World Sleep Day (19 March) is a good moment to take stock of hibernation habits – and if you’re struggling to fall asleep, waking at the wrong time, or finding yourself exhausted all day, a few simple dietary tweaks might help.
“Including protein in your evening meal helps, by ensuring plentiful tryptophan - the amino acid that's needed to make relaxation chemicals serotonin and melatonin,” says nutritionist Daisy Connor.
“A satiating evening meal combining protein with complex carbs and plenty of green leafy veg would be ideal.”
If you need an evening snack, “include some nuts rather than fruit alone. Or combine chicken, cheese or beans with pasta and veg.”
Harley Street consultant nutritionist David Starr adds, “foods to avoid include alcohol, which has well documented negative effects on REM sleep, and anything spicy, which may cause heartburn or an increase in body temperature - either of which will affect sleep.”
Less commonly known, he says, is the effect of tyramine, “present in red wine, aged cheese and tomatoes. Tyramine causes the release of a stimulant in the brain that reduces the likelihood of restful sleep.”
With that in mind, here’s three delicious dishes to help you get a good night’s rest…
Salmon, potato and asparagus parcels
“Oily fish contains relatively high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D which may enhance sleep quality, as both increase levels of serotonin,” says David Starr.
2 peeled medium potatoes, very thinly sliced
2 tbsps olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
2 salmon fillets
2 sprigs fresh dill
2-3 parsley stalks
4-6 asparagus stalks
1. Preheat the oven to 190°C (170° fan).
2. Toss the potatoes in 1 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper.
3. Take two squares of baking paper (about 30 x 30cm) and divide the potatoes between them, placing in the centre.
4. Lay the salmon on top, with a halved slice of lemon topping each. Add dill and parsley, drizzle with the rest of the oil and season.
5. Split the asparagus stalks lengthways (if baby asparagus, leave whole). Add to the parcel.
6. Fold into rectangular packets, tucking the paper under so it doesn’t unravel in the oven. Place on a baking tray.
7. Cook for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are soft and the fish cooked through – check with a skewer. Serve in the unwrapped parcels, with extra lemon to squeeze over.
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Nut and orange pesto pasta
“Nuts, particularly almonds and walnuts are known to promote sleep” says David Starr. “Both contain melatonin, as well as magnesium which can reduce the inflammatory hormone cortisol, known to negatively affect sleep.”
For the pesto
Zest and juice of 1 orange
100g mixed nuts (eg. almonds, walnuts, brazils)
40g pine nuts, toasted
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2-3 tbsps olive oil
10g parsley leaves
salt and black pepper
1. Add all the pesto ingredients (aside from the zest and oil) to a food processor and pulse to blend. Trickle in the olive oil until you have a smooth, stir-able consistency. Season to taste and transfer to a jar.
2. Cook the pasta according to instructions. Drain, and stir through 2 tbsps pesto per bowl. Garnish with orange zest and parsley leaves, and a final twist of black pepper.
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“Tart cherries and their juice have recently become popular in sports as they reduce inflammation and contain plenty of antioxidants,” says David Starr. “They’re high in melatonin too, so the potential benefits for restful sleep are impressive.”
200g cherries, fresh or frozen
50ml whole milk
100g granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla paste
65g plain flour
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160° fan). Lightly grease an ovenproof dish.
2. De-stone fresh cherries. (The French insist you keep the pits in, but they also add kirsch, so we’re good with our version.)
3. Put the milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla paste and flour in a blender, and whizz till smooth.
4. Pour two tbsps of batter into the base of the dish. Set over a low heat until it starts to set slightly. Remove, and scatter cherries. Pour over more batter, add cherries, repeat.
5. Bake for 50 minutes - 1 hour. Don’t overbake, it should be slightly creamy in the centre and golden on top.
6. Dust with icing sugar, and serve warm, with cream.
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