Next to a good diet and exercise, good sleep is one the essential things our body and mind needs to function correctly.
Sleep is as important as drinking water, feeding our bodies the correct nutrients and breathing.
Many biological processes happen during sleep, it’s when the body restores and repairs itself. The nerve cells communicate and reorganise, supporting healthy brain function and the body repairs cells, restores energy and releases molecules like hormones and proteins.
In the UK at the moment we are experiencing an insomnia pandemic. It is estimated that 36% of UK adults struggle to get to sleep on a weekly basis. Almost 1 in 5 of us have trouble falling asleep every single night and nearly half of the UK has trouble falling asleep at least once a month.
During lockdown, the incidents of anxiety induced insomnia rose. This was due to changes in our day to day habits and increased stress due to worry and combining working and home schooling.
I, myself have suffered from insomnia in the last four years and during lockdown my sleep patterns declined even more.
So what happens if we don’t get enough sleep?
Our mental health is affected: we will impair our body’s ability to fight off illness and making us more prone to getting sick.
Our risks of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease are increased.
Weight gain: statistics show that those who do not get enough sleep tend to put on weight, this is due to hormone disruption and other factors.
It can also lower your libido, cause depression and basically impair your ability to function.
So why are modern sleep habits so bad?
Well, we all lead pretty busy lives.
If you live and work in a large city like London where everything is fast paced, it is easy to become stressed. Modern life-style habits are also a contribution. Insomnia can be affected by:
- Too much time spent on screens
- Eating late
- Alcohol consumption
- Caffeine consumption
Here are some tips for getting a better sleep
Good sleep consists of 7-9 hours a night, it means you fall asleep soon after getting into bed, within 30 minutes or less. You typically sleep through the night, and waking up no more than once per night.
The good news is there are many things you can do to aid this.
Foods to limit or have in moderation
Avoid eating large meals late at night as this can promote high insulin release that can lead to low blood sugar later at night. When this occurs, adrenaline is then released into the blood stream to compensate for low blood sugar. This will cause you to wake up and unable to go back to sleep.
If you eat no later than 7pm, if you know this is going to be tricky then eat a larger meal earlier in the day and a light meal in the evening.
Avoid caffeine at least 4-6 hours before bedtime. So if you are sleeping at 10.30pm you want to have your last caffeine drink by 4.30pm. Don’t forget caffeine is also in chocolate.
Alcohol may make you fall asleep quickly but in most cases you will often wake up 2-3 hours later feeling rather dehydrated and finding it difficult falling back asleep. If you are suffering from insomnia, then I would recommend cutting it out or limiting yourself to one glass of wine with dinner.
Foods to include
Eat foods containing tryptophan, the body uses tryptophan to help make melatonin and serotonin, which help with sleep. You can find it in turkey, fish, chicken, cottage cheese, beans, avocados, bananas, grains and wheat germ.
some people find eating a banana 30 minutes before bed to be useful.
You can sprinkle wheat germ over your porridge or cereal or mix it into a smoothie.
Include grains such as amaranth, quinoa and kamut in your diet, they are all high in tryptophan.
Calming herbal drinks such as chamomile and valerian tea are good to drink before bed.
Other useful tips
Melatonin is our sleep hormone, produced by the pineal gland and our body naturally produces more of it at bedtime, it helps control your sleep cycle.
For insomnia you can try taking a melatonin supplement, 0.5 mg a night. This is commonly used to combat jet lag and I use it when I go to New Zealand. Life extension does a natural melatonin formula that contains co-factors like calcium and B vitamins.
Calcium and magnesium are known as nature’s tranquilisers. Take them in the evening before bed.
Epsom salts are another great way to get magnesium into the body. A relaxing Epsom salt bath with essential oils like lavender before bed, is excellent for relaxing and promoting a good night’s sleep.
Turn off all screens at least two hours before bed. The blue light from screens affects our body’s ability to produce melatonin, therefore affecting our ability to fall asleep.
Avoid work or work conversations, which will stimulate the mind and add to any anxiety.
Read a novel! Reading calms the mind and can make you feel sleepy.
Darken rooms, pull curtains, turn off overhead lights so your brain gets the message that it’s night time and getting close to sleep. When asleep, the darker the room the better. Invest in some blackout curtains for the summer months.
Try to be in bed by 10.30pm every night at the latest. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Keeping a regular sleep schedule maintains the timing of the body’s internal clock and can help you fall asleep and wake up more easily.
If you are not falling asleep then resist screens, get out of bed and so something boring or relaxing, you don’t want to stimulate the brain.
Exercise improves sleep but try to exercise in the mornings or afternoon, not in the evening or too late during the day as the endorphins released can be over stimulating.
A gentle stroll in the evening can burn off any excess energy and help you de-stress and relax.
I hope this has helped. If you suffer from insomnia and would like help or have questions, please get in touch.