Sleep Soundly

The average adult generally requires 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Whilst for some this is easily achieved, others find they either lack the ability to fall asleep or find themselves in a disturbed sleep pattern and struggle to drift back off to sleep again. Ongoing sleeplessness can have a huge impact on the body and is often associated with metabolic disorders, such as obesity and diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression.1

Stress is known to be a factor for many who struggle with sleep, but other factors could also play a part such as hormone imbalances, medications, vitamin and mineral insufficiencies and poor sleep hygiene. The body needs to make certain hormones in order to support natural circadian rhythm, thereby maintaining sleep and wake cycles through the 24 hour clock.2 Melatonin plays an important role in regulating sleep, however the production of this hormone can be influenced by levels of other hormones, such as cortisol (stress hormone). The levels of these hormones fluctuate according to the light and dark cycle as well as sleep, feeding and general behaviour.    

There may be other triggers in your life that could be affecting you getting good quality sleep. It might not make sense, since you know you managed at least 7 hours sleep last night. It is of course, important to recognise that not everyone is equal, and some people require more sleep than others. However, there are a number of potential reasons why getting plenty sleep might not necessarily translate into a fresh and alert you.



PSYCHOLOGICAL TIREDNESS

Stress and anxiety are common causes of tiredness, and a survey by the Mental Health Foundation showed that almost a third of the population have severe sleep-deprivation, frequently associated with work or financial concerns. This may not necessarily mean a lack of sleep, but rather it may be associated with a lack of good-quality sleep. Sleep is made up various processes and sleep stages, and it is thought that good quality sleep involves spending sufficient time in each of these stages, including deep sleep. Anxiety and stress can impact upon sleep patterns, and are known to significantly lower levels of deep sleep achieved. Try to find ways to alleviate these, and better rest should follow.

DIET AND LIFESTYLE

Choices such as excessive alcohol consumption in the evening, or eating sugary foods, are often associated with poor sleep, pulling a person out of deep sleep more readily. This means you feel more lethargic the following day. A 2016 study from Columbia University found that high sugar and saturated fat, and low fibre, were associated with lighter, less restorative sleep, compared to diets lower in sugar and saturated fats, and higher in fibre. Therefore, altering your diet to include more fibre, whilst reducing sugar, alcohol and saturated fat should help banish the tiredness. 

IRON-DEFICIENCY ANAEMIA

Caused by a lack of iron, this form of anaemia is associated with tiredness and a general lack of energy. It can be easily diagnosed by a GP following a blood test. If you have iron-deficiency anaemia, iron tablets are typically prescribed. In addition, iron-rich foods include green, leafy vegetables such as kale, as well as meat and beans.


So what could you do to help aid a full and peaceful nights sleep?


Tryptophan Foods

Melatonin, our sleep hormone, is synthesised from tryptophan, an amino acid, which is obtained from the diet. Foods such as poultry, bananas, oats, seeds and nuts are all good sources of tryptophan. Although, not conclusive, some studies have shown improvements to sleep with tryptophan, where the individual already experiences some sleep disturbances.3 Whilst we should avoid eating a large meal before bedtime, a small bowl of porridge containing bananas, seeds and nuts or a banana and oat smoothie could potentially help to increase the amount of tryptophan available for conversion into melatonin.

Zinc

Recent evidence suggests that zinc is involved in the regulation of sleep.1 A study of 890 healthy individuals found that those having the optimum hours of sleep per night (7-9 hours) had the highest levels of zinc in their blood.4 Similar results were found in a later study where they tested zinc and copper levels in 126 adult women’s blood and hair, their results suggested that higher zinc and copper levels may be involved in sleep duration.4 Oysters are the best source of zinc from foods; however red meat, poultry and other seafood, such as crab and lobster are also good sources. Vegetarian sources include beans, nuts and wholegrains.

Vitamin D

A review of nine studies involving over 9000 participants that had previously been conducted on vitamin D levels and sleep were analysed last year.4 They found that those who were vitamin D deficient had a significant risk of sleep disorders, poor sleep quality, short sleep duration and sleepiness. We can store vitamin D, which our bodies can synthesise from the sunlight, therefore it is important during the spring and summer months to expose your skin to at least 15 minutes of sunshine each day. Build up vitamin D levels by getting outside as much as possible during the warmer seasons and eating plenty of dietary sources of vitamin D such as oily fish, eggs and organic beef liver all year round. 

Magnesium

Magnesium is vital for the healthy functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows your body to achieve a calm and relaxed state. Magnesium also helps to support levels of GABA, the calming neurotransmitter, which promotes sleep. During times of stress, magnesium levels can become depleted, many who suffer with stress often report that their sleep is also disturbed, so may benefit from increasing their magnesium levels. Studies have shown that dietary magnesium can improve insomnia symptoms.4 Good sources of magnesium can be found in dark, green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, legumes, nuts and seeds.


Other Lifestyle Tips

  • Avoid eating a large meal late in the evening.
  • Use dimmed lighting in the evening.
  • Practise good sleep hygiene by turning off all screens at least 30 minutes prior to sleep. Switch off Wi-Fi and turn your phone off or to flight mode.
  • Exercise outdoors in the early part of the day during the daylight and save more relaxing exercise, such as yoga to the later part of the day.
  • Download a mindfulness app to your phone, just five minutes of resting the mind in the evening could help to unwind and increase relaxation.
  • Ayurvedic practise suggests oiling hands and feet just before lying down in bed. Keep a pot of oil and socks on your bedside table for ease, whilst also providing a gentle reminder.

So here are just a few of the reasons why we might feel tired after a full night’s sleep, as well as a variety of ways to try to overcome them. If you do suspect you have one of these issues, speaking to your GP or pharmacist is always a great way to get some useful advice.


1            Cherasse Y, Urade Y. Dietary Zinc Acts as a Sleep Modulator. Int J Mol Sci 2017; 18. DOI:10.3390/ijms18112334.
2            Kim TW, Jeong J-H, Hong S-C. The impact of sleep and circadian disturbance on hormones and metabolism. Int J Endocrinol 2015; 2015: 591729.
3            Silber BY, Schmitt JAJ. Effects of tryptophan loading on human cognition, mood, and sleep. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2010; 34: 387–407.
4            Zhang H, Li N, Zhang Z, et al. Serum Zinc, Copper, and Zinc/Copper in Healthy Residents of Jinan. Biol Trace Elem Res 2009; 131: 25–32.
5            Galland L. The gut microbiome and the brain. J Med Food 2014; 17: 1261–72.