Do you (or does anyone you know) struggle with sleep? If so, this post (and its sister post Improve Your Sleep Using Ancestral Wisdom) is for you!
Sleep is, and always has been, my Achilles heel.
If you, like me, struggle with sleep, I feel for you! Good sleep is not only vital to keep us disease-free, but not sleeping well has such an impact on how we show up…to oursleves, as parents and partners and in our work.
Not sleeping can feel like an impossible problem to deal with – but I want you to know that ancestral food has so much help to offer those of us who suffer with sleep problems. I have tried so many thing for sleep (over more than a decade) and the foundational pillars that have improved my sleep have not been pills; they’ve all been real food changes or real lifestyle changes. In this post I will share with you how I’ve directly and culmulatively slept better by making simple food changes and altering my routines.
Before we dive into the active steps that have helped me sleep better, let’s cover caffeine and alcohol, both of which standard sleep advice would have avoid and which I think is sound if sleep is an issue. Most of my caffeine comes from the small amount of dark chocolate I eat (which I always have before 2pm) and the only alcohol I have is when I make a batch of medival ale (probably somewhere around 2% and always drunk at lunchtime).
Aside from restricting caffeine and alcohol, here are the ancestral food steps that have worked for me:
- Eating enough! To sleep well our bodies need to receive enough food, including enough carbohydrate. I eat well and I eat carbohydrate with every meal.
- Eating a good breakfast that includes animal protein. I will often have a soft boiled egg with sourdough pancakes or an egg poached in bone broth with millet . Sometimes, I can’t manage both protein and carb…it’s too bulky. On those days I’ll mix some collagen protein powder into my sourdough porridge.
- Ensuring that I get enough saturated fat. Fat is so important for satiety (I first noticed this when my son was a baby; he would sleep so much better with a good amount of saturated fat in his diet!). And fat (along with protein, addressed above) is really important in managing blood sugar throughout the day and therefore helping to avoid adrenal spikes). I eat fat with every meal.
- Not being afraid of having a snack before bed. It’s easy to listen to the loud voices that promote widening your fasting window by eating supper early and breakfast late. This does not work for everyone. If you wake in the early hours and find it hard to get back to sleep, having a small snack before bed could really help. The small act of a snack before bed has been a game-changer for my sleep. Initially I worried I would put on weight (when you know that I used to weigh twice what I do now, you’ll understand that!) but I’ve noticed that my 5pm meal naturally became smaller in order for there to be space for me to include a before-bed snack. Typical snacks include a small slice of sourdough with a piece of cheese and a slice of apple or an oatcake (link) with butter and a few almonds. I have also found that making and leaving a tiny camomile tea (1-2 tsp camomile with 1/4 cup water) with a tsp of honey in it by my bed and then drinking it if I wake at 2/3am useful.
- Going carefully with fermented foods. I love fermenting, but I cannot eat raw fermented foods with abandon as they stop me sleeping. If you struggle with sleep notice whether it’s worse after a lot of fermented foods and if so consider restricting, and then gradually increasing your intake of these ‘super’ foods. This reaction may be a sign of a histamine sensitivity – you may want to do some research and see if it fits your symptoms.
- Deliberately including foods that are high in vitamin B. Vitamin B is essential for a healthy nervous system, and can really help with mood, anxiety and sleep. I discovered this after taking a vitamin B supplement and finding it helped my state of mind and sleep. I would always choose food-sourced nutrients over a tablet and now I work to ensure that I’m eating foods high in vitamin B daily. Liver is an incredible source of B vitamins but if you’re not a liver-lover, look at buckwheat. This delicious seed is full of B vitamins. Check out my recipe for sprouted, fermented buckwheat pancakes (coming next week!) or make the Kasha in Nourishing Traditions that I talk about in Ancestral Kitchen Podcast #34.
I want to end with some encouragement. I have spent most of my life struggling with sleep and I know just now much it can ruin a life. Know that there are options available that will help and if you apply them calmly and diligently you can make a difference. Read my post on improving your sleep through ancestral wisdom here to come at your sleep from the lifestyle angle.