Waking up to light mornings and socialising outdoors on balmy evenings are two of the pleasures of summer but they can play havoc with sleep patterns. Those who already have sleep problems can find it even harder to get enough rest.
Lack of sleep can place all sorts of strains on the body and contribute to feelings of low mood and depression, says leading nutritionist Patrick Holford, who reports that enquiries about sleep problems rise during the summer months.
‘It helps to know how our body prepares for sleep,’ he says.
‘As you start to wind down in the evening, your serotonin levels rise and adrenaline levels fall. Serotonin is a type of chemical which helps to relay signals from one area of the brain to another.
‘As it gets darker outside, melatonin also kicks in which helps to control your sleep-awake cycle. Both serotonin and melatonin are made from 5-HTP, a natural amino acid which is present in most protein foods.’
Boosting the levels of 5-HTP by taking it as a supplement can benefit some people, he says and advises taking 100 to 200mg half an hour before bed: ‘It’s best taken on an empty stomach, or with a small amount of carbohydrate such as an oatcake or a piece of fruit.
‘Other nutrients which help you get to sleep are magnesium, which has also been reported to help with restless legs. I take magnesium supplements daily and recommend 300mg for those with sleeping problems.’
Valerian, often called nature’s Valium, is known for its sleep inducing effects, but Patrick points out that although it can be highly effective it should only be taken in the evening. As it can interact with alcohol and other sedative drugs it should not be taken in combination with those.