Sleep Health | Sleep Review
Nenad Naumovski, Canberra University; Amanda Bulman, University of Canberra; Nathan M D’Cunha, Canberra University, and Wolfgang Marx, Deakin University
Sleep is important to good health. Poor sleep quality or too little sleep can have negative effects on our mood, cognitive function and the immune system.
Stress can affect our sleep, and stress and anxiety related to the COVID pandemic have resulted in many of us not sleeping as well as we used to. A survey of 2,555 people in 63 countries found that 47% of people had worse than usual sleep during the pandemic, compared with 25% before the COVID hit.
We also know that stress is linked to bad eating habits. People who feel stressed and tired may be more likely to reach for energy drinks and caffeinated drinks. But a high intake of caffeine, sugary and energy drinks can keep us awake. So it’s something of a vicious circle.
Similarly, people who feel stressed out are more likely to drink alcohol. Alcohol before bed, especially in excess, can also disrupt our sleep.
So what can you drink to improve your sleep?
Chamomile tea has been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat a number of sleep disorders, including insomnia.
The plant extract contains apigenin, a chemical compound that binds to the same receptors in the brain as benzodiazepines (medicines used to treat anxiety and insomnia) and has a calming effect.
Studies have shown that chamomile (consumed in the form of an extract or a tea) leads to a significant improvement in the quality of sleep.
While the evidence is positive, these studies were relatively small and we need larger, well-designed clinical studies to support these observations.
A warm cup of cow’s milk is a popular drink before bed in Western cultures, especially for children.
Milk is a source of the essential amino acid tryptophan, which our bodies need to make compounds like serotonin and melatonin in the brain. These connections are involved in the sleep-wake cycle, which could explain why milk helps us sleep better – if so, it does.
Scientists have studied the effects of milk and dairy products (like yogurt and cheese) on sleep quality for decades, but the evidence is still inconclusive.
It may simply be the ritual of drinking warm milk before bed, relaxing the brain and body, rather than the action of compounds present in the milk itself. We need more research before we can be certain one way or another.
Read more: Got a headache? Here are five things to eat or avoid
Hot cocoa (usually dissolved in milk) is also seen as a sleep-inducing drink. The cocoa bean is a rich source of many beneficial chemicals, including compounds called flavonoids.
Flavonoids have a number of potential health benefits and can be used to treat some neurodegenerative diseases.
There is limited research into the effects of cocoa on sleep quality. However, a study in mice found that natural cocoa can improve stress-related insomnia.
In humans, cocoa consumption is associated with lowering blood pressure (in healthy people and in people with high blood pressure). This lowering of blood pressure, which relaxes the smooth muscles of our arteries, could have a calming effect and make it easier to fall asleep.
While these sleep aids are unlikely to be harmful, the general evidence for improving the quality of sleep is weak. You might want to try them out, but you shouldn’t consider any of them a quick fix.
Ultimately, various lifestyle factors can affect our quality of sleep, including screen time, physical activity, stress, and diet.
If you have constant trouble sleeping, it is best to consult your family doctor.
Read more: Why our brains need sleep and what happens when we don’t get enough of it
Nenad Naumovski, Associate Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Canberra University; Amanda Bulman, PhD student, Canberra University; Nathan M D’Cunha, PhD student at the University of Canberra, and Wolfgang Marx, Postdoctoral fellow at Deakin University
This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.