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Tag: tryptophan

Do you get enough sleep?

do you sleep enough

How many hours do you sleep a night?  Ideally, according to the World Health Organisation, we should be sleeping at least 8 hours a night, uninterrupted. Anything less counts as sleep deprivation. And guess what: on average, most of us get 7 or fewer hours of sleep a night.

 

According to Matthew Walker, the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, we are suffering from a sleep deprivation epidemic in the Western world. We work longer hours, have less down time, are more stressed and spend our evenings staring at screens emitting blue light. All of this effects our sleep length and quality.

 

And to be clear: sleep deprivation is not heroic, despite the machismo around getting by on as little sleep as possible.

 

Sleep deprivation reduces the body’s ability to repair and heal itself, as most of these processes happen at night. It also increases the risk of insulin resistance, susceptibility to weight gain, cardiovascular disease and developing Alzheimer’s, amongst many other morbidities.

 

So what can you do to get more and better quality sleep?

 

1. Go to bed around the same time every night and wake up around the same time, even on the weekends. Deep sleep is essential for our physical and mental health, especially between 12am – 4am, so get to bed before midnight!

 

2. Create a digital sunset: turn off your devices at least 1 – 2 hours before bedtime. If you have to use your devices, use night shift mode to reduce the blue light, which affects melatonin production (this is the hormone that helps you get to sleep!).

 

3. Get your bedtime routine down pat: Unwind with a book (a physical one) or a bit of journaling, have a hot bath with a few scoops of magnesium salts (magnesium is a great relaxer), get some cosy, clean pyjamas and make sure your room is cool and pitch black, as even the smallest amount of light affects your circadian rhythms.

 

4. Try a lavender spray on your pillow. It’s not woo: lavender contains compounds that have a sedative effect.

 

5.  If you have kids that still wake up in the night (still in that boat!), go to bed a bit earlier so you’re getting an extra hour or two of sleep. It’s hard to sacrifice that time you get to unwind with your partner in the evening, but the health benefits are worth it!

 

6.  Stop drinking coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages after midday, as these stimulants can affect your circadian rhythms. I love a cup of Pukka Night Time tea just before bed.

 

7.  Eat tryptophan foods. Tryptophan converts to serotonin and melatonin, to help you feel good and sleep well. Try adding some of these foods to your meals and see how you feel: almonds, organic chicken & turkey, wild salmon, avocado, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds.

 

What are your top tips for getting a good night’s kip? Here’s what happened when I tried going to bed early and prioritising a good night’s sleep.

 

Get in touch for to book a free 20 minute health & energy review to find out more about how you can improve your sleep and reduce your stress.

 

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What I’m Reading: Anxiety For Beginners

anxiety for beginnersIn my usual pre-flight mad dash through the airport, I did a sweep of WH Smith for my standard holiday pile of magazines (I find reading fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar so relaxing on holiday! I don’t really know why, though? 🤔) and decided to pick up a couple of books as well.

I spotted this book, Anxiety for Beginners, mainly due to its Roy Lichtenstein cover image riff and although not light reading, thought it might be interesting to dive into this topic a bit more while I had some more headspace before my exam.

The author, Eleanor Morgan, has suffered from anxiety and depression since her late teens, culminating in several breakdowns and rounds of antidepressants. She decided to write the book as a way of educating herself and others about one of the fastest growing illnesses in the UK.

As a fellow anxiety sufferer, I read this book with a lot of interest, hoping to get more insight into how other people were handling the day to day management of the signs and symptoms of the disease. What really struck me was how common anxiety is, how many different ways it manifests itself and how it really cuts through all walks of life.

The author told a fascinating story about re-connecting with the most popular girls in her school years later during the writing of this book. She discovered that what she had thought was her old friend’s ‘cool girl aloofness’ was really her way of trying to manage her anxiety in the best way possible for her – holding everyone at a distance. It made me realise how quick we are to judge others, without really knowing what’s going on in their lives. Personally, I know that I can appear withdrawn and a bit cold at times, especially when my anxiety is at its peak and social interaction with new people can all be a bit too much.  A bit more compassion is needed all around, going back to the old adage: don’t judge a book by its cover.

