Snooze news: Food scientist offers a 10-part recipe for better sleep
A high-profile food scientist appears to have developed a potent form of antioxidants that previous research has explored as a cure for insomnia. Photo: Getty
Dr Vincent Candrawinata – brilliant problem solver, rising media player here and abroad – is a molecular nutritionist with a TED talk that prompted many comments about how handsome he is.
His technique for extracting high potency phenolic antioxidants from apples using no chemicals – the basis of his PhD earned at the age of 25 – may or may not solve the problems associated with antioxidant supplements.
A clinical trial is in the works to fully establish whether his commercial marketing of “the world’s most potent dietary antioxidant” – developed in concert with the University of Newcastle and the NSW Department of Primary Industries – will live up to claims well hyped in media reports.
If proven true, he’ll be filthy rich as well as good looking.
When Dr Vincent, as he prefers to be called, approached The New Daily with ten tips on “how to get the best sleep ever and increase your life span,” how could we not bite?
After all, according to a 2016-17 report from the Sleep Health Foundation – Asleep on the job: costs of inadequate sleep in Australia –- a lack of sleep was estimated to result in 3017 deaths.
Also: “It is expected that more than one Australian will die every day (394 over the year) from falling asleep at the wheel of a vehicle or from industrial accidents due to lack of sleep.”
The remaining mortality is due to conditions that are impacted or to an extent caused by lack of sleep “such as heart diseases and diabetes.”
Here’s what Dr Vincent advises, and what previous research says about it:
“Improve your diet and increase the quantity of plant-based foods you add to your meals. Plant-based food is easier for your body to digest and places less stress on your organs. This also improves your gut health. Your body will not want to sleep if it is too busy trying to process bad foods and eliminate waste from your system.”
Evidence suggests a link between a plant-based diet and better sleep. More research is required to establish a causal link. Photo: Oxford University
A 2018 US study – Reducing cardiovascular risk by improving sleep quality? – found that “epidemiological studies report associations between Mediterranean diet eating patterns and sleep quality, suggesting a benefit of plant-rich diet consumption on sleep. The high isoflavone and tryptophan content of these diets may be a mechanism by which plant foods may enhance sleep quality.”
However, the authors noted that more research is required to established a causal relationship between diet and sleep.
“Increasing our consumption of water helps our skin regulate our body temperature through sweating. It also helps circulate nutrients through the body. Staying hydrated also helps our body, especially our brain to maintain homeostasis which means all the functions in our body work properly. When we drink more water, our body functions better.”
A Penn State University cross-cultural study of US and Chinese adults, published in February, found that people who slept six hours a night had significantly more concentrated urine and were more dehydrated compared to those who regularly slept eight hours a night.
But staying hydrated is more complex than guzzling a bucket of water before bed. This would cause you to be traipsing to the toilet all night, and thereby disrupting your sleep.
“Our posture affects our body in ways we don’t realise. If we slouch over at our desk, we stop our body inhaling as much air as we should be. Sitting up, breathing well, and moving around helps to move air through our lungs and into our body. It gives our body more oxygen – which helps our body to function better. A better functioning body sleeps better.”
There’s plenty of research that links sleeping posture and sleep disorders such as apnea, but I wasn’t able to find a link between waking posture and sleep. But Dr Vincent’s concerns are logical.
“Exercise… increases happy hormones, reduces stress and increases our fitness levels. It also helps us to sleep and sleep well. Exercise is key to good sleep.”
Sure, but it’s complicated. Dr Charlene Gamaldo, medical director of Johns Hopkins Centre for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital says that “some people may find that exercising close to bedtime seems to keep them up at night.” So timing is important.
Regular exercise promotes sleep, but the time of day appears to be important. Too late in the day, and you might have trouble nodding off. Photo: University of Canberra
She writes: “Aerobic exercise causes the body to release endorphins. These chemicals can create a level of activity in the brain that keeps some people awake. These individuals should exercise at least one to two hours before going to bed, giving endorphin levels time to wash out and the brain time to wind down.”
Exercise also raises your core body temperature. “The effect of exercise in some people is like taking a hot shower that wakes you up in the morning. Elevation in core body temperature signals the body clock that it’s time to be awake. After about 30 to 90 minutes, the core body temperature starts to fall. The decline helps to facilitate sleepiness.”
Reduce screen time especially before bed
“Devices emit blue light which can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin. This increases our alertness, and reset the body’s internal clock to a later time.”
Researchers from the Salk Institute have pinpointed how certain cells in the eye process ambient light and reset our internal clocks… When these cells are exposed to artificial light late into the night, our internal clocks can get confused, resulting in a host of health issues.”
Avoid added sugar
“Sugar is not good for us and it also affects our sleep. Eating sugar affects our blood sugar levels which impacts our sleep. Reduce your sugar intake, especially before bed.”
Again it’s complicated. A 2007 study found that a high carbohydrate (high GI) meal, which quickly converts to sugar in the bloodstream, shortened the sleep onset in healthy sleepers. That is, four hours after the meal, they crashed. A 2018 study from Kings College London turned the sugar question around, concluding that a good night’s sleep led to less sugar cravings.
And please note, when you drink that warm glass of milk for a good night’s sleep, milk is considered a carbohydrate.
Avoid excess caffeine
“Many people opt to avoid caffeine after lunch. There is a reason caffeine keeps us awake. It works by blocking brain chemicals associated with sleep. The best way to minimise the impact of caffeine on our sleep is to reduce our intake and try and consume coffee before lunch.”
The Sleep Foundation notes that: “Caffeine promotes alertness by inhibiting chemicals in the brain that promote sleep. Caffeine is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream and reaches peak levels within 30 to 70 minutes. Its effects can then last three to seven hours, but it may take up to 24 hours to fully eliminate caffeine from the body.”
Brain dump before bed
“Often we wake or fail to go to sleep because we are thinking about all the things we need to do the next day. Writing down a list before you go to bed is a good way to clear your mind. This gives you time to put things on paper so you can worry about them the next day.”
A small interesting US study found that people who wrote a to-do list fell asleep faster than those who wrote a list of the day’s completed tasks.
“Therefore, to facilitate falling asleep, individuals may derive benefit from writing a very specific to-do list for five minutes at bedtime rather than journaling about completed activities.”
Meditate and unwind
“Winding down helps the body to achieve a level of calm which is important for sleep. Meditation before bed time is a good way to put our body in the right mindset for sleep.”
A large body of research suggests that mediation has a positive effect on sleep hormones. Photo: Stanford University
A comprehensive review of research by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bangalore, India, repeatedly found a complex, positive relationship between meditation and the regulation of sleep hormones.
Add supplements that help you sleep
“Antioxidants such as Activated Phenolics, help you to sleep because they work through the body fighting free radicals and minimising inflammation. This allows our body to rest and rejuvenate itself.”
It’s here that Dr Vincent has a research and commercial interest. But there has been a lot of research that explores the antioxidant potential of phenolic compounds. The New Daily recently published a piece about flavonoids – the largest group of naturally occurring phenolic compounds – and their preventative effects on cardiac disease and cancer, especially for heavy drinkers and smokers.
The question remains: can a supplement, even one naturally derived from apples, do a better job than simply eating foods containing antioxidants? Dr Vincent’s clinical trial may provide an answer. We’ll let you know.