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Sleep Hygiene Tips for A Good Night’s Rest

The importance of sleep cannot be underestimated. We all know it is necessary, but few of us really stop and think about how sleep, or a lack thereof, actually impacts how we function. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about it, as I have recently changed mattresses to a new SleepX mattress. I can’t tell you how critical a quality mattress is! Both for the physical effects on the body (i.e. comfort and muscular ease), but also the mental and biochemical benefits of sleep we go into below. SleepX sent me their mattress to trial and I can safely say I absolutely love it. It has reminded me just how important sleep hygiene is and why healthy sleep patterns are such an integral part of a healthy lifestyle.

The body’s sleep cycle plays a crucial role in many important bodily processes including learning, memory and mood, temperature, energy levels, heart rate, appetite, digestion, detoxification and hormone regulation. Interestingly, research shows us that a sleep deficit is inflammatory. Elevated inflammatory markers can contribute to conditions such as metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and autoimmunity. With so much inflammation from pollution, toxins, poor dietary choices and stress, we simply do not need to be adding to the problem through sleep disturbances.

When it comes to weight-loss or maintenance, a lack of sleep has been shown to prompt heightened appetite and less feelings of satisfaction after eating. This is largely because poor sleep increases Ghrelin (the hormone that signals we are hungry) and decreases Leptin (the hormone which decreases our appetite). Although everyone agrees that diet and movement are integral to our health, sleep actually influences everything from how much we eat and what we crave to exercise performance, results and recovery. So it would seem, sleep sets us up to follow through on our good intentions!

Consistency around a healthy diet, regular sleep patterns and good sleep hygiene will improve the quantity and quality of your sleep.

Lifestyle Considerations:

  • Do not use computers or phones 1 hour prior to sleep;
  • Ensure you don’t exercise too close to bed. Sleep experts agree that leaving a minimum of three hours between your workout and bed-time, to allow the body time to cool off before sleep;
  • Take a hot bath/shower 2-3 hours before bed – similar to the above, the temperature drop signals to your body it’s time for sleep;
  • Take large diaphragmatic breaths to unwind, either in bed or just prior;
  • Ensure you choose a quality mattress. This cannot be overlooked! I have been sleeping on my SleepX* for one month now, and can honestly say that it is heavenly. It is a hybrid of the highest quality memory foam and high-resilience foam for longevity and support. I feel it moulds to my body, whilst still remaining firm. There are three comfort choices, soft medium and firm (I chose firm and absolutely love it). 
  • Stick to a consistent bedtime and waking up schedule to form solid sleep patterns.

Dietary Tips:

  • Reassess caffeine and alcohol intake and be honest with yourself about how “moderate” your intake is, and how close you consume these things to bedtime. It might seem like you fall asleep quicker when you drink alcohol but research has shown us that sleep quality is diminished with REM sleep (the most restorative kind) impairment;
  • Avoid processed, sugary and excessively salty food, which can interfere with sleep, digestion and mood;
  • Consume moderate amounts of healthy fats daily such as 1 tbsp ground flaxseeds, ⅓ cup raw nuts or seeds, ¼-½ avocado, to increase Leptin production;
  • Eat dinner at least 2-4 hours prior to sleep;
  • Eat magnesium and tryptophan rich foods for dinner e.g. pumpkin seeds, leafy greens, legumes, tofu, brown rice, quinoa, figs, walnuts;
  • Sip chamomile tea 2 hours prior to induce calm. Avoid liquids 1-2 hours before bed.

*SleepX is an online bedding retailer offering premium Australian made “bed-in -a-box” mattresses and accessories with the largest range of choice available. They even have customised alternate feels on each side of the mattress surface to cater to partners who have different bedding tastes! So if your partner likes soft and you like firm, both needs can be met in the one mattress. All products are non-allergenic, anti-bacterial, recyclable and certified by Good Environmental Choice Australia. Plus, they offer a 120-night free trial and a 10-year guarantee on their mattresses. 

4 ways with Tempeh

The beauty of tempeh is how easy it is to cook. Yet, I meet so many people afraid to give it a go! It has actually already been fermented, and thus, partly cooked, so unlike chicken, you really can’t undercook it.

