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Eat yourself to sleep - or not, actually.

Thu, 2 November, 2017

Sleep is the new clean eating. The new avocado and coconut oil. Apparently we have not been getting enough sleep, and it’s not Napoleon or Thatcher who were right but the peers nodding off in the House of Lords. Stuff waterboarding – sleep deprivation is the worst torture.

Sleep, and you lose weight. Sleep more and the risk of heart condition diminishes. Sleep eight hours a night and you’ll be cleverer and more attractive (that's Sleeping Beauty's secret revealed). Alzheimer’s linked to poor sleep habits. Depression, anxiety, diabetes, cancer, heart attack and stroke – all because we are not getting enough sleep. That’s what the neuroscientist and author Matthew Walker argues in his newly published book Why We Sleep.

I’m completely all right with that – I have recently suffered a long insomniac episode and can testify what lack of sleep does to you. No energy, dramatically lowered quality of life, vicious circle of dreading and craving bedtime – and munchies. Gaining weight made me feel miserable on top of being tired and drowsy.

Not getting enough sleep is fattening. The undeniable fact is that we don’t eat while we sleep. I don’t think Mr Walker meant just that talking about obesity, but truly sitting up late or tossing and turning so very often ends with a rummage in the fridge. Seriously though – I’ve experienced the excessive eating bouts resulting from chronic fatigue. It is simple – most binge eating has the root in low self-esteem, depression and other sources of unhappiness, to put it very crudely.

Do I have a recipe for sleep? What to eat and when to eat it to have a good night’s and wake up, rested, fresh, beautiful and bushy tailed? Of course I do not have a recipe – I’d be sailing my own Lazzara if I had the magic formula but I can list some pointers that worked for me.

Cheese doesn’t give you bad dreams, that’s bull****, but try and have your cheese fix before the evening. It simply weighs quite heavy on the stomach and might make you toss and wallop.

Sweets, likewise – it’s easy to understand that one. You don’t want a sugar rush just before bed; let alone that brushing your teeth freshly coated with sugar and chocolate isn’t going to do them any favours.

Fruit is good. In fact it is best digested and most beneficial if eaten first or last thing in the day. Of course stuff the juicing nonsense – you want to consume the valuable fibre from the fruit, not just sugar-laden flavoured water.

A little wine goes a long way towards good sleep; a lot will do the opposite. You’ll fall asleep with no problems but the sleep won’t be restorative enough as alcohol disrupts your REM phases, your heart rate doesn’t slow down sufficiently, you are more twitchy in your sleep – all bad news.

I obviously don’t propose a panacea here because there isn't one, but I can share my own experience: going to bed hungry works a treat for me. Not literally starving but with a reasonably light tummy; having had your last food intake about four hours before bedtime, give or take a piece of fruit. I know, a lot of people say they couldn’t fall asleep if hungry, as if they were the misbehaving Victorian children sent to bed without supper for punishment. Fair enough - although I think a lot of it is in the mind. If you try drinking enough water during those hours between dinner and sleep – late dining out occasions excluded - I imagine it might help satiate the hunger. And just think: it will be a weight loss assistance at the same time.

 

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