Did you know that more than one in three French people are affected by sleep disorders? It is no longer surprising that France and Belgium are the leading countries in terms of consumption of sleeping pills. Our lives are punctuated by work, family life, in short, everyday problems, and this has an impact on our sleep, which is often neglected. However, psychological aspects are not the only factors that impact on our sleep. Our diet is often at the root of our insomnia and other somnipathies.
What are sleep disorders?
These are physiological, environmental or behavioural dysfunctions of the sleep cycle, which can be divided into 3 categories:
- Hyposomnias correspond to a lack of sleep caused either by too much activity of the waking system or by insufficient activity of the sleeping system. They should not be confused with insomnia, which is the total absence of sleep;
- Parasomnias are events that occur during sleep, often manifested by abnormal behaviour such as night terrors, sleepwalking or sleep apnea;
- Hypersomnias are excessive periods of sleep often leading to daytime sleepiness, not necessarily due to poor night-time sleep. Together with insomnia and circadian rhythm disorders, they are part of dyssomnia, which alters the quantity and quality of sleep.
The impact of diet
The key to good sleep is to lower our body temperature. Digesting food produces heat, which is called thermogenesis. When you know that it takes more than 24 hours to digest food, it's best to pay attention to what you eat: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, all these nutrients are essential to the survival of our metabolism, but they are not digested in the same way. Coffee, alcohol, certain spices, but also foods that are too fatty and too high in protein promote food thermogenesis and slow down digestion. As a result, the digestive system is too active during the night and disrupts our sleep, causing insomnia or polyphasic sleep.
In addition, chemical elements called neurotransmitters are responsible for our brain and body activity: they conduct communications between neurons. The more they work, the more our fatigue increases. You've probably heard of serotonin, adrenaline, dopamine or melatonin, and for good reason, it's these particular neurotransmitters that manipulate nerve impulses. It turns out that our diet has a significant impact on the balance of production of these neurotransmitters, by providing the necessary dose of nutrients at the right times: in the morning to be awake, during the day to stay attentive, and in the evening to be relaxed. If your diet during the day is poorly distributed and, above all, if it is too rich in the evening, your neurotransmitters will be too active at night and your fatigue will increase rather than decrease.
How to treat sleep disorders?
The ideal diet
In order not to disrupt sleep, it is therefore essential to reduce our stimuli gradually. Professor JR Rapin has highlighted the notion of "chrononutrition", which consists of "programming" our diet in terms of quantity and timing.
- Breakfast: proteins rich in tyrosine to start the day and provide the energy necessary to last until the next meal, carbohydrates (wholegrain cereals and fruit) and lipids;
- Lunch: 50% vegetables and 50% protein;
- Light snack: dried fruit and dark chocolate rich in magnesium;
- Dinner: slow carbohydrates (pasta, quinoa, potatoes, etc.) which facilitate the assimilation of tryptophan ingested by the brain during the day.
Of course, all fast sugars and saturated fats should be avoided as they block the proper functioning of the cells and will be stored instead of being converted into energy, as well as stimulants like coffee and alcohol. Protein-rich meals at the end of the day will also increase thermogenesis.
Promoting natural sleep
Good dietary practices are not always easy to adopt and are sometimes not enough to restore restful sleep in some people suffering from depression or emotional shock. To complement the diet, phytotherapy is a natural solution based on plants, acting on anxiety, moods and fatigue.
- Valerian and hops act as a sedative for chronic insomnia and alleviate the nervous states that cause sleep disorders;
- Linden and passion flower are anxiolytics;
- Lemon balm reduces nervousness;
- In case of stress, prebiotics would have calming effects on sleep, similar to those of meditation, according to a study from the University of Colorado. Prebiotics are non-digestible plant fibres found in oatmeal, chicory, raw garlic, onions, etc.
It is precisely these ingredients that make up the natural food supplement Somicare from Lepivits against insomnia.
Which food supplements are effective against somnipathy?
Although sometimes controversial, food supplements are effective in calming sleep. Before taking them, however, remember to seek advice from your doctor or a micronutrition specialist.
- Vitamin D is thought to increase both the quality and duration of sleep;
- Tyrosine supplementation may be considered for people with periodic leg movements during sleep (PLMS) or muscular impatience of awakening syndrome (MEWS);
Melatonin is not naturally present in our diet as it is made from serotonin. Although contained in minute quantities in walnuts, tomatoes or cherries, melatonin supplementation can be valuable.
- Magnesium is a factor in the production of serotonin. A magnesium deficiency is often caused by stress and is therefore one of the main factors in insomnia.
- Tryptophan promotes the synthesis of serotonin and thus of melatonin, the sleep hormone, which improves sleep.
A balanced diet and good digestion allow the transformation of nutrients and thus the proper functioning of the neurotransmitters that are responsible for the sleep-wake cycle. As they are not easily found in their natural state, dietary supplementation with magnesium and tryptophan is often necessary to provide restful sleep.