How a Good Night’s Sleep Can Improve Your Health.

a good night's sleep

Sleep. We all do it, we all want it, and we all need it. For decades, we have known how beneficial a good night’s sleep can be for us, but only recently have experts proven that sleep is probably the most important thing we can do to improve our health. So whether you struggle to sleep, can’t seem to carve out an early bedtime routine, or just want better quality sleep, the Real Foods team share their top tips for the best rest.

a good night's sleep

Why do we need to sleep?

“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

Sleep is a time of rejuvenation. Your body replenishes energy and make repairs, and your mind catalogues the day away. 

What is sleep?

The sleep cycle is made up of three phases, which get deeper the longer you sleep. One full cycle lasts one and a half hours.

Sleep begins with a light phase when you first drift off, known as non-rapid eye movement sleep, and when you can easily be disrupted. You then enter two more phases of non-rapid eye movement sleep. If you are disturbed, you may feel disorientated. Finally, you go into the fourth and final phase of the sleep cycle, known as rapid eye movement (REM), which is when you begin to dream. To feel fully refreshed, you need to complete the entire four phases of this cycle – and a good night’s sleep might have five or six complete sleep cycles.

All of us need to sleep

Every living creature follows a circadian rhythm, responding mentally, physically and behaviourally to the cycle within our environment. Likewise, humans sleep following a light-related rhythm. Maybe we should envy cats that sleep away their day, spending two-thirds of life asleep, compared to humans who spend just one third of life asleep!

a good sleep

Do I sleep too much?

Love your bed? Worry you are sleeping too much?

love your bed for a good night's sleep

Everyone needs different amounts of sleep. Your age, sex, health, environment, psychology, behavior, family, career, and diet all play a unique role in the amount of sleep your body needs. Your sleep cycle will change as you grow.

So, consider the quality of your sleep –  how do you feel when you wake up in the morning? Refreshed and rejuvenated or sluggish?  Sleep quality can be measured by looking at brain waves, heart rate and breathing patterns.

There is research that excessive sleep can be bad for you, as reported in Journal of the American Heart Association. If you sleep more than eight hours a night, you can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and death, so getting seven hours of sleep consistently every night is a safer bet.

Is it safe to sleep less?

Sleep is often coined as the only legal performance enhancing drug, yet humans are the only known mammals who choose to delay sleep, even though the benefits of sleep outweigh the benefits of staying awake. Many Brits opt to forgo sleep, and surveys by the UK’s Sleep Council suggest that one in every three people are suffering from poor sleep.

Did you know? You can die quicker from a lack of sleep than a lack of food!

You may think one hour of lost sleep is insignificant, but during the spring and daylight saving times, there is an increase in heart attacks by a whopping 24%; in comparison, when the UK gains an hour of sleep, heart attacks are reduced by 21%!

What is a common sign of sleep deprivation?

big yawn - are you sleep deprived?

Are you the type of person who falls asleep the moment your head hits the pillow? Do you sleep within five minutes of intending to sleep? Or fall asleep on the sofa with the TV blaring?

The chances are you are sleep deprived. Technically, it should take our brains at least 10-15 minutes to fall asleep at night.

The benefits of a good night’s sleep

It seems like our modern world is so fast-paced that we often boast about our lack of sleep, wearing it as a badge of efficiency. However, the truth is simpler: rest is best. 

Find pride in your early night’s and those lazy weekend mornings spent sleeping, as there are many benefits to a good sleep:

  • Heals and repairs

Sleep really does heal. Sleep helps you to control our blood sugar levels, balance our hormones and weight, and repairs our heart and blood vessels. You are less at risk of developing cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases.

  • Gain mental clarity

With sleep the brain just works. Sleep helps you with learning, problem solving and decision making, and improves our memory.

  • Makes you happy

A good night’s sleep is good for your mental health. It can reduce stress, moods swings and protect you from feeling depressed and anxious.

  • Earn more money

The Sleep Council showed that the high earners of the UK, who earn between £65,000 – £75,000, sleep the best. You could argue that with good sleep comes increased earnings, meaning health literally is wealth!

What happens when you don’t sleep enough?

  • Your physical exhaustion will increase

Research indicates that your ability to do physical exercise, such as running, jumping and stretching, can be reduced by as much as 30% when you are tired. With just five to six hours of sleep a night, your chance of injury can increase by a whopping 200%.

  • Your performance is impaired

If you haven’t slept for 22 hours, you are impaired to the same levels as alcohol intoxication. A Loughborough University study highlighted that one in every six car crashes on Britain’s roads are fatigue-related.

  • You will feel pain more deeply

If you are sleep deprived, the chances are that your pain threshold is greatly reduced.

  • You will want to eat more

It’s not your imagination. A lack of sleep reduces the appetite-regulating hormone leptin, so even if you are full you will still want to eat.

  • Your immunity is reduced

Our body produces a protein called cytokines, which targets infection and inflammation, thus improving our immunity. A lack of sleep reduces the number of cytokines produced and released.

  • Your chance of diabetes is increased

One week of poor sleep can disrupt your blood sugar levels so much that you can become classified as pre-diabetic.

  • You have increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Less sleep is linked with a higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The glymphatic system, which is considered the sewage system for the brain, can only kick into gear during deep sleep.

  • You have an increased chance of psychiatric conditions

Sleep is interrelated with good mental health. Insomnia can bring depression, anxiety and feelings of suicide. The UK and many other sleep-deprived countries such as Japan, the USA, and South Korea all have higher rates of physical diseases and mental orders.