Firstly, I have spoken about this before, but let’s reiterate that there is no good evidence suggesting traditional soy-foods like tempeh are detrimental to your health and should therefore be avoided. Tempeh is a healthful source of protein. Tempeh is made using the entire soybean, but it is fermented, making tempeh more easily digested and “antimutagenic” than unfermented beans, as well as making it a great source of vitamin K2 (bone, heart, brain and cancer protective nutrient).

Secondly, it is important to source non-GMO and organic varieties of tempeh. In Australia, Woolworths stocks Nutri-Soy, my go-to. I buy the unflavoured one to avoid cheap soy-sauces and other additives. Stick to the plain like me, and make your own flavours with the below suggestions.

Quick guide. Choose your tempeh variety by comparing it to meat options…

Pan-fried – chicken/fish replacement

Marinated – steak replacement

Ground – mince replacement

Crusted – schnitzel replacement

Using 1 x 300g packet of tempeh….

SIMPLE PAN-FRIED TEMPEH

½ tsp coconut oil, 2 cloves minced garlic and 1 tbsp tamari OR 1 tsp curry powder. Allow the garlic to heat for 3 mins before adding slices of tempeh. Cook first side for 3-4 minutes over medium heat, cover with tamari or spices, flip and cook the second side for a further 3 minutes. Serve with vegetables for a veggie stir-fry.

JUICY MARINATED TEMPEH STEAK

Boil tempeh whole for 30 minutes. Remove from pot and then marinate in 3 tbsp tamari, ½ lemon juice, 1 tbsp maple syrup, 2 cloves garlic, minced or 1 tsp dried for 1-3 hours. Once ready, fry whole 5 minutes each side. Slice into 4 servings and serve over veggies.

GROUND TEMPEH

Grind the tempeh by pulsing it in thirds in a food processor until it resembles mince. Then heat up your stove with a little coconut oil, just to coat, throw the tempeh mince in and pan fry with the following spices and condiments…

Mexican-inspired: ½ chopped brown onion, 2 cloves minced garlic and 1-2 tsp of spices like cumin, paprika, cajun, chili or a Mexican spice blend. Allow the onion and garlic to brown before adding the tempeh and spices. Pan-fry for 6 mins whilst stirring occasionally. Pair with brown rice and black beans.

Italian: ½ chopped brown onion, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 can organic diced tomatoes, 1 tsp dried Italian herbs or oregano, handful fresh chopped basil. Allow the onion and garlic to brown before adding the tempeh and spices. Pan-fry for 4 mins whilst stirring occasionally. Then add the diced tomatoes and pan-fry for a further 4 minutes. Lastly, add the basil, stir, remove from heat and serve over grains, roast veggies or pasta.

SESAME-CRUSTED TEMPEH

Preheat oven to 200 C. Prepare your “sticky” mixture of 1 tbsp flax meal soaked in 3 tbsp coco milk, 1 tsp tamari and ¼ tsp garlic powder. Allow it to soak for at least 10 minutes whilst you prep the rest. Place ¼ cup sesame seeds in a dry wide bowl. Slice the tempeh into thin-medium slices and dip each in the sticky mixture. Place onto a lined baking tray and sprinkle each slice with 1-2tsp sesame seeds. Press down on them with the back of the spoon. Bake for 25 minutes, flipping each after 15 minutes. Optional to sprinkle the other side with more sesame once flipped and before baking for the last 10 minutes.

A love note to Soy…

One of the most commonly asked questions I get is regarding the health of soy foods. I either hear that someone would love to go vegan but wants to avoid soy (which is fine, but also not necessary), or that they wish they “could” consume it, but are worried about relying on it as a source of plant-based protein because of all the negative implications they have heard from someone, somewhere. Regardless, my answer is the same! The right types of soy are unequivocally, a healthful choice. I talk more about the right types below.

Let’s look at the evidence in regard to some major concerns:

Soy contains oestrogen: No it actually doesn’t. It does however contain phytoestrogens (beneficial constituents of plants, also found in flaxseeds). This type of oestrogen “imitator” is not bad, but indeed, beneficial, with its naturally occurring oestrogenic activity. They adapt to what the specific individual needs, raising or lowering oestrogen levels accordingly. Regarding female fertility, a large-scale study at a fertility centre demonstrated improved birth rates in females consuming soy and undergoing fertility treatment. A note on menopause, women dealing with hot flashes found relief from soy products according to this study.

