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How to sleep: Limit ‘stimulants’ such as alcohol, chocolate and caffeine before bed

Dr Michael Mosley on the importance of routine for sleep

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The NHS says drinks that contain high amounts of caffeine include coffee, tea, colas and energy drinks. The Sleep Charity says: “Achieving a great night’s sleep can be affected by what you eat in the hours before bedtime. Certain foods are known to calm the brain and help promote sleep, so eating the right things in the evening is definitely part of the recipe for a good night’s kip.”

The organisation suggests people avoid eating a big meal and spicy food just before bedtime as it can lead to discomfort and indigestion.

It says: “Research also found that it brought about a change in body temperature which can confuse the brain, as core temperature naturally dips as bedtime approaches.

“Go easy on processed high carbs (bread, pasta and rice) that cause energy crashes and fatty foods as the stimulated acid production in the stomach can lead to heartburn and indigestion. Remember that excess eating leaves you sleepy.”

There are also some “stimulants” to avoid. It says: “Even if you know to avoid coffee and strong tea, you might be sabotaging your sleep with sneakier sources of caffeine, like chocolate.”

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The organisation says: “Dark chocolate, in particular, can pack a significant punch.”

It suggests if you like to nibble on a square or two for dessert, you’ll probably be fine but an entire chocolate bar “could have just as much caffeine as a fizzy drink”.

It states: “Limit stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine which reduce sleep quality and prevent you feeling rested.”

Indeed, the NHS says: “Caffeine and alcohol can stop you falling asleep and prevent deep sleep. Try to cut down on alcohol and avoid caffeine close to bedtime.”

It adds: “There is no correct amount of sleep that everyone must have. Sleep is a natural process that is not directly under our control.

“Our bodies take what they need. In the short-term our bodies will adjust the type and quality of sleep to make sure we stay healthy.”

The Sleep Foundation says nutritionists recommend eating a balanced and consistent diet that is made up mostly of vegetables and fruits.

An example of this type of diet, the Mediterranean Diet, has been associated with heart health as well as with better sleep.

Everyone needs different amounts of sleep. On average adults need seven to nine hours, while children need nine to 13 hours. Toddlers and babies need 12 to 17 hours of sleep, every day.

People with insomnia will regularly find it hard to go to sleep, and can wake up several times during the night and lie awake at night. Fortunately, some drinks can help people with their sleep.

If you have insomnia for less than three months, it is called short-term insomnia. Insomnia that lasts three months or longer is called long-term insomnia.

For most, sleep problems tend to sort themselves out within about a month, according to the NHS.

“Some people are naturally lighter sleepers or take longer to drop off, while some life circumstances might make it more likely for your sleep to be interrupted, like stressful events or having a new baby,” it states.

If poor sleep is affecting your daily life or causing you distress, you can talk to your GP.

The health body also says how we sleep and how much sleep we need is different for all of us and changes as we get older.

Electronic devices, including computers, televisions, smartphones, and tablets, all emit strong blue light. When you use these devices, that blue light floods your brain, tricking it into thinking it’s daytime. As a result, your brain suppresses melatonin production and works to stay awake.

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