Can changing my diet and lifestyle help my sleep?

Woman asleep in bed

The short answer is yes! Getting a good nights’ sleep is an omnipresent problem for far too many people. 

There’s much research to suggest the importance of getting between seven to nine hours sleep per night which, for many, is difficult.  However, sleep patterns can be improved by making some diet and lifestyle tweaks.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top sleep hacks.


Cut the caffeine

We all know that caffeine is a stimulant and for many of us, it’s something that helps us get through the day.  However, it’s all too easy to get stuck in a cycle of having a poor nights’ sleep, and then using more and more caffeinated drinks the next day to get you through.

If you’re struggling with sleep, then caffeine is not going to help.  And we can often become more sensitive to caffeine as we get older.  Women going through menopause can certainly suffer more by having caffeine. So how can you consume less?


Over a period of a couple of weeks, gradually cut down and then cut out caffeinated drinks.  Switch to decaf tea and coffee, which does still have a small amount of caffeine but is greatly reduced.  The coffee shop shots often contain vast amounts too! Even though you may not have been drinking caffeinated drinks before bedtime, having them at any time of the day influences the nervous system and consequently sleep.

shutterstock_391949488 green tea Nov16

Ideally, try and go for herbal teas. Green tea can help with sleep as it contains an amino acid called theanine which has a calming effect.

Avoid cardio exercise in the evening

Exercise is a very important part of daily life but it’s often difficult to fit in during the day with work and other schedules to juggle. However, heavy cardio exercise stimulates cortisol which can then take a while to settle, which may mean you’re counting sheep into the wee small hour afterwards.

shutterstock_249902236 woman running and smiling Sept15If possible, try to do exercise in the morning.  There is another very good reason for this: exercising outside in the bright morning light stimulates the production of melatonin, our sleep hormone, later in the day.


Eat to support your sleep

The body essentially produces the sleep hormone, melatonin, from the amino acid tryptophan found in foods.  When planning your evening meal think about including some chicken, eggs, oats, fish, pumpkin seeds, almonds, or eggs.

Chicken breast with side salad representing balanced mealHowever, it’s also important to have foods throughout the day that keep blood sugar levels in balance.  When blood sugar is out of whack then it can trigger the release of cortisol. This is our stress hormone, which can create more anxiety, restlessness, and irritability, none of which are conducive to a good night’s sleep! 


Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberriesSo, think about having an oat-based breakfast, such as overnight oats which is quick and easy to prepare the night before. Go for a salmon or tuna salad for lunch and grilled chicken breast with veggies for dinner.  If you’re vegan, soy is also a good source of tryptophan, so a tofu stir fry would be a great option.

Get into a routine

The body loves a routine.  It has a natural circadian rhythm, and all body processes happen in a routine too.  For example, the liver carries out most of its detoxification processes at around 2 am whether you’re asleep or not. Therefore, having a bedtime routine is important too. 

CLose up of a woman relaxing in the bath reading a book, surrounded by candlesTurn off and don’t look at electronic devices at least two hours before bedtime.  Decide what works for you in terms of having a warm bath with some lavender oil, reading a book, meditating or other relaxation techniques.  The important point is to stick to a routine and try to keep regular bed and waking times too. And whilst alcohol might seem like a sedative, it is known to disrupt sleep patterns and is often the cause of early morning waking.

Practice deep breathing


Of all the relaxation practices, deep breathing is probably one of the most effective.  Plus, it costs nothing, and it doesn’t take much time either!

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditatingDeep breaths need to start from the belly.  You might want to lie down and put your hand on your belly to ensure this is happening until you get used to the feeling.  Initially, just try breathing in for four seconds and breathing out to the same intensity for four seconds. In essence, you are regulating your breathing in and out.  As you get more practice, then try to do this for 6 seconds each way.  The important point here is not to over think it – just concentrate on the breath.  After a couple of minutes, you’ll certainly start to feel calmer.  Try doing this for five minutes every day before settling down to sleep – you’ll be amazed by the results!

Try these tips and hopefully you will sleep well tonight.


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All images: Shutterstock


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