Eat to better sleep

Nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh is a regular at Ride Republic and co-founder of Equi, a comprehensive range of nutritional supplements targeting busy modern urbanites in need of an extra nutrient boost.

Alice is also the author an upcoming book about supporting the mind with food (with recipes for sleep, mood, concentration, energy), due to be released in January 2017.

Here she tells us how to support our sleep patterns and how to improve quality of sleep.


Waking up from a nine-hour sleep rocks. You see the world through different eyes; troubles melt away, productivity soars and skin lightens. It is when we sleep that our body has time to get all the admin done that we don’t get time to do during the day – it’s an essential restorative measure that helps to counteract the negative effects of the busy and stressful modern lifestyle that most of us lead. Not surprising then that when we don’t sleep well we feel lousy. Stress, anxiety, nutrient deficiencies, and unhealthy psychological habits can all impact sleep patterns, and as well as taking steps to improve your ‘sleep hygiene’ (putting your phone/tablet away after 9pm, meditating and sleeping in a dark room etc.) nutrition can do much to encourage healthy sleep.

Thankfully, help is at hand for those struggling to get 40 winks and it’s no surprise that nutrition can do much to help you get to sleep, stay asleep and wake up feeling refreshed. If you have an issue, try these four suggestions.

  1. Take Some Magnesium

This nutrient does so much in the body and unfortunately we get through it at a rate of knots when we’re really busy. Working out also burns up magnesium, so it is pretty common to be deficient, especially if you don’t eat plenty of green leafy veggies, wholegrains, beans, pulses and seeds.

Magnesium is great for relaxing muscles and tension, which can really help you switch off and chill the hell out. Ideal after a stressful day at work or if you are just a bit wound up.

Magnesium is a big and bulky nutrient, so most multivitamins fall far short of what you need. We recommend taking a Epsom salt bath, using a magnesium spray or finding a supplement that contains 200-300mg magnesium glycinate. You can take more, but do so under the supervision of an expert.

  1. Manage Cortisol

Cortisol is a big hitter in the body – it has enormous impacts on the way we function. It’s the hormone responsible for waking us up, keeping us alert, warm and compos-mentis; but it is also the driving force behind our all important ‘fight or flight’ response. Get stressed, and by that I don’t just mean emotionally, but physiologically (tired, hungover, injured, low blood sugar etc) and your cortisol is normally being secreted in increased amounts to help get you through. As important as this is, we don’t want too much cortisol floating around before bed as it keeps us awake.

This is a common problem I see with people who are living and working in stressful environments; even if they don’t feel stressed per-se, cortisol can often be raised for other reasons, meaning they either cant drop off to sleep, or wake up at odd times.

To stop cortisol from rising too much later in the day:

  • Learn how to deal with stress. I fully realise that is easier said than done
  • Make sure you keep blood sugar balanced by eating often, with low GI carbs and protein rich meals and snacks. Avoid carb abundant dinners like pasta, risotto, pizza etc.
  • Stimulants like caffeine, sugar, sweeteners stimulate your adrenal glands to secrete cortisol and adrenaline so ensure you limit as much as possible and cut out after 4pm.
  • Try herbs such as adaptogenic ashwaghanda, cordyceps and ginseng that have a balancing and restorative effects on the adrenals
  1. Love Herbs

Don’t underestimate herbs – it’s not just a load of hocus-pocus. Extract from plants can help with sleep in a number of ways – quietening a busy mind, relieving anxiety, bringing down cortisol, inducing sleep and preventing wake ups. Try these in tea form, blends are best and I love Tea Two formulations.

Valerian – really good for a racing, worried mind. Valerian is a good sedative, but you won’t have any of the groggy side effects of a regular sleeping pill. Can be drunk as a tea or used as a tincture.

Passionflower – Passionflower is wonderful for those who tend to wake frequently throughout the night. It also helps with anxiety during the day. Best taken as a tea

Chamomile – Calming for body and mind and induces soporific sensations.

Lavender – Amazingly, lavender has been shown to stimulate relaxation in the brain via the olfactory systems (our smell). Add drops to a bath, mist over pillows etc and try This Works pillow spray which seems to have some mystical sleep inducing properties!

4. Have Acupuncture

Sometimes, you can do all of this and still struggle. Stress, anxiety and an overly active mind can banish sleep and aside from seeing a shrink, it can feel like you are powerless.

My advice in this case is to try acupuncture. The triggering of certain acupressure points with very fine needles has been scientifically proven to help reduce cortisol and increase exogenous melatonin, helping to promote sleepy thoughts, ease tension and calm a restless mind.

Prepare to be positive dreamy by the end of the session so go after work and nest afterwards!


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