Eat Well, Sleep Well – Tips on having a good night sleep this Winter

Finding it difficult to fall asleep? Waking up at the middle of the night several times? Or do you always wake up feeling un-refreshed and find it hard to concentrate the whole day? These are all symptoms of different types of insomnia which are linked to a disrupted circadian rhythm. (1). If left untreated, long term insomnia can cause anxiety, depression and other mood or psychological disorders (2).

Circadian rhythms and how they affect our sleep
A circadian rhythm is the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle in humans and can also be called the cortisol cycle. Disruption of our circadian rhythm, for example due to stress or trauma, affects the production of cortisol. Cortisol is our stress hormone which let us know when to get up and go. It should be high in the morning and get us going for the whole day. But when it is disrupted and has a low level in the morning, it can lead to insomnia, depression and other mood disorders and also affects blood glucose handling leading to hypoglycemia and even diabetes.

Balancing your circadian rhythm can balance both your mood and energy levels. So how do we do that through food?

3 Top Tips: food that allows you to have a good sleep
At Compass Psychology we have been learning about Nutrition and Mental Health from Dr Leslie Korn via an online course run by The Mind Body Training Institute. Here are some tips from Dr Korn on how food can improve your quality of sleep.

1. Eat some light snacks before you go to sleep
Eat 2 or 3 ounces (roughly 60-90 grams) of protein and carbohydrate together with a small amount of fat. For example, some crackers and cheese, leftover vegetables from dinner, a piece of meat or some almond butter. This can help stabilize your blood sugar level and prevent reactive hypoglycaemia, where your blood sugar level drops and triggers waking up in the middle of the night.

2. Replace your coffee with green tea
We tend to drink a lot of coffee when we are tired, trying to get our energy level up in the morning. However, this can make it difficult to get to sleep at night, disrupt our sleep cycle and lead to waking up late the next morning. Green tea is a gentler stimulant, and doesn’t keep us up too late at night. Drinking a cup of green tea at midday or in the early afternoon can help with dropping energy levels. It also has an anti-anxiety chemical (theanine) in it and can therefore reduce our anxiety. For later evening time, a cup of camomile tea, has a calming effect and helps you fall asleep.

3. Supplements
There are 3 important nutrients that can help with resetting our circadian rhythm: melatonin, lithium and methyl cobalamin. Melatonin is a nutrient that helps us to reset our circadian rhythm. It drops as we get older which explains why sleep becomes more difficult as we age. The mineral lithium can also help with stabilizing circadian rhythm. Methyl cobalamin (vitamin B12) can help with enhancing the light sensitivity of our brain and regulates stress hormones. These three supplements will help to reset the body clock and reduce the need for artificial stimulants or too many stimulants as well as stabilizing our mood. Although all these nutrients are very safe, there can be side effects from taking too much, so it is important that you consult a dietician or doctor for advice on doses.

We will be sharing more of Dr Korn’s excellent advice on the role of nutrition in mental health in future blog posts but in the meantime you can check out her website and book for more information:

Nutrition essentials for Mental Health: a complete guide to the food-mood connection. Korn, L.E (2006).

1. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 2008. “Insomnia [pdf]”. Retrieved from
2. Harvard Medical School, 2007. Sleep and disease risk.