Why did nobody tell me that midlife would be a constant battle to get enough sleep?! I took sleep for granted until I had children, but since then it’s been a scarce commodity. The broken nights of early parenthood have given way to the broken nights of middle age, menopause and beyond.
A steady stream of research revealing the link between sleep deprivation and a host of degenerative diseases hasn’t exactly made me feel any better. As we report in our book, the World Health Organisation categorised night shift work as a carcinogen due to its suspected impact on sleep. A University of California study hailed sleep as ‘the missing piece of the Alzheimer’s jigsaw’, explaining that poor sleep creates a ‘channel’ through which beta-amyloid protein attacks the brain’s long term memory. And there are many more reports out there to depress an insomniac.
NEW RESEARCH ON SLEEP
Now, two new studies have assessed the relationship between age, mood, sleep deprivation and both the quality and quantity of working memory. The studies found that the more we age, the less accurate our working memory becomes (I think we knew that…and have written about it previously here). But they also revealed that the less we sleep and the more often we experience negative moods, the less likely it is that we store short-term memories (the quantitative element of working memory).
Although this isn’t exactly cheering news, over the years, Annabel and I have both learnt that stressing about not sleeping is even worse than the lack of sleep itself. We need to be pro-active in trying to enhance our sleep quality, but not worry when it doesn’t work and we have a bad night.
ICE CREAM TO HELP YOU SLEEP
As part of our age-well project, I’ve learnt to treat getting to sleep like a job: approaching it with discipline, and dedicating time to it. I’ll give you a detailed run down of what’s worked for me – and what hasn’t – in a separate post. But I’m always intrigued by nutritional guidelines for sleeping well. Certain foods – including kiwi fruit – seem to boost the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Cherries, bananas, honey and yogurt also seem to deliver sleep-enhancing nutrition, and it occurred to me that, together, they would make a rather delicious ice cream.
THE LINK BETWEEN HEAVILY PROCESSED FOODS AND EARLY DEATH
The need for a healthy ice cream in my life was highlighted by headlines this week citing two studies linking consumption of ultra-processed foods, including industrially-made ice cream, to increased risk of death from all causes. One of the reports showed that people who ate at least four servings of ultra-processed foods a day were over 60% more likely to have died during the 15-year trial than those who ate less than two servings. For each additional daily serving the risk of death rose 18%.
The processes behind this rise are unclear. It appears that it’s more than just the lack of nutritional value calorie for calorie, and the fact that eating processed junk crowds out more nourishing foods. It may be that the additives or chemicals in the packaging play a role. But the researchers don’t know.
While they try to figure it out, I’ll be sticking to this delicious, super-simple home-made ice cream, and hoping it helps me get some sleep too.
SLEEPY-TIME ICE CREAM (serves 4)
- 500g plain Greek yogurt
- 2 ripe bananas
- 2 tbs honey (or to taste)*
- 1 tbs almond butter + more to serve
- 150g (stoned weight) cherries (fresh or frozen)
Blend the first four ingredients in a food processor. Roughly chop the cherries and stir into the yogurt mixture. Scrape into a freezer-proof container and freeze for at least two hours. Allow to soften slightly before serving with an extra drizzle of almond butter.
*The freezing process reduces our perception of flavour, so I make sure this is slightly sweeter at room temperature than I want it to be when it’s frozen.
Teresa Barnard says
Is it ok to freeze food that has already been frozen (frozen cherries)?
Susan Saunders says
Good point. I tend to eat the ice cream pretty quickly after making it and have suffered no ill effects. As long as you get the cherries back in the freezer speedily they should be ok.
Does it matter what time of day we eat these foods?
Susan Saunders says
Good point – I should have made it clear in the blog post. Best to eat in the evening.
Interesting, I like to mix Greek yoghurt with some rolled oats and pour a spoon of honey over it as a midnight snack when I cannot sleep.
At the risk of sounding more nasty than I really am someone who is eating 4 or more portions of highly processed food is probably not living a healthy lifestyle in other areas as well, such as exercise or sleep. This would affect their health in obvious ways. Mind you anyone who does not have the occasional fry up is probably so stressed that any health benefits are probably negated by the worry of always being healthy. Moderation in all things, including moderation.
Still cannot get over how good the Turkish red lentil soup is, it is now a firm family favourite.
Annabel Streets says
Thanks Charles, glad you’re still enjoying the Turkish red lentil soup – so are we! We love the sound of your midnight snack too…
I am curious if there is a guide for what is considered ultra-processed. Does store bought bread counts? Canned beans? Or are we talking more like Pop Tarts and Twinkies?
Susan Saunders says
Good point Kate. Ultra-processed refers to foods which have been made in a factory, with non-natural ingredients. So it depends what has been added to your store-bought loaf. An apple is not processed. An apple puree to which sugar has been added is processed. An apple dessert with artificial sweeteners, thickeners and gelling agents is ultra-processed. Hope that helps.
Antonia Miles says
This is genius. I am trying to find ways to modify these elements to be kid friendly as well. We both work full time and travel so if we can apply to whole family it helps my working mother guilt.
Do you think in the above recipe there could be a substitute to banana?
Susan Saunders says
Thank you! Hmmm I’m not sure re substitution. I would suggest you replace the banana with more yoghurt, and maybe a tablespoon of a sweetener like maple syrup. The taste and texture of frozen banana are quite different to fresh if you have a banana-avoider in the family, so they may not notice? Different if it’s an allergy of course. Let us know how you get on!
2. The cost of sequencing genomes has simply fallen into line with other healthcare costs. If you compare the value of the information you can gather from a single genome, and compare it to similar medical procedures that cost significantly more – at $1000 you could argue we’re still getting massive ‘bang for your buck”. So – again – there’s not a commercial incentive. People are ‘accepting’ the current price, particularly for clinical applications.