The Key To Better Sleep? Add In Your Carbs!

We’re hearing so much in the media lately about “low carb this” and “low carb that” and whilst it definitely has it’s place, especially if your diet is comprised predominantly of fast food – when it comes to better sleep, consuming carbohydrates before bed can actually have its benefits.

This is because studies have shown that when we combine carbohydrates with protein prior to having a snooze or nap, they assist the body in helping it get to sleep.

How so?

Well when we eat carbohydrates, it triggers the pancreas to secrete insulin (a hormone that helps to move sugar out of our blood and into the cells), which in turn, enables tryptophan, a sleep-inducing amino acid derived from protein – get to the brain faster.

This leads to an increase in the levels of serotonin and melatonin – key neurotransmitters and hormones that form an integral part of the biochemical sleep pathway.

In other words, by giving your body the right foods (and nutrients) at the right time, this helps your body do what it instinctively knows what to do – that being relax the brain and body in a way that is going to help it get to sleep, and stay asleep.

A win-win for anyone working 24/7!

The key is finding the right carbs – and not avoiding them all together because when it comes to carbohydrates, just like protein and healthy fats – they are macronutrients that the body needs in order to be healthy.

When we say the words “carbohydrates”, however, most of us immediately think of pizza, pasta and bread!

But carbohydrates come in many forms. Many of which are designed exclusively by Mother Nature – as opposed to undergoing an enormous amount of “human intervention” such as all those pre-packaged, processed and refined carbohydrates that many of us have grown to know and love but are highly stimulatory when it comes to our nervous systems.

And if it’s stimulatory on the nervous system – then it means you’re not going to sleep well!

Good old fruits and vegetables however, are also a form of carbohydrate, so if we’re removing these from our diet, then it’s highly likely that we’re missing out on key nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals that are going to improve our health and sleep.

So what does a good protein and carbohydrate pre-sleep meal or snack look like?

  • Chicken, cashew-nut and veggie stir fry with white rice
  • Bacon, capscium and zucchini potato bake
  • Oatmeal made from rolled or steel cut oats (instant oats will cause a blood sugar surge then crash, which can lead to sleep disturbances), topped with nut butter and sliced banana
  • Gluten-free bread topped with smashed avocado, topped with pumpkin seeds (which are high in tryptophan)

The list is endless!

At the end of the day, it’s always going to come back to listening to your own body, because we are all uniquely different.

But the key takeaway from this post, is please don’t be scared of carbohydrates.

Whilst eating them in excess (like with eating anything in excess) – is certainly going to cause havoc on your health, waistline and sleep – especially if they include things like baked goods, soda drinks, packaged cakes, lollies etc. When we combine good carbohydrates with protein, it can set off a beautiful cascade of sleep-inducing hormones that will help to send you off to that wonderful place we lovingly refer too as “sleep”!

Audra x

References:

Afaghi, A, O’Connor, H & Chow, C 2007, ‘High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 85, no. 2, pp. 426-430.Lindseth, G & Murray A 2016, ‘Dietary macronutrients and sleep’, Western Journal of Nursing Research, vol. 38, no. 8, pp. 938-958.

Halson, S 2014, ‘Sleep in elite athletes and nutritional interventions to enhance sleep’, Sports Medicine, vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 13-23.

Coffee and a Muffin – The Early Shift Breakfast of Champions!

Is this “breakfast” sounding familiar? Now as a former shift worker myself, I’m certainly not going to tell you to never buy that flat white, cappuccino or latte ever again – especially if you’ve been up way before the crack of dawn!

However, if you’re going to combine it with a muffin or two, then I’d definitely recommend bringing in your own home-made muffins into work cause those store bought muffins … well let’s just say their ingredients are often a little questionable, not to mention laden with refined and processed sugars, trans fats, vegetable oils along with a whole host of other inflammatory ingredients.

It’s why I decided to pop the apron on this afternoon, and bake a batch of these Pumpkin, Cinnamon and Cardamom muffins that the shift working hubster can take into work, and are bursting with blood-stabilising goodness.

In other words, they’re going to help you to “get more bang for your meal break buck” by helping you to feel fuller for longer, so that you’re less likely to fall under the ‘magnetic spell’ of the vending machine at work.

What’s great about them?

  • Pumpkins are loaded with nutrients including vitamins K, C and E, potassium, iron, B-vitamins to name a few!
  • They’re high in fiber which means a happier gut and digestive system – super important for shift workers who are often prone to digestive complaints thanks to ongoing circadian disruption.
  • They contain a good dose of beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A – a vitamin that plays a role in helping the body to fight off infections. A timely post given it’s officially the first day of winter here in Australia!
  • Cinnamon helps to stabilise blood sugar thereby reducing those blood sugar highs and lows that are synonymous with food cravings.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups raw pumpkin, grated
  • 1 cup dates, chopped
  • 2 cups organic flour (I use Emmer Wheat by Changing Habits)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 eggs, free range
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger

How to make them?

