‘Sleep that knits up the revell’d sleeve of care, The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath, Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast.’
No-one understood the importance of sleep better than Shakespeare, who wrote these words in his play, Macbeth. Insomnia and disturbed sleep patterns are one the most common reasons why people in their Golden years seek medical help. These problems cause high levels of stress and anxiety and can exacerbate pain, discomfort and other symptoms of a wide range of health problems.
As sleep descends, the activity hormones are switched off, making way for the growth and repair hormones to get to work. This is when your body sets about its nightly maintenance work, utilising the nutrients from your food. In other words, sleep is the prime example of the interaction between food, mind and body.
What to avoid
Hunger is the first factor in sleep deprivation. A rumbling stomach will surely wake you up. Youcan lie there tossing and turning or you can mount a midnight raid on the fridge. If you’re really hungry, then low blood sugar will add to your insomnia even more, ensuring that your brain doesn’t produce sufficient of the sleep-inducing hormones.
On the other hand, going to bed after an enormous meal, lots of wine and several cups of black coffee will guarantee a night of little more than fitful dozing.
Caffeine in any form, and for some people, even in tiny amounts, can drive away sleep for nights on end.
What to eat
Lots of foods help promote good sleep, especially those containing the sleep-inducing hormone, serotonin. Bananas, pineapple, walnuts, figs and tomatoes are common examples. Starchy foods contain the essential amino acid tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin, which is why malted-milk drinks help encourage better sleep. It seems to work especially well for people who drop of easily, but wake in the small hours. If that describes you, then try a malted-milk drink half an hour before bed time.
The Ancient Romans used wild lettuce as an aid to sleep, and herbalists still use it today. Modern varieties of lettuce are all relatives of the wild plant, so a few lettuce leaves in a sandwich-the bread supplies tryptophan, too-makes a really good bedtime snack.
Honey has long been a favourite folk remedy for insomnia. Take it mixed with a little warm milk, a cup of chamomile tea or hot water with lemon.
Other herbal teas which help you sleep are lemon balm (Melissa), crushed fennel seeds-especially when sleeplessness is caused by indigestion or wind-lemon verbena or lime blossom.
Lavender is another wonderful sleep-inducer. You can use the flowers in cakes and biscuits, sprinkle the essential oil on your pillow or, half an hour before bedtime, put a few drops into a fragrancer in the bedroom.
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