About 45 per cent of UAE residents have sleep disorder with obstructive sleep apnea being the most common and insomnia coming second, according to an expert in the UAE, Dr Mazen Zouwayhed, a pulmonary critical care consultant at American Hospital Dubai.
Financial worries, digital devices and Covid panic are obvious reasons, but gut health also plays an important role in sleep. And according to a new book, improving your gut microbiome can improve your sleep by reducing stress and regulating your circadian rhythm (an internal process that regulates your sleep-wake cycle).
Eve Kalinik, a nutritional therapist and author of Happy Gut, Happy Mind, says: “Many of my clients don’t sleep very well but many don’t even realise it until we dive deeper in the consultation process. I often find they’re not getting to sleep until 2am, or waking in the night, which can affect everything from their mood and focus to skin.”
Kalinik says there are two main sleep complaints she comes across in her practice: “Those who fall asleep easily but wake in the night, perhaps due to what they ate or drank that day, and those who cannot get to sleep in the first place because they are ruminating, often due to a digital device. Something as simple as reading a worrying email just before bed can disrupt a whole night’s sleep and, consequently, your ability to focus the following day.”
She explains that stress releases cortisol, your waking hormone, and it typically spikes between 2am and 4am, which can mean those who are under pressure during the day can be wide awake during those hours. This leads to a cascade of poor food choices, from too much caffeine to sugary foods, which are two known sleep saboteurs.
Kalinik advocates a stress-relieving practice before you even tackle your diet, as the burden of chronic stress has a profound effect on your adrenal glands. “When your adrenal glands are working overtime, health problems from poor sleep to long-term gut issues can begin.” While you cannot always control the stress you’re exposed to, Kalinik says you can control your response to it.
“Take the hour before bed to remove stress – and that includes anxiety around getting to sleep. That might mean writing down any concerns and ‘brain dumping’ from the day, so this stress isn’t swirling around your mind. Take a warm bath, read a book or do some meditation or deep breathing exercises.’
In the current working-from-home climate, our continuous use of devices is another cause of underlying stress that affects sleep. “Blue-light exposure in the evening is particularly disruptive. Frankly, the bedroom should only be used for two things and neither of them is internet shopping or checking social media.”
Kalinik advises against using our mobiles as alarm clocks and instead suggests getting an old-fashioned clock, switching off your phone and putting it in another room when you go to bed.
Now you’ve set yourself a relaxing bedtime routine, follow Kalinik’s four easy ways to eat your way to better sleep...
1. Avoid caffeine after 12pm
Restrict your intake of caffeine (from tea, coffee and energy drinks) to no later than midday, and stick to no more than two to three cups per day on average. If you are particularly sensitive to caffeine then reduce further. “Caffeine can stay in your system for 10-12 hours so that 3pm latte could be why you’re lying awake at 1am.”
2. Eat foods that produce GABA
Natural sources of GABA (a ‘calming’ neurotransmitter) can help to promote better sleep, such as green, black and oolong tea, milk kefir, ‘live’ yogurt and tempeh. Foods that can boost our own production include lentils, walnuts, oats, almonds, fish, berries, spinach, broccoli, potatoes and cocoa. And ensure that your meals include a diversity of fibre and fermented foods to support the health of your gut microbiota.
3. Avoid quick energy fixes
Another common sleep saboteur is consuming lots of high-energy food and drinks, such as sugary snacks, junk food and soft drinks. It’s easy to get into a negative feedback loop with these kinds of food and the associated cravings. When we feel tired it makes sense to seek an immediate ‘fix’. However, these foods and drinks can mask fatigue, so we get less rest and end up more sleep deprived. We then compensate by eating more of these foods to get energy, further disrupting sleep.
4. Eat three meals a day
Avoid skipping meals as that may have you reaching for a sugary snack. Include plenty of complex carbohydrates in these meals, such as whole grains, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, spelt, wild rice or sourdough, along with some kind of protein to keep you better satiated. If you need a snack in the afternoon, plan it so you don’t go for whatever is hanging around the kitchen. Try half an avocado sprinkled with seeds or an oatcake with some cheese.
The Daily Telegraph