  • You have a higher chance of cancer

The World Health Organization has classified night-time shift work as a possible carcinogen that can put you at an increased risk of cancer.

  • You are at risk of dying earlier

A 2011 review by the European Heart Journal highlighted that if you regularly sleep for less than six hours a night, your risk of developing or dying from a coronary heart disease is increased by 48%.

Did you know?  There are always going to be times in the day when you feel tired naturally. It is normal to feel a dip in alertness just after lunch, and around 2am.

Why melatonin Is good for your sleep

Melatonin is a natural hormone that our bodies produce and, like an internal clock, signals our brain when it is time to wake and sleep. Jet lag is a classic example of a disrupted natural melatonin cycle.

There are melatonin supplements available, which are believed to increase the speed at which you fall asleep and also the duration of our sleep, although detailed research is still being conducted.

How magnesium can aid your sleep

Magnesium is an important mineral for our body as it helps you to ensure your brain and heart functions well, and can aid your forty winks.

Studies show that magnesium increases levels of the amino acid, gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA. This helps brain cells to communicate with one another and reduces activity in both our brain and central nervous system. Magnesium similarly reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can interrupt sleep.

This quietening of the mind and body helps you to feel more relaxed and calmer and helps to balance our mood. In turn, you fall asleep easier and sleep better.

How glycine can aid your sleep

Glycine is an amino acid that can be found in food, and helps the nervous system to function well. While scientists don’t know exactly why, research suggests it helps to lower body temperatures, creating a signal that it is time to sleep.

Some initial studies show that those who take a glycine supplement before bedtime feel more clear-headed and less fatigued when they wake up. You might also fall asleep faster and have an overall improved quality of sleep.

Which foods help you sleep better?

There are several food and beverages that can have a huge impact on how quickly you fall asleep and the overall quality and duration of your sleep.

  • Almonds
almonds help a good night's sleep

Almonds are fantastic for their large amount of nutrients and healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, and include the hormone melatonin and provide 19% of your daily dose of magnesium in just 28 grams.

  • Walnuts
walnuts for a good night's sleep

Walnuts are a wonderful source of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, include omega 3 fatty acids. They are good for your heart and can reduce your cholesterol levels. Walnuts are in high in magnesium and in melatonin, making them a great snack to eat before bedtime, so grab a handful!

  • Kiwis
kiwi and a good night's sleep

Kiwis are delicious and nutritious providing your daily dose of vitamin C and lots of vitamin K, and are high in fibre and antioxidants, meaning they are good for digestion, lowering your cholesterol and reducing any inflammation in the body. Kiwis are also low in calories, making them the perfect snack before bed. Studies show that kiwis contain the brain chemical serotonin, which helps regulate the sleep cycle, and can improve how quickly you fall asleep, and the quality and duration of your sleep.

  • Cherries
cherries for a good night's sleep

It’s time to get your hands on some sour/tart cherries. The juice of cherries are filled with nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, and manganese, and are a rich source of antioxidants that prevent inflammation. Cherries also contain a large amount of melatonin, to encourage you to fall asleep.

  • Bananas
bananas aid a good night's sleep

Bananas contain potassium, magnesium and an amino acid called tryptophan, which are all great sleep-boosting minerals. Tryptophan is used by the body to create niacin, a B vitamin that creates serotonin.

  • White rice
white rice

While brown rice is generally best because it has more fibre and nutrients, white rice is considered good for sleep. This is because white rice has a high glycemic index, which means it quickly increases your blood sugar level, which in turn encourages you to fall asleep quicker and to sleep longer, if you eat it one hour before bedtime. However, given that it is low in and essential fibre and nutrients, you should only eat white rice in moderation.

  • Beans & legumes

Many beans and legumes such as chickpeas hold various B vitamins, including B6, niacin and folate which in turn reduce stress and anxiety and aid sleep.

  • Leafy greens
greens aid a good night's sleep

A favourite miracle food, leafy greens, contain a high amount of calcium, which helps you produce melatonin. Try to eat a salad at dinner or time, a bowl of lettuce soup, or some delicious kale crisps.

  • Seeds
pumpkin seeds

Flax seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds also contain high levels of the natural sedative tryptophan.

  • Oats
oats aid a good night's sleep

Oats are high in carbohydrates, tryptophan, melatonin, so eating some porridge, an oat cookie or a flapjack before bedtime will help you feel sleepy and have a restful night.

  • Milk or yoghurt

If you have a yoghurt or drink some warm milk at bed time, then you will benefit from the calcium which helps to process both tryptophan and melatonin.

Top Tip: When eaten alongside a carbohydrate, such as in a bowl of cereal or with your porridge oats, tryptophan enters the brain more easily, which means you get a bigger serotonin boost.

Which foods to avoid before sleep

If you want to sleep better, avoid caffeine in fizzy drinks, tea and coffee. Avoid heavy and large meals, and foods that can induce heartburn, such as alcohol (especially red wine), spicy foods (including black pepper), tomatoes, foods from the allium family (such as onion and garlic), citrus (lemons and oranges), and peppermint.

Avoid eating refined foods such as white pasta and bread or sugary, baked goods, and opt for whole grains and whole wheat foods instead, as these are known to inhibit serotonin.

Real Foods are here to support you with a good night’s sleep as it stocks a wide range of healthy, natural and vegetarian food, both online and in our Edinburgh shops!

Get your bedtime routine sorted so that you can improve your health. You can’t make up the sleep you lose, so get a good night’s sleep tonight. Sweet dreams!

Author: Jen Marsden

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