VERY rarely are you granted the luxury of falling asleep within minutes.
It usually comes down to what you’ve been doing in the hours before bed that determines if you’re headed for a bad night’s sleep, experts say.
And you’ll be glad to hear that eating a hearty meal with a serving of carbohydrates should ease you into the land of nod.
Sleep expert Rosie Osmun from Eachnight.com said: “Studies have found that eating carbs approximately four hours before bedtime can shorten how long it takes to fall asleep, so try to incorporate carbs into your dinner.”
A study showed that when men ate starchy carbs before bed, they fell asleep much faster.
The participants were fed a meal before bed – rice, vegetables and a sauce. But on one night, the type of rice was changed.
Published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the findings showed when the men ate jasmine rice four hours before bed, they typically fell asleep in nine minutes.
This was half the time it took for men after eating long-grain rice four hours before bed – 18 minutes.
The difference between each meal is that jasmine rice is high in glycemic index (GI), while long-grain rice is low GI.
The researchers suggested high GI carbs may boost tryptophan and serotonin, two brain chemicals involved in sleep.
High GI carbs are those that are broken down fast, causing a rapid increase in blood glucose, and typically include:
- White bread
- White rice
- White potatoes and fries
- Fruits such as watermelon and pineapple
- Cakes and cookies
Low or medium GI foods are broken down more slowly and cause a gradual rise in blood sugar levels over time, and include wholegrain carbohydrates such as brown rice.
Although this particular study suggested high GI carbs are best for sleep, the research is not clear-cut.
High GI carbs can include sugary foods, such as cakes, doughnuts and packaged goods – and experts don’t recommend a sugar hit before bed.
People managing their weight or who have type 1 or 2 diabetes should also consider avoiding these foods because they cause blood sugar levels to spike.
On top of this, the NHS recommends “higher fiber wholegrain varieties [of carbohydrates]” as part of a balanced diet, which includes brown rice and wholewheat pasta.
These foods are generally lower GI and are considered “complex carbs”, although each carbohydrate has a different makeup.
Complex carbs are seen as more nutritious than “simple carbs” because they are packed with fiber and starch, while simple carbs are mostly made up of sugars and are used to make processed foods.
Complex carbs are beneficial for keeping slim and warding off related diseases like type 2 diabetes.
- Sweet or white potatoes
- Multiseed bread
- Wholewheat pasta
- Wholewheat pitta bread
- brown nice
Foods to avoid for sleep
Meanwhile, Rosie warns the foods to try and avoid if you want to get to sleep quicker.
She said: “Overly salty, fatty or spicy meals can cause acid reflux and heartburn, so avoid eating these late at night.
“Instead, try to opt for foods like sleep-promoting fruits and vegetables, such as cherries or bananas, to avoid nights of tossing and turning.”
Cherries have been found to contain small amounts of melatonin, a hormone the body naturally produces in response to lower light, in order to help us sleep.
Bananas are packed with potassium and magnesium that are known to relax the muscles.
Marie-Pierre St-Onge, an associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University in New York, also believes food in the hours before bed are vital for a good night’s sleep.
In an article for Knowable Magazine in December, she wrote: “Our studies over the past seven years have shown that eating more fiber and less saturated fat and sugar during the day results in deeper, less disturbed sleep at night.
“It may be particularly helpful to eat a Mediterranean-type diet rich in fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains and olive oil.
“Other foods — including tomatoes, pineapple, tart cherries, bananas, apples, vegetable oils, nuts and animal products — contain melatonin itself.
“Eating such melatonin-rich foods may also boost your own melatonin levels, although research on this is sparse.”
Other tips to fall asleep fast
Rosie outlined her other top tips to ease into sleep fast.
Avoid naps during the daytime: “Long naps can throw off your sleep schedule, delaying sleep onset at night.
“Instead, stick to quick 30-minute power naps when needed.”
Stop looking at the clock: “It’s difficult to resist curious glances at the clock to see how much time is left until morning.
“However, obsessing over the time may only cause stress and ultimately make it harder to fall asleep.”
Cool it down: “The perfect bedroom temperature to fall asleep is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
“If your room temperature is too warm, this can contribute to an increase in body temperature, making it harder to drift off and achieve deep sleep.”
Relaxation technique: “Progression muscle relaxation (PMR) can help relax your body before bed.
“Aiming to ease any tension, the focus of this technique is to tense your muscles briefly before relaxing them.”
Follow this PMR routine to promote sleep:
- Close your eyes and breathe slowly.
- Tense your entire face (eyes, mouth, nose, jaw and lips) for approximately 10 seconds, then breathe deeply and relax your muscles.
- Repeat this procedure of tensing and relaxing muscles down your body, from your shoulders and neck, all the way down to your calves and feet.
- As your tensed muscles become relaxed, you will feel them become relaxed, as they should be in order to fall asleep.