  1. Preheat fan-forced oven to 180 degrees. 
  2. Grate the pumpkin, and then gently combine with olive oil, eggs, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and dates in a food processor.
  3. Transfer into a bowl, and then add the flour and mix through. 
  4. Pour into silicone muffin trays, and bake for 25 minutes or until cooked through. Remove from the oven, and leave to cool on a cooling rack. 

Pop a couple in the work bag and take into work for your early shift, and refrigerate or freeze the rest to have later.

Whilst I’m not a huge fan of microwaves, muffins always taste nicer served warm with some butter (definitely not margarine!), or a dollop of vanilla or Greek yoghurt on the side :-).

Enjoy,
Audra x

Blood Sugar Stabilising Smoothie:

Liquid Nutrition for Early or Night Shifts!

When it comes to shift work nutrition, there are four things that we need to focus on when working nights or early shifts:

  1. Consuming foods that will help to sustain us through the shift, as our bodies struggle to remain alert as a result of both sleep disruption and deprivation.
  2. Foods that will help to stabilise our blood sugar levels so we don’t fall under the hypnotic spell of the vending machine which is often filled with sugar-laden, man-made “foods” that not only add to the waistlines, but increase inflammation in the body too.
  3. Consuming foods that are easy on the digestive tract given sleep disruption can make us prone to intestinal permeability, otherwise known as ‘leaky gut’.
  4. If on nights, consuming foods that aren’t going to interfere with our sleep when returning home from our shift.

This is why I like home-made smoothies, as they’re a great source or “liquid nutrition” as the body is able to absorb the nutrients much more effectively and efficiently, without making us feel even more tired as the body tries to break down and absorb hard-to-digest food particles.

In addition, when we include a good cross section of ingredients – as in a serving of protein, fat and complex carbohydrates it becomes an all-in-one “macronutrient balanced meal”.

This means it will help to keep us feeling fuller for longer, and help to stabilise our blood glucose levels so we’re less likely to fall “victim” to the not-so-healthy processed-food-laden vending machines.

Here’s one to get you inspired!

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon protein powder (I use Pea or Inca Inchi)
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (or milk of your choice)
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 cup of ice cubes
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon or ½ teaspoon nutmeg

How to make it!

Throw all of the ingredients into a blender and enjoy immediately, or transfer into a small thermos and store in the fridge at work to enjoy mid-shift!

 

References:

Ali, T, Choe, J, Awab, A, Wagener, T & Orr, W 2013, ‘Sleep, immunity and inflammation in gastrointestinal disorders’, World Journal of Gastroenterology, vol. 19. no. 48, pp. pp. 9231-9239.

Crispim, C, Zimberg, I, Gomes dos Reis, B, Diniz, R, Tufik, S & Tulio de Mello, M 2011, ‘Relationship between food intake and sleep pattern in healthy individuals’, Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, vol. 7, no. 6, pp. 659-664.

Wehrens, S, Hampton, S, Kerkhofs, M & Skene, D 2012, ‘Mood, alertness, and performance in response to sleep deprivation and recovery sleep in experienced shiftworkers versus non-shiftworkers’, Chronobiology International, vol. 29, no. 5, pp. 537-548.

Sleepy Cinnamon and Walnut Latte:

A Beverage for Sleep Deprived Shift Workers

As shift workers, falling asleep and staying asleep can be one of our biggest challenges when working 24/7.  In fact ironically, we can find ourselves in a state where we’re actually too exhausted to sleep – a cruel scenario given all we want to do is catch up on some much needed zeds!

But this “too exhausted to sleep” scenario can happen for a number of reasons (and not just as a result of working shift work), when our bodies become “stuck” in a state of constant overstimulation.  This is essentially when the nervous system becomes so “wired”, that it prevents the body from being able to relax and unwind.

This may occur as a result of a dysregulation in the stress hormone cortisol, a thyroid disorder such as Hashimoto’s, or even due to intestinal parasites being found in the digestive tract – to name a few!

Yewwww!  I know right!

Anyway, whilst it may be necessary to undertake further diagnostic testing to eliminate (or at the very least identify if any of the above scenarios are contributory factors to your insomnia), in the interim this Cinnamon and Walnut Latte may help to improve your sleep.

Now I know what you’re thinking – we can’t drink coffee before bed!

Yes, I agree entirely with you.

Except this “latte” is totally caffeine free.  In fact it’s even dairy free, which is a good thing because consuming dairy can actually trigger an inflammatory response in some people, which in itself sets off a whole cascade of stress hormones that is going to impact on your sleep.

But I’ll save that for another post.  In the meantime, let’s talk all about the Cinnamon and Walnut Latte.

What’s great about it?

