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“What Foods Boost Energy and Improve Sleep?”

A sleep expert answers your questions.


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Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan; Photos by Getty Images

A 31-year-old gardener wonders what she should be eating in the day to improve her sleep at night.

A little about me:

Age: 31

Occupation: gardener

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 6 hours

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: 8-9 hours

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems: no

How much water you drink on average per day: 1 litre (not enough)

How much exercise I do on average per week: 1 cardio workout a week, plus the manual labour of my day-to-day job

Day 1

I went to bed late last night (around 11.30pm) and I get up late today as a result; my alarm goes off at 5am but I sleep through until 5.40am, and barely have time for a few mouthfuls of coffee before I’m out the door. Thankfully, I manage to stop at Costa on the way for a flat white and a pastry.

I get to work around 7am, have a cup of tea, and then get to work. I forgot to pack lunch, so I make do with some biscuits, then carry on until 4pm, drinking tea all the way.

I’m home by 5.30pm, snack and chill out watching TV for a bit, and then go for a run. I eat a little dinner of eggs on toast afterwards, and then I hop in the shower before bed at 10.30pm and fall asleep immediately.

Day 2

I wake up to my alarm at 5.30am, and go downstairs for coffee and toast. I make a peanut butter sandwich for work, grab a few snacks (including an apple and some chocolate biscuits), and head in.

It’s another busy day and I am on my feet for almost all of it, so when I get home at 5ish I just want to crash.

I have a shower, change into my PJs, and have dinner (veggie chilli with rice), before settling down to do some painting. I head up to bed around 10.30pm again and crash out as soon as my audiobook starts playing.

Day 3

It’s my last super early start, so I try and make sure I’m up with my alarm at 5.30am. I feel exhausted. Again, I grab some tea and toast, before heading out the door to work (with some biscuits and leftover dinner in a microwaveable dish, which I heat up for lunch).

It’s a blazing hot day and when I come home I feel sick because of it, so I try to drink lots of water and tea, and have a cold shower before dinner: it’s just some cheese and tomato pasta today.

Again, I do some painting until bed at 10.30pm, where I crash out as before.

Day 4

I wake up at 7am today, which counts as a lie-in (but I’m still so tired), and head downstairs to sit in the garden for a bit with my breakfast.

After I’ve eaten, I drink some tea, make another peanut butter sandwich (there’s no microwave at work today), and head out to work.

It’s another hot day, so I try to remember to drink water when I can. I get home around 5pm, have a cold shower, and eat a quick dinner of Quorn chicken nuggets, beans, and fries.

Then, I meet some friends for a catchup, and end up heading to bed later than normal – around 11.30pm? As always, I fall asleep as soon as the light is off and stay that way until morning.

Day 5

It should be my last working day, but I know I’ve got to go in tomorrow, so I don’t feel that usual Friday release when my alarm goes off at 7am. I get up, head to the bathroom to wash up, then go downstairs for a few pancakes with syrup. I wash it down with tea, make myself another tea for the road (and a flask of water), then head out for the day – it’s one of my longest of the week, as I don’t finish until after 6pm.

When I get home, I have a shower, then sit down to a takeaway (Friday treat!) and watch TV for a bit. I’m in bed by 11.30pm again, even though I’m tired, as I wanted to make the most of the evening. I fall asleep before the light is even off this time, and sleep through until my alarm at 7am. Ugh.

So, what does it all mean? A sleep expert offers her thoughts

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “Your work is manual so it keeps you active, which is great but you’re clearly very tired with your early starts and occasional late nights. You could get more bang for your buck with a few planned earlier nights – in bed by 9.30pm and lights out by 10pm, better nutrition and you really need to drink more water, which I know you know.

“You really need to invest more in your energy so you can enjoy life more and without the fog of fatigue. I really feel better nutrition is key, because an apple as a snack isn’t enough to sustain your level of energy output.

“I suggest a good multivitamin, as well as more nutritious and planned meals during the day. Because, to help us sleep well, we need a good balance of the hormones serotonin and melatonin in our system, and foods such as chicken, cheese, tofu, tuna, eggs, nuts, seeds and milk will help to boost these hormone levels.”

Dr Nerina continues: “Protein-rich eggs are also excellent when it comes to boosting energy, and fatty fish such as salmon and tuna are packed full of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12, both of which have been shown to reduce inflammation, a common cause of fatigue.

“The chickpeas in hummus are a good source of complex carbs and fibre, which your body can use for steady energy. Bananas, too, are an excellent source of complex carbs, potassium, and vitamin B6, all of which can help boost your energy levels. In fact, snacking during the day on things such as yoghurt, fruit, nuts, seeds and lean meats will help to keep blood sugar levels stable.

“Also, please remember that the body takes about six hours to metabolise caffeine, so drinking or eating foods with caffeine is not recommended within several hours of lights out: I’d suggest skipping all teas and coffees after 4pm.”

Dr Nerina finishes: “Finally, I love that you paint in the evening – I’m sure this is very calming and must be great for your sleep, along with spending so much time in nature. Just tweak the few things I mentioned, and you won’t be so wiped out.”

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This post originally appeared on Stylist and was published September 13, 2021. This article is republished here with permission.

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