Honey, salmon, yoghurt and magnesium help you sleep, says expert Julie Mallon

Consultant believes education holds key to better night’s rest

Salmon and honey boost tryptophan, an amino acid that supports sleep. Getty Images
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“Sleep in its purest form is a learnt behaviour; it’s not intuitive. If it were that easy, why do so many people have problems sleeping?” asks Julie Mallon, a health practitioner, sleep expert and founder of Nurture 2 Sleep in Dubai.

She believes that while many are awakening to the benefits of proper sleep, others are still falling short when it comes to snoozing. This is a pressing problem because the quality of our sleep has a profound impact on our mental and physical health.

Education, followed by action, is Mallon’s solution. The British consultant, podcast host and children’s author has weekly lectures centred around sleep topics with the world’s leading neuroscientists and will host a two-day sleep retreat at MGallery by Sofitel this weekend.

Improve your sleep tonight

Mallon is on a mission to help those who struggle to drop off at night and insists simple changes to daily behaviours can play a key role in helping to get a better night's sleep, such as exposing your eyes to sunlight as soon as you wake in the morning to set your biological clock properly at night-time.

Stretching exercises after getting out of bed is also hugely beneficial, if only for a few minutes because it releases the growth hormone, sending a signal to your brain to restore and repair at night.

Caffeinated drinks shouldn't be taken for 90 minutes after waking up
Julie Mallon, sleep consultant

“People don’t understand the importance of light on our sleep. The way in which we wake up in the morning sets the tone for how we are going to sleep at night. Getting outside for five minutes and exposing the retina is so much more beneficial to being inside and standing by the window.

“We also know that sleep is dehydrating, so people should be having between 600 and 900 millilitres of water when they wake up. Caffeinated drinks, too, shouldn’t be taken straight away, but 90 minutes after waking up.”

She adds: “When we eat and what we eat is also very important. For adults, the recommendations are that we shouldn’t sleep for two to three hours after the meal.

“If you’re fasting or skipping dinner, I recommend taking a teaspoon of honey before going to bed because if you go to bed hungry, the brain will forage for food while you’re asleep. Honey is important because we know it crosses the blood-brain barrier easily, which then supports sleep, so it boosts the tryptophan, which is an important building block for melatonin.”

Sleeping apps and tricky tech

Mallon says that today’s “always-on” society is causing a distinct lack of good-quality sleep. Most experts agree that adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep a night, something many don’t achieve because of the nature of the fast-paced society we live in.

The rise in technology has enabled us to connect easily with anyone, almost anywhere, which often leads to excess scrolling on devices, usually just before bed, which can make falling asleep harder.

The gold standard for measuring sleep is polysomnography, a sleep study using electrodes
Julie Mallon

Technology has also enabled us to track our sleep, with dedicated apps and watches having the ability to monitor us throughout the night and provide results in the morning – although this is data that Mallon says you can’t always rely on.

“It’s not just duration, but also sleep quality that’s important. Apps don’t always measure accurately because they tend to only measure your stillness rather than the deep sleep itself. They can also create anxiety because one day it says you have had a great night sleep and the next it says you missed your target.

Technology is fantastic, but we need to be able to read our own body and know what makes us feel good and sleep well without a device telling us. Ultimately, the gold standard for measuring sleep is polysomnography where you go in and stay for a sleep study using electrodes that measure your true deep sleep and non-rapid and rapid eye movement sleep.”

Time for intervention

Mallon also believes that a public health initiative should be the next step in addressing sleep deprivation and its associated health concerns. “In terms of where the UAE is now as a country, we are taking sleep more seriously than ever before, but we need a public health initiative for it.”

The qualified gentle sleep coach began her career as a nurse and midwife in the UK, and says her years of experience working with children and in healthcare have enabled her to teach others about sleep, despite there being no regulations on people working in the emerging industry.

“It’s not regulated,” she says, “and it’s quite alarming that you can do a few hours online and call yourself a sleep consultant. It’s thanks to all my qualifications and work in child psychology, child development, sleep and nutrition that I do it, because all those elements have to be brought into sleep work – you cannot think about sleep in isolation.

Dubai sleep retreat

As part of her goal to educate and help people get a better night’s sleep, Mallon is hosting a two-day sleep retreat on Saturday and Sunday on Palm Jumeirah. The itinerary includes yoga, meditation and sleep-inducing spa therapies, such as oxygen relaxation and an eye sleep ritual. Participants can immerse themselves in the science of sleep and use evidence-backed strategies for better sleep, while learning about supplements, nutrition and lifestyle choices.

Mallon says: “The sleep retreat gives people the tools to take home. Ultimately, we aim to make it fun. It’s not about creating more anxiety because we’re not getting enough sleep, but informing you about things you can do, such as looking at your diet.

“For instance, magnesium is one of the supplements that everyone should be looking at as it’s an important building block of sleep. Magnesium is responsible for over 300 chemical reactions within the body. We should be getting it from our food, but it’s not possible any more because of how our food is farmed.

“Yoghurt is a great food to eat for sleep because it contains calcium, which is an important building block for tryptophan and melatonin. Salmon, too, contains tryptophan so it’s great because it boosts melatonin that helps you sleep.”

For more information on the MGallery x Nurture 2 Sleep retreat, visit www.nurture2sleep.com/Sleepretreat or email info@nurture2sleep.com

Updated: January 18, 2024, 8:38 AM