Sleep is one of the most fundamental acts of self-care that we can bestow upon ourselves and is essential for a healthy, happy lifestyle.
Lack of sleep contributes to weight gain, sickness, inflammation and general imbalance. Long term sleep deprivation can lead to increased risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke.
Sleeplessness can rear its ugly head as a result of many things – poor diet, hormone imbalance, anxiety, overwork, new parenthood or a combination of things. In my case as I entered peri-menopause my sleep was all over the place. I regularly woke up at 3 am and was not able to go back to sleep, I remember worrying that I would never get a full night of sleep again and how I would cope. The knock-on effects on my daily life were enormous, so I know how important this information is to someone who is not getting enough sleep at night.
Sleep is not a luxury “nice to have” part of our lives – it is absolutely essential for our health and well-being.
sleep loss massively disrupts our hormone balance – lack of sleep directly affects metabolism, resulting in high blood glucose levels and increased insulin resistance, which leads to fat deposition inside and around the abdomen, higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, increased feelings of hunger, and decreased levels of satiety.
Lack of sleep affects brain function – sleep plays a large role in our ability to process subconscious thought, think creatively and make difficult decisions. In order to be able to do all of those things we need to experience all stages of sleep especially the deep sleep.
Sleep is restorative – whilst we are sleeping the bulk of our growth hormone is produced, and the body repairs itself.
Rest assured, sleeping is not selfish and NOT sleeping is not the badge of honour it may once have been. If you want to be your best self – make sleep a priority. Here are a few tips to help you do that:
30 minutes of aerobic exercise can completely transform your sleep. Exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality, increase how long you sleep and reduce stress and anxiety. Physical activity increases the time spent in deep sleep – which is the most restorative phase of your sleep – boosting immune function, supporting cardiac health and controlling stress and anxiety.
When is the best time to exercise? This can vary for different people, try monitoring what works best for you and your sleep patterns. Hard exercise later in the day can spike your body temperature which may keep you alert and awake.
REMEMBER it is all about balance – excessive exercise may have the opposite effect and keep you awake at night.
Have you noticed how some foods make you sleepy, or how going to bed on a “too” full or empty stomach can sabotage your sleep.
Here are some tips on how to eat right for great sleep:
Most protein rich foods contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid in the manufacture of serotonin (feel good hormone) which converts to melatonin. Increasing the bloodstream levels of melatonin signals to the brain and the body that it is time for sleep.
Carbohydrates make tryptophan more available to the brain.
Foods rich in Vit B6 are used by the body to make serotonin
Foods with a high tryptophan concentration include – yoghurt, cottage cheese, eggs, fish poultry, red meat, sesame, chickpeas, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, spirulina and bananas.
Eating a large dinner less than 3 hours before bed time.
Eating spicy or acidic foods and fluids at night
Snacking on highly sugary or processed foods at night that will spike your blood sugar levels
3. Magnesium Supplements:
Magnesium can help to take any night-time routine to a completely new level by helping you wind down and wash away the aches and tension of a full day.
To aid sleep try taking 500mg – 250mg at lunchtime and 250mg an hour before bed.
An Epsom salt bath may also help to improve sleep.
Just like food some drinks leave you feeling energised and others make you feel sleepy. Let’s take a look at some of the drinks we like and what they maybe doing to our sleep.
Chamomile Tea contains the chemical glycine which relaxes nerves and muscles and has a mild sedative effect. Drunk 90 minutes before bed it is said to be calming and can assist with sleep.
Milk contains high levels of tryptophan. If you are not lactose intolerant a glass of milk (warm or cold) 90 minutes before bed may help you fall asleep.
Water is important to drink throughout the day for optimal health, but try and drink as much of that quota as you can by late afternoon. Drinking water right up to bedtime can stimulate your kidneys and have you needing the loo in the night.
Alcohol may make you feel nice and relaxed as you drink it, however it has a drastic effect on your blood sugar levels and hormone balances which will have you waking up about 3-4 hours after you have gone to bed and not able to get back to sleep.
Coffee and caffeinated sodas are used to promote alertness, but as I am sure you have experienced this high is relatively short lived and is followed by an energy crash. This has a similar effect on blood sugar levels and hormone balances as drinking alcohol and can be very disruptive to sleep.
Stop drinking any fluids one hour ahead of your bedtime, as this will reduce the likelihood of disruptions in the first few hours of your sleep when it is deepest and most restorative.
5. Ditch the Technology
Trying setting yourself a “technology”curfew a couple of hours before your bedtime. Blue light, from electronic devices has been shown to disrupt sleep patterns, circadian rhythms and Melatonin levels.
6. Make Your Bedroom Into a Sanctuary
Make your bedroom dark and quiet, consider installing blackout curtains on the windows or even wearing an eye mask to keep light out.
Any lighted dials on your bedside table should be turned away from you.
If you live somewhere noisy, a “white noise: sound machine may help to mask disruptive noise.
Try and keep your bedroom uncluttered and tidy, as this will help to calm the mind as you go to sleep.
Make sure your bed is comfy and beautifully made with good quality linens. I don’t think you can over-estimate the importance of going to sleep in a bed that feels and smells beautiful. For me pillows are so important – I have to have a comfy, just so high, just so soft pillow and it literally can make the difference between a good and a bad nights sleep.
Try using some calming essential oils on your pillows.
Keep your bed for sleeping, don’t eat in bed, watch TV in bed or work in bed as these things are all associated with wakefulness and not sleep. Keep a notebook by the bed so if you do wake up in a fluster you can jot down what you are thinking about, and go back to sleep knowing that it will be there for you in the morning to deal with – ruminating at night is exhausting and pointless.
Keep pets out of the bedroom – we have finally decided to not have the dogs in our bedroom and OMG what a difference to our sleep. We love our furry friends but they snore, are restless and they were waking us up all through the night. BEST decision ever!!
If you get up in the night and need to go to the loo, try not to turn on the main lights, this will send a “wake-up’ signal to your internal clock. Use a torch with red light as this is far less disruptive on your system.
Room temperature is really important and investing in a fan really helped me to re-establish a better sleep pattern. In order for us to be able to fall asleep our body temperature needs to cool down, and a hot room can block that process. For me its all about my feet and my head, if they are cool I find it much easier to fall asleep.
Have a bedtime routine – be consistent with the time you go to bed. Try reading a book to quiet the mind before you turn off the light – a real book where you have to turn the pages!!! I actually like to do some deep breathing, it helps me to turn off my mind and quiet any anxiety before I fall asleep.