Tips to improve your sleep

Sleep is vital for your health and well-being and is the most natural therapy for the body. The restorative function of sleep should not be underestimated and sleep is the natural anti-ageing remedy available. (1)

Insomnia is a very common problem which can be very debilitating as it can have a negative impact on your health. Often people don’t value or understand the importance of sleep until it becomes a problem for them. 

Lack of sleep can generate a vicious cycle.  As your stress levels rise, so does cortisol, and this will prevent you from reaching the deeper stages of sleep. Sleep deprivation can then encourage the consumption of sugar and caffeine to keep you going throughout the day thus, this vicious cycle that can be hard to break. It is all too easy in this busy world to stay up late, trying to stay ahead of things without realising that, if you were to get to bed in good time, you would be more focused and sharper as a result.

Sleep also plays a critical role in weight management as it controls the hormones that regulate metabolism and appetite. Ghrelin stimulates hunger and leptin is the satiety hormone. Lack of sleep causes leptin levels to fall and so this can often be a problem for people who are struggling to lose weight.

The reason for lack of sleep can vary between individuals but, for everyone, a sensible sleep routine is a very good starting point. It won’t necessarily solve the problem but it will put your body in a situation where it has the necessary environment to rest and repair.

Sleep plays a vital role in good health and immunity (2) and so aim for 7-8 hours per night. This will help your body to keep your hormones balanced and improve your overall and mental well-being (3).

Here are a few ways that may help you to get more restful sleep:

Diet:

  • Research shows that diet plays a role in sleep as the quality of your diet will directly affect the quality of your sleep.  Diets high in refined carbohydrates and low in fibre can disrupt sleep patterns. Also, avoid alcohol as this will really disrupt sleep (4)
  • Balancing blood sugar levels, by eating a diet high in complex carbohydrates as well as fibre with protein at every meal, will help to stabilise your energy levels.
  • Eat foods rich in tryptophan, which is the precursor to serotonin and melatonin, such as turkey, chicken, soya, bananas, beans and lentils. As an evening snack, drink some milk or eat some almonds or a banana
  • Avoid caffeine after 4pm and substitute with herbal teas
  • Magnesium is known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ which is found in foods such as dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds. It also is a cofactor for the production of GABA, a neurotransmitter which relaxes the central nervous system.

Lower cortisol levels:

  • Exercise can help reduce cortisol levels and can help to induce sleep but avoid exercising 2-3 hours before going to bed as this can disrupt sleep patterns (5)
  • It can be hard in this fast and busy world, with everyone being so busy at being busy, to switch off and calm your mind. Try yoga, meditation, listening to relaxing music or reading a book.
  • Try to have clear boundaries between work and home time and avoid reading emails late at night.

Regulate your circadian rhythm:

  • Your internal body clock (sleep, wake cycle) is your body living in sync with nature and the daylight hours. So, you can help to regulate your natural body clock by:
  • Getting outside as natural sunlight stimulates the production of melatonin and if you spend most of your day indoors, you may well be ‘light deprived’ so try to get out for a walk at lunchtime
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time everyday
  • Turn off your Wi-Fi at night

Bedroom:  

  • The bedroom is a place for sleep and should be a relaxing and tranquil place to allow you to rest.
  • Have a rule to keep all technology out of your bedroom as the blue light emitted by computers, TV screens etc. suppresses melatonin production and these devices also stimulate the brain. If it is absolutely necessary for you to use your mobile phone for an alarm, turn it onto airplane mode or, better still, keep it out of the bedroom (6)
  • Your room should be cool and as dark as possible (black out blinds if living in a town) as darkness promotes the production of melatonin.
  • Traditional essential oils, particularly lavender and bergamot, can have a calming effect. Add a few drops into a bath, onto your pillow or in a diffuser. 

Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep.

If you suffer from lack of sleep, I urge you to make your sleep a priority so that your body is given the the opportunity to recharge, both physically and mentally, so that you have the chance to feel you best.

  * It is important to seek professional help if your lack of sleep is an ongoing concern and it starts to affect your health.