Five nutrition tips to help you get a good night's sleep


Kiwi sports scientist Dr. Richard Swinbourne (Ricco) says diet plays a huge part in our sleep patterns.

 A former All Blacks Sevens and Hurricanes Super Rugby nutritionist, Ricco has been working for the past two years with Singapore’s Olympic athletes to help them achieve better sleep and high performance.  

One in three of us suffers from poor sleep, and the cost of sleepless nights is more than just bad moods and a lack of focus. Chronic sleep debt can be seriously bad for your health, with an increased risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. 

We all know the feeling…. your alarm goes off when you’ve only managed to fall asleep a few hours before. You drag yourself out of bed, pour yourself a very large cup of coffee, and spend the rest of the day feeling a little cranky and struggling to stay on your feet.  

Here are five simple tips from Ricco which we can try at home.

Dr. Richard Swinbourne

Tip #1: Consuming protein before bed helps with sleep

Consuming protein around one hour before bed will increase your sleep quality.

Protein contains tryptophan, an amino acid the body uses to make compounds that aid sleep such as serotonin and melatonin. And dairy is nature’s ultimate source of protein – containing all nine essential amino acids which the body cannot synthesise on its own. 

Other beneficial foods that aid sleep are tart cherries (containing both tryptophan and melatonin), walnuts (containing melatonin) and kiwifruit (containing serotonin).

Tip #2: Eat the colours of the rainbow

Studies have shown that inflammation in the body negatively impacts on sleep quality, and vice versa – sleep deprivation results in subclinical inflammation and can result in a negative conversation with the brain.

A common tip for athletes is to eat the colours of the rainbow, making sure they obtain foods that are red, orange, yellow and purple. Such bright-coloured foods can help to decrease inflammation in the body.

Fish is also highly beneficial for sleep because of its omega-3 components. A research study found that children who consume higher amounts of omega-3 gained an extra hour of sleep a night, and woke up seven times less!

Tip #3: Our body needs bricks – or it will eat itself

Sleep is the window where we are designed to grow and repair. Imagine little ‘minions’ in our muscles that want to build brick walls, but they can only build a wall if there are bricks to build it with. Taking in protein at night is dropping off a wheelbarrow of bricks for ‘minions’ to build the walls.

If your protein consumption is inadequate – not enough bricks are available – the ‘minions’ will look elsewhere in the body and eat itself to get bricks.

Tip #4: Milk is better than sports drinks

Speaking of muscle repair, try drinking milk instead of sports drinks after a work-out session. In fact, milk contains more electrolytes than leading sports drinks. It’s also highly hydrating and lower in sugar.

Because dairy protein is higher in biological quality, it is able to repair and develop muscle more effectively than plant protein. It’s also great for weight management as it promotes satiety, and healthy and active ageing.

Tip #5: Prioritise your sleep

Ricco says humans are the only species in the world to intentionally deprive themselves of sleep. But we don’t realise that sleep is key to our everyday performance at work or in school. What we’re eating can have a beneficial impact on sleep but we also need to prioritise sleep and make time for it.

“If you’re not getting enough sleep, try to go to bed 10 minutes earlier each night, and before you know it, you can easily increase sleep by an hour in a week.”