Soy makes men grow breasts: Nooo! Men’s sex hormones, including testosterone remain unaffected by consuming soy products. This study concluded that soy does not “exert feminizing effects on men at intake levels equal to and even considerably higher than are typical for Asian males.” Soy does not adversely effect semen quality, and a study at Harvard University found soy intake had no effect overall on male fertility.

Just so we are clear on this topic, I’d like to point out the ludicrously of these claims by illustrating that the milk from a cow comes from a female animal that has just given birth. Not only is this a much bigger animal than us, with a different hormonal profile, but just as humans, when cows give birth, their oestrogen levels elevate. Therefore, it stands to reason that the concerning source of oestrogen in the diet is cows milk! And so far, I’ve just mentioned the natural oestrogen (due to their recent pregnancy)… think about the hefty doses of synthetic hormones dairy livestock are injected with to increase their milk production! This only adds to the oestrogen load of most cows milk. Yuk!

Cancer growth and recurrence: research appears to indicate soy consumption has a positive effect on preventing or slowing down the growth of cancer. Phytoestrogens (present in soy) act as antioxidants and have anti-proliferative properties to inhibit tumour growth. Among women with breast cancer, soy food consumption has been significantly associated with decreased risk of death and recurrence. This study suggests that greater consumption of isoflavone-containing foods is associated with a reduced risk of endometrial cancer in postmenopausal women. Other analyses have found that soy foods are protective against prostate cancer in men.

Bone health: I hear you, don’t we need dairy to protect against osteoporosis? No, we don’t, and evidence suggests that populations consuming higher amounts of cows milk actually have higher incidence of osteoporosis versus populations who don’t. There are a number of reasons for this, namely, the acidity of the milk causing greater calcium excretion from the body. However, I thought it apt to point out that whilst soy generally does contain less calcium, it contains triple the amount of magnesium, a vital mineral for bone maintenance. Indeed, the latest research suggests soy milk is actually much better for bone health. Interestingly, the beneficial isoflavones (types of phytoestrogens) in soy are thought to inhibit the breakdown of bones. For example the isoflavone Daidzein, is actually used to create the drug ipriflavone, which is used to treat osteoporosis.

Hypothyroidism and soy: Soy products do not cause hypothyroidism and hypothyroid adults need not avoid soy foods. However, the isoflavones  in soy may potentially reduce iodine availability, required for healthy thyroid hormone production. It is therefore suggested that people who consume soy might need slightly more iodine in their diets (which we can get from sea veggies like dulse and nori).

***There is always conflicting evidence and debate around the statistical significance of the findings in such studies. However whether there is no benefit, little benefit, or substantial benefit, I am yet to find a negative finding regarding soy, and that should be the message we hear loud and clear.

At the end of the day, the fear around soy seems to stem from a few sources:

  • The grouping of all soy together – the bad: i.e. concentrated soy proteins and soy-derivatives used to thicken or emulsify products (often non-vegan products too), GMO, non-organic, non-traditional varieties such as highly-processed faux soy meats + the good: i.e. traditional sources of soy, non-GMO and organic such as tempeh, tamari, miso, natto and even a little good quality tofu from time to time is ok. So too is edamame. Combining the good and the bad like this is akin to saying that the questionable ground meat in a fast food chain burger is the same quality as the meat from your local organic butcher (whilst I don’t think either meat is healthy, this is a helpful comparison!);
  • Rare cases of harm due to consumption of ridiculously large amounts of soy on a daily basis;
  • Similar to point 1 above, because soy is grown in ginormous quantities and added to absolutely everything, including often unhealthy packaged foods, it is viewed negatively, similarly to corn. Again, non-GMO and organic varieties in their wholefood form are fine!; and
  • Poorly-conducted research based and/or articles by groups with vested interests e.g. the Weston A Price Foundation (WAPF).

 

Soy sources to include:

organic and non-GMO edamame and fermented sources such as tempeh, natto, miso, tamari (easiest to digest and assimilate). Whilst soy milk and tofu are more processed, organic varieties from time-to-time if you really enjoy them are not going to negatively impact your health and should not be feared.

I am not claiming soy to be a miraculous cure-all, I am simply pointing out that there is a lot of good evidence indicating its benefits, and that you should feel confident in including it as part of a plant-rich varied diet (if you so choose). 

 

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