A lack of sleep can create a vicious cycle of poor lifestyle choices. Energy levels, motivation and will power can be left wanting after a bad night’s rest, making it harder to exercise and eat well for example. Sleep has many functions and is vital for:
- Healing and repair of the body
- Supporting growth and development
- Improved learning and memory
- Lowering stress levels
- Supporting creativity
- Improved weight management and hormone balance
- Maintaining a health immune response
And much more!
Considering the brain requires almost a third of the body’s total energy to function, it is no wonder that when we are tired, we find it much harder to focus on tasks, can feel foggy brained and find it harder to make decisions.
Long term poor sleep can lead to:
- Low mood, anxiety, irritability or mood swings
- Dysregulated hormones and weight gain
- Headaches and ‘foggy brain’
- Difficulty making healthier food choices
- Lack of motivation to exercise
- Compromised immune system, making an individual more prone to picking up coughs and colds
As you can see, ensuring you are getting enough good quality sleep is vital for overall health and wellness. If you are finding it difficult to fall asleep or are waking up in the night here are some lifestyle factors to consider and areas that you may need to optimise to promote better sleep.
What you can do
- Engage in a regular bedtime and waking time – our body works on a tight circadian rhythm which, like a baby, loves routine!
- Allow for between 8 and 10 hours in your bed. If you take time to fall asleep or are waking a lot then allow for 10 hours.
- Avoid going to bed too late, this puts you at risk of encountering a second wind in your cortisol levels. Raised cortisol = lower melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Exercise, movement, relaxation
Exercise and movement in the day is important to tire out your muscles, making it easier to sleep. However too high intensity workouts close to bedtime will raise stress levels, namely cortisol and adrenaline making it harder to wind down.
- Engage in appropriate exercise for your ability, simply walking is beneficial.
- Keep high intensity exercise to the morning time. This will support the production of cortisol to improve energy levels for the day.
- In the evening time, avoid high intensity levels and engage in restorative exercise or relaxation to bring down cortisol levels and promote the production of melatonin
- Get into the habit of engaging in relaxation techniques in the evening time to wind down. There are many apps you can use for guided meditations, or simply listen to relaxing music.
- Take a magnesium salts bath. This gives you time to wind down while also absorbing transdermal magnesium, which is great for calming mood and relaxing muscles – reducing restless legs or cramping.
- Lists or gratitude diary are handy to have sitting by your bed. If you are having racing thoughts or things you need to do, write them down. If you are upset about something, end the day by writing out 3 things you are grateful for. This helps to re-frame your thoughts focusing on the positive.
Daylight & Blue Light
A good night’s sleep begins in the morning. Blue light from the sun will stimulate the production of serotonin in the brain. Vitamin D from the sun also supports the production of this feel-good brain chemical. When the night closes in, the pineal gland in the brain requires adequate amounts of serotonin to produce melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps us fall asleep. Any blue light will hinder the production of melatonin.
- Enjoy natural daylight early in the day. Get out for a morning walk, have breakfast in a bright spot in your home or consider investing in a SAD lamp. It is best to sit in front of the lamp for 20-30 mins in the morning.
- Avoid blue light, particularly from screens, 1-2 hours before bedtime. Read a book or listen to music instead.
- Invest in a pair of blue-blocking glasses or amber glasses. Wear them from 8/9pm each evening as part of your bedtime routine. This prevents blue light getting in the way of melatonin production.
Food & Drink
- Avoid caffeine after 12pm. Caffeine has a half life of 5 hours. which means only half the caffeine is cleared after 5 hours, and half is still left in your system. Individuals will vary in how quickly they can clear caffeine. If you have sleep issues we advise avoiding coffee, tea, green tea and caffeinated soft drinks after midday.
- Avoid large meals close to bedtime. Come evening time our digestion likes to also wind down and large meals can be hard on the digestive system. Lying down after a meal can create indigestion, heartburn or reflux which will hinder sleep.
- To snack or not to snack. This can vary from person to person. Some individuals sleep better if they avoid eating 2-3 hours before bed. However, some individuals need a healthy snack in order to balance blood sugars so they do not drop in the night causing them to wake up. If you are the type who needs an evening snack, it is best to combine a complex carbohydrate food with a source of protein and healthy fats such as
- oat cakes with hummus
- apple with nut butter
- small amount of porridge with ground seeds added
- wholemeal bread with mashed avocado
- See Maggie’s Red Velvet Protein Balls, for a refined sugar free balanced treat
- Drink more water in the morning. If you wake in the night to pee and can’t get back to sleep, drink enough water earlier in the day.
- Enjoy a herbal tea. Many herbal tea companies will have ‘night-time’ teas which are made with calming herbs such as chamomile and lemon balm. Holy basil tea or Tulsi teas are good for reducing cortisol and balancing blood sugars levels.
- Minimise alcohol. Where some may feel alcohol helps them to wind down it can create an imbalance between slow-wave sleep and REM sleep. This can result in less REM sleep and more slow-wave sleep. This decreases overall sleep quality, and can result in shorter sleep duration and more sleep disruptions.
Bedroom / Sleeping environment
Having a calm and organised bedroom will encourage relaxation. Save your bedroom for sex and sleep – if possible, avoid using it to work or for recreational use. Consider the following
- Invest in inviting bedding with comfortable sheets and pillows.
- Black out blinds can be an important investment, particularly in the summer-time to block out blue light in the evening
- Ear plugs are important if the source of your lack of sleep is external noise, such as living close to a busy road or a partner that snores!
- Avoid watching TV in your room.
- Sleep experts suggest the best temperature for optimum sleep is 18.3 degrees Celsius. This will vary for individuals but it may be important to consider changing bedding season to season and monitoring heating / AC systems, to avoid being too hot or too cold.
Sleep is a pillar of health and good quality sleep promotes overall health and wellness. There are many lifestyle factors here to consider however if you suffer from insomnia or ongoing sleep disruption speak to a health care practitioner or get in touch with the Sleep Therapy Clinic