11 days. Sleeping on your front is thought to aid digestion.
Natural sleep remedies
Herbs have been used traditionally for sleep difficulties for hundreds if not thousands of years. Here are some that have helped us sleep through the ages:
Ashwagandha A traditional Ayurvedic herb, ashwagandha is often used to help with stress, with one study suggesting it may reduce stress, anxiety and improve sleep quality. Researchers recently found the ashwagandha root extract KSM-66 has sleep-inducing potential, and concluded it may help improve sleep in people with insomnia and anxiety.
Try our superior Organic KSM-66 Ashwagandha capsules – they’re high strength, vegan, easy to swallow, and include a dash of black pepper to improve absorption.
Valerian root Used as a treatment for insomnia since the second century AD, valerian is still taken today for occasional sleep problems. And while robust clinical studies are thin on the ground – as they are for many herbal remedies – one review of 16 studies states valerian ‘probably improves sleep quality without side effects’.
Lavender This too has a long-standing tradition of helping people get a better night’s sleep, often when used as an essential oil. This may work by making you feel calmer, with studies suggesting lavender oil reduces anxiety. A drop or two in your bath before bedtime or on your pillow may help you drift off more easily.
Passionflower Another popular traditional herbal sleep aid, passionflower has been shown in animal studies to improve sleep quality. Unfortunately, there aren’t many human studies, however one small-scale trial involving 41 healthy adults discovered passionflower tea improves sleep quality.
Did you know? Warm milk, with or without cookies, is the original, old-fashioned bedtime sleep remedy, prevalent in many cultures worldwide. This is because milk contains relatively high levels of melatonin, tryptophan and magnesium.
At the end of the day…
There’s a lot you can do to have a more peaceful night, including eating the right foods and taking the right supplements. However, if changing your lifestyle doesn’t work or you’ve had problems with sleep for months and it’s making life difficult, see your GP for advice.
For more understanding of how the process of sleep works within your body, please see our related article: The Science of Sleep.
Remember, if you’re considering taking a new supplement, always speak to your doctor beforehand, especially if you have a health condition or are taking any medicines.