  • It contains walnuts which contain melatonin, a sleep regulating hormone that is necessary for sleep to occur.  Research has shown consuming walnuts actually increases blood melatonin concentrations levels.
  • Melatonin in itself, is a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect the body against oxidative stress, which occurs as a result of toxic molecules called free radicals.
  • Walnuts are a rich source of omega 3 EFA’s (essential fatty acids) which help to improve cognitive function as the brain, which is made up of 60% fat, requires omega 3 fats to function properly.
  • They also contain a variety of other bioactive compounds, such as vitamin E and polyphenols which are phytochemicals found in plant foods that help to protect the body against oxidative stress.

Ingredients (makes 20)

  • 1 cup of walnuts (soaked for 2 hours)
  • 4 cups of filtered water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey, to serve
  • Sprinkle of cinnamon, to serve

How to make them!

Combine the walnuts, water and vanilla paste in a high-speed blender.  Blend for at least 30 seconds.  The longer the better as this will help to create a creamy, white texture.

Pour one cup of walnut “milk” into a saucepan, and heat up gently on the stove top.

Once heated through, pour into a mug and serve with 1 teaspoon of raw honey and cinnamon for a bit of added sweetness.  Both the honey and cinnamon help to balance blood sugar levels, which is vital in preventing intermittent awakenings or that broken sleep which can also be the bane of our existence when we’re trying to optimise our sleep!

Audra x

P.S:  For an even smoother, creamier texture, strain the milk through a fine sieve or nut milk bag to remove the walnut sediment.

Please note:  this beverage is not a sleep elixir, but rather a beverage that, combined with optimal sleep hygiene practices may aid in the process of sleep.

 

References:

Bozkurt, N, Karbek, B, Cakal, E, Firat, H, Ozbek, M & Delibasi T 2012, ‘The association between severity of obstructive sleep apnea and prevalence of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis’, Endocrinology Journal, vol. 59, no. 11, pp. 981-988.

Bush B & Hudson, T 2010, ‘The role of cortisol in sleep’, Natural Medicine Journal, vol. 2, no. 6.

Ibarra-Coronado, E, Pantaleon-Martinez, A, Velazquez-Moctezuma, J, Prospero-Garcia, O, Mendez-Diaz, M, Perez-Tapia, M, Pavon, L & Morales-Montor, J 2015, ‘The bidirectional relationship between sleep and immunity against infections’, Journal of Immunology Research, vol. 2015.

Reiter, R, Manchester, L & Tan D 2005, ‘Melatonin in walnuts:  influence on levels of melatonin and total antioxidant capacity of blood, Nutrition, vol. 21, no. 9, pp. 920-924.

Sanchez-Gonzalez, C, Ciudad C, Noe, V & Izquierdo-Pulido M 2017, ‘Health benefits of walnut polyphenols:  An exploration beyond their lipid profile’, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, vol. 57, no. 16, pp. 3373-3383.

Simple French Onion Soup:

A great nourishing snack for night shift.

What’s great about it?

  • Onions are a great source of chromium, which is a trace mineral that helps to stabilise blood sugar by assisting the body to use insulin more effectively.
  • Studies have shown chromium can help to reduce insulin resistance, a condition common in those who experience ongoing sleep deprivation.
  • Soups are a great form of “liquid nutrition” to have during the night as they provide little burden on the digestive tract, thereby reducing the incidence of ‘night shift nausea’ and gut discomfort.
  • Soups are also a great warming and nourishing snack to have whilst on night shift, particularly around  2-4am when experiencing sudden drops in body temperature.

Ingredients

  • 8 brown onions
  • 30g butter
  • 1 table spoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons spelt flour
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 8 cups beef stock
  • 2 cups filtered water

How to make it!

Place the onions, butter, oil and thyme in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Cover and cook for 35-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden.

Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes.

Add the mustard, stock and water and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.  Ladle the soup into bowls, and place the remainder into small containers that can be frozen, and taken into work at a later date.  Batch cooking at it’s best!

Note:  Spelt is a variety of wheat so does contain gluten, however is an ancient whole grain that contains  fewer of the hard-to-digest carbohydrates called fructans.

 

References:

Heshmati, J, Omani-Samani, R, Vesali, S, Maroufizadeh, S, Rezaeinejad, M, Razavi, M & Sepidarkish, M 2018, ‘The effects of supplementation with chromium on insulin resistance indices in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome:  A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials’, Hormone and Metabolic Research, vol. 50, no. 3, pp. 193-200.

Jafarpour-Sadegh, F, Montazeri, V, Adili, A, Esfehani, A, Rashidi, M & Pirouzpanah, S 2017, ‘Consumption of fresh yellow onion ameliorates hyperglycemia and insulin resistance in breast cancer patients during doxorubicin-based chemotherapy:  A randomized controlled clinical trial’, Integrative Cancer Therapies, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 276-289.