We spend a third of our lives asleep, and sleep is as essential to our health as a balanced diet and exercise. During sleep our bodies undergo essential cell repair, and this can help improve our immune system and mental function. Long-term sleep deprivation can cause increased inflammation in our bodies, and has been linked to diabetes, heart disease and clinical depression. We all suffer from a sleepless night from time to time, but when this becomes a pattern it’s time to consider some simple lifestyle changes.
Follow these few simple tips to improve your quality of sleep:
Eat Breakfast. Intermittent fasting has become increasingly popular in recent years but fasting in the morning makes our brain shut-down non-essential functions and increases production of adrenaline, our stress hormone. Eating within 30-45 minutes of waking helps us to produce serotonin and melatonin. Melatonin is required at the end of the day to help us sleep.
Go outside in the morning. Our body has its own internal clock, our circadian rhythm. This internal clock which is responsible all sorts of bodily functions can be easily thrown off course. We spend to much time indoors during the day, and too much time staring at the TV or screens in the evening. Your sleep clock is set by bright morning light every day. Ideally go outside for a walk within one hour of waking and leave the sunglasses at home to maximise exposure to blue light.
Reduce your caffeine consumption. Coffee, tea, fizzy drinks all contain caffeine, which has a half-life of 5 hours. This means that 5 hours after your cup of coffee, half of the caffeine is still in your body, and it can take up to 12 hours to clear all of it. For this reason, I recommend no caffeine after 12pm if you are struggling to sleep.
Make time to de-stress during the day. Breathing techniques and meditation can be great tools in helping us de-stress. I like to use this simple technique from ‘My Grateful Life’.
Don’t eat too late. Ideally you should stop eating 3 hours before bedtime. This includes that hot cup of cocoa! Experts believe this late-night digestion keeps our body temperatures raised and prevents us from falling asleep.
Create an evening wind-down routine and make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. Turning off our screens before bed really helps support our circadian rhythms. Wear amber glasses to reduce the blue light if you are addicted to your phone. Listening to relaxing music or an audio book can be very soothing. Ideally your skin should be warm and your bed cool. So, take a warm bath and then get into cool sheets without an electric blanket. Use blackout curtains if you can and keep all electronic devices downstairs on charge. If you use your phone as an alarm, buy a bedside clock.
Keep a notebook by your bed. When we’re stressed and anxious, these worries can become amplified at night in the darkness. If your mind races as soon as you get into bed, keep a small notebook and pen by your bed to write down those worries, and this should make it easier to let go of them.
Cut down on alcohol. Whilst at first alcohol’s effects are relaxing, too much can play havoc with our sleep. It blocks REM sleep which is the deepest and most restorative of sleep. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the organs of the body also have an internal clock, so if you find yourself awake tossing and turning between 1-3am, this is the time of the Liver which may be a sign that it’s struggling.
Consider herbal teas or supplements. Natural herbal teas containing valerian, chamomile, hops, vervain and rooibos are all good options for a late-night drink. I like Clipper Organic Sleep Easy Infusion. Magnesium supplementation may improve sleep (Rondanelli et al 2001). Magnesium glycinate is most readily absorbed by the body, or increase your intake of avocados, nuts and leafy greens.
Reviews of studies on acupuncture and insomnia have found that Acupuncture treatment is significantly better than hypnotics at tackling insomnia. It has been shown to increase nocturnal melatonin secretion (Spence et al 2004); it increases opioid production (Cheng et al 2009); it switches off the sympathetic nervous system thus promoting relaxation (Lee 2009). Acupuncture has been well documented as affecting the release of several neurotransmitters: dopamine, GABA, serotonin, noradrenaline and neuropeptide Y, which can all affect our ability to relax and feel less stressed.