Overall, I thought this book was a good overview into anxiety, with a lot of the author’s personal experiences interspersed throughout. What I found disappointing was how little she discussed the effects of the various food and drink we put into our bodies  and how they can exacerbate and ameliorate anxiety symptoms. The author took a very medicalised viewpoint, emphasising the benefits of anti-depressants. Obviously, given my nutrition background, I would’ve like to see more discussion about tryptophan food and the effect they have on producing serotonin, as well as the role of gut bacteria in supporting serotonin production.

The root causes of anxiety and depression can be complex and vary per person, but it stands to reason that if you treat your body like a garbage dump, filling yourself with foods that aren’t nutritionally dense and cause blood sugar spikes, your anxiety can be worsened.

I’ve written a bit about the foods I eat to help manage my anxiety here.

Eating to improve anxiety


Anxiety seems to be a growing problem these days, especially amongst young people. Various pressures – societal, economic, physical, technological, emotional, political – mean that people are being pulled in many directions, increasing their day to day anxiety and decreasing their ability to cope.

 

When you add in increased alcohol intake too, it’s wonder that anxiety is one of the fastest growing self-help categories.

 

The good news, is that there are foods you can eat that can help ease anxiety.

 

First a bit of science: serotonin (the happy hormone) is synthesised from an essential amino acid called tryptophan, which cannot be synthesised in the body. Eating foods abundant in tryptophan throughout the day can naturally help increase / balance serotonin levels and can have a positive effect on your mood and anxiety levels.

 

So what foods are high in tryptophan? With all of these foods, go organic and free-range wherever possible.

 

Almonds: A personal favourite, you can get the benefits through whole almonds, ground almonds, almond butter or almond milk. Buy organic and local wherever possible, as almonds are notoriously resource heavy during farming. Also, when you’re using almond milk, read the ingredients to make sure you’re not buying one with loads of fillers like carrageenan, oils and sugars. I like Plenish or Rude Health Ultimate Almond.

 

Poultry: Poultry is generally high in tryptophan, however the winner in this category is turkey, which has the highest amount. This explains that happy feeling after feasting on turkey during Christmas dinner, right?

 

Avocado: This wonder fruit is also high in B vitamins, which help convert tryptophan to serotonin.

 

Salmon: The ideal choice is wild Alaskan salmon (which is also high in vitamin D!) to avoid the antibiotics and growth hormones in farmed fish. It’s very important not to go overboard with fish (my recommendation is 2 x weekly, maximum) as its goodness must be balanced with the realities of what fish are absorbing from our very polluted water.

 

Organic, free-range dairy products: They are also a good source of healthy fats and B vitamins.

 

Pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds: These seeds are also high in B vitamins and zinc.

 

Green tea and matcha: A new favourite of mine, they are both high in l-theanine, a calming amino acid that helps reduce stress.

 

To get more bang for your buck, eat these foods with a carbohydrate food (i.e. fruit and veg, gluten free grains like oatmeal, buckwheat or quinoa), as they will improve absorption of tryptophan.

 

Other ways to manage anxiety

Vitamin D: Make sure to get enough vitamin D, either from the sun or a supplement during the winter. If you’re not sure what your vitamin D levels are, you can get tested for £25 from http://www.vitamindtest.org.uk

 

Deep breathing: Taking a long deep breath, in for three breaths through your nose and out for three breaths through your mouth is a brilliant way to shift your nervous system out of sympathetic (fight or flight) mode, back to the calming parasympathetic rest and digest mode.

 

Get in touch for to book a free, no commitment 20 minute health coaching call to find out more about how you can improve your health & wellbeing and reduce your anxiety & stress.

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