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The 5 Best Foods to Eat After a Sleepless Night

After the much-needed indulgences of Christmas and the excitement of the New Year, it can take a while to get back into a regular bedtime rhythm. Adding another national lockdown into the mix doesn’t help, and might have thrown your best intentions and plans into further disarray.

The daytime could be fine –  you find the never-ending need to be flexible and adaptable pushes many worries out of your mind. However, when nighttime comes and doubts or uncertainties loom large, you find yourself tossing and turning, and in for yet another sleepless night.

But a day of exhaustion, fatigue, bleary eyes and a short temper is NOT what you need right now.

Especially if you end up downing an extra cup of coffee (or 3!) and a bar of chocolate, just to survive till the evening, only to find these stimulate you and interrupt your sleep the next night.

If this sounds far too familiar, and you’re feeling fed up, the good news is that it’s possible to break out of this vicious circle.

There are foods you can eat to help you recover after a sleepless night (and a few that you’ll absolutely want to avoid).

Eat EGGS for breakfast

Managing your cortisol levels is key to recovering after a rubbish night’s sleep.

Cortisol is one of two hormones which regulates your sleep-wake cycle (the second is melatonin) and typically levels rise to help you wake up, and fall later in the day in time for you to go to bed.  Unfortunately, one of the effects of sleep deprivation (and stress and caffeine too) is to disturb the natural ebb and flow of your cortisol levels leaving you wide awake the following night.

Fortunately, there are lots of tasty foods that help reduce cortisol and maintain a healthy level, such as eggs, berries, and other low-GL fruit and veg. Animal protein and foods which are rich in salt, fat and refined sugars are known to disturb it. So ditch the bacon, sausages and sugary cereal and switch to poached eggs, spinach and berries at breakfast instead.

Eat BEETROOT for elevenses

Have you noticed how everything takes so much more effort after a night without sleep? One way to overcome this brain drain and muscle fatigue is with a beetroot boost. Rich in nitrates, which are then converted to nitric oxide, beetroot helps dilate blood vessels and increase your oxygen flow. You’ll think more clearly, your muscles will work more efficiently, and over the long term your stamina to exercise may improve.

However, concentrated shots of beetroot juice aren’t for everyone, particularly if you have low blood pressure, are on blood pressure meds or have kidney stones.

Eat CRUNCHY VEG (and your favourite dip) as an afternoon snack

A veg and dip combo (think guacamole, humous or pesto) makes the perfect snack to keep you sustained in the afternoon – providing proteins and low-GL carbs to help balance your blood-sugar levels, good fats to help you focus, and LOTS OF NOISE. Research shows that behaviours around food are influenced by what you hear, and it’s been suggested that eating crunchy foods can help you feel full faster [1]. This is particularly ideal after a sleepless night when the natural tendency is to eat more in general, and more sugary foods too.

Drink GREEN TEA at 4pm

You’ll probably really, REALLY want coffee – that hot, bitter jolt is guaranteed to keep you awake. After the first irresistible cup, what can you drink instead? Green tea, of course.

It still delivers a hit of caffeine, but this more natural option also contains l-theanine, an amino acid which soothes the brain and supports concentration. It’s like coffee with the rough edges taken out. Green tea is also packed full of anti-oxidant polyphenols and anti-inflammatory catechins, much needed molecules since a lack of sleep increases oxidation and inflammation within the body.

Eat PUMPKIN SEEDS in the evening

Later on in the day you’ll want to switch into relaxation mode, and this is where magnesium-rich foods come into play. Sleep deprivation is a stressor for the body, and not only floods the body with stimulating adrenaline but also depletes your magnesium stores. Eating magnesium-rich foods, like pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, black beans, avocado and kale, helps counteract this.

Firstly, magnesium promotes the release of the brain chemical GABA from the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which works to enhance your calm. Next, magnesium acts on the sympathetic branch of the nervous system helping your muscles to relax. It delivers a one-two sucker punch that gets you ready for bed.

A 28g serving of pumpkin seeds delivers approx 150mg of magnesium, which is more than a third of the recommended daily amount.

While you can’t turn back time and catch up on those lost hours, there are ways to eat to get through the day which won’t further disrupt your sleeping patterns in the evening. So, the next time your alarm bell rings, and you struggle bleary-eyed from bed after a sleepless night, tuck into these foods and feed your body the best that you possibly can.

Reference
1. Spence & Shankar (2010) The influence of auditory cues on the perception of, and responses to, food and drink

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