This is a condensed version of my previous sleep blog, just focusing on tips to help improve your sleep. If you want to find out about the health benefits of sleep and more about what actually happens when we sleep please have a look at my previous blog which goes into much more detail.
Top tips for better sleep
Whatever age you are there are lots of things you can do to optimise your sleep. Good sleep hygiene can be beneficial in regulating sleep patterns and optimising the quality of sleep. Giving yourself a 7-9 hour sleep window is the first and most important step but trying these tips should also help you improve the quality of your sleep.
• Try to expose yourself to natural daylight first thing every morning, as close to waking as you can. Getting at least 20 minutes is optimal but some exposure is better than none, so if you only have a few minutes, that is just fine. Try to get as much natural sunlight in the day as you can (maybe try to take a little walk outside on your lunch break). Exposing yourself to natural light in the morning helps set the body’s natural internal clock.
• Increase magnesium rich foods in your diet, such as green leafy vegetables, butternut squash, tofu, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, spinach, broccoli, salmon, avocado, banana beans and pulses. Magnesium is a very calming nutrient and can be very beneficial for sleep.
• Eat a nutrient rich diet. Try to eat a rainbow of colours and a diverse range of plant foods to make sure you are getting all your nutrients and fibre which are great for our beneficial gut bacteria. Increasing prebiotic foods such as beans, lentils, onions, garlic, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, oats and flaxseeds and probiotic rich fermented foods such as water or milk kefir (I make my own water kefir which is so easy), biolive yoghurt, kimchi, tempeh or sauerkraut can be a wonderful way of increasing the diversity of beneficial gut bacteria, but if you don’t eat a lot of these foods introduce them gradually to guard against wind and bloating. A 2019 study concluded that a more diverse gut microbiome promoted healthier sleep.
• Try to reduce your intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates, especially in the evenings, as they can cause a dysregulation of blood sugar levels and may interrupt your sleep.
• Avoid drinking too many fluids 1-2 hours before bed, as this could increase the number of times you wake in the night to go to the bathroom, but make sure you drink regularly during the day so you aren’t dehydrated.
• Try not to eat 3 hours before bed and avoid high fat meals as they can cause digestive discomfort, especially heartburn.
• Try to avoid alcohol in the evening (sorry!) as it is disruptive to sleep. Although many people think alcohol makes them sleep better, it actually acts as a sedative which means you may get off to sleep quicker but it is very disruptive to the sleep patterns the body needs. Alcohol also activates the fight or flight part of the nervous system, which causes fragmentation of sleep meaning you are more likely to wake up frequently. On top of that, alcohol can block the restorative Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. So although alcohol is thought as sleep inducing it is actually sedation inducing, which is not sleep at all!
• Try to avoid caffeine after lunch. Caffeine has a half life of 5-6 hours which means that if you have a caffeinated drink after dinner at 6.00 p.m. you potentially will still have half the dose of caffeine at midnight! Caffeine can block a chemical in the brain called adenosine which is important for making you feel sleepy before bed. It can also reduce the amount of restorative deep sleep, which means you may wake up not feeling refreshed and restored even if you have had a full 8 hours uninterrupted sleep. Remember caffeine is found in tea, coffee, energy drinks and dark chocolate.
• Turn off all screens at least 60 minutes before bed to stop them interfering with the sleep hormone melatonin. If you really have to look at a screen in this time use a blue light blocking app likef.lux, night time mode or wear blue light blocking glasses.
• Dim the lights in the evening to allow the production of the hormone melatonin which plays a key role in our sleep-wake cycle.
• Whilst exercise can improve the quality of sleep, avoid exercising too close to your bedtime, although gentle yoga, Tai Chi or Pilates should be fine. Intensive exercise can raise the stress hormone cortisol, which has a detrimental effect on sleep.
• Take a warm bath about 60-90 minutes before bed, to reduce the core temperature which aids sleep. Use a generous amount of Epsom Salts which is rich in magnesium and can help support sleep. Or I have found some lovely natural baths salts and bath bombs from a local small business Eco Bonobo, so you could give those a try.
• Keep your bedroom cool. Aim for around 20C or 68F to optimise sleep. Keep your bedroom clear of clutter and turn it into a sleep sanctuary. Make it a place you want to go to, to feel relaxed and ready for sleep. You can also use blackout blinds to keep your bedroom as dark as possible.
• Try relaxation exercises before bed. This could be meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, sleep yoga or simply reading a book.
• Try to be in bed by 11.00pm at the latest. If you are a night owl then no later than 12.00 but do make sure you allow time to get the optimal 7-9 hours of sleep.
• Try to go to bed around the same time each night and wake up at the same time. Try to do this every day, as weekend lay ins can be disruptive to sleep (sorry again!). Consistent sleep patterns are one of the most beneficial things you can do for sleep and help maintain our circadian rhythm .
If sleep is still a problem……
Look into Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) which is available both privately and on the NHS.
If you can’t sleep, after 20 minutes or so, get up and do something relaxing like meditation or reading a book (but make sure the book isn’t too stimulating!), read until you are tired and then go back to bed. Keep the lights low and don’t use any screens or eBooks.
One of the things I often recommend is White Chestnut Bach Flower remedy. This is a flower essence which can be wonderful for calming the mind. Take 2 drops on your tongue or in water before bed and take if you wake up in the night. This can be purchased from the Natural Dispensary.
Tart cherry juice (such as Cherry Active) has some research to support it may aid sleep. Try having a hot drink of this an hour before bed. Just add a 30 ml serving to hot water. Or if you are fasting or follow time restricted eating it comes in capsule form as well.
Keep a sleep diary. This link will take you to a downloadable sleep diary, which may help you make links to things you are doing which may be affecting your sleep. This is also good to take to a health professional if you need to see one.
If you make gasping, snorting or choking noises while you sleep, wake up a lot, are a loud snorer and/or your breathing stops temporarily in your sleep, you should make an appointment to see your GP to be investigated for sleep apnoea.
Sleep is something I try to optimise with my clients. I look at how changing or adding certain foods can help, often work to balance blood sugar, sometimes recommend supplements and also focus on lifestyle and stress. As most of my nutrition clients are in the peri menopause, we also work together to optimise hormone function, as the change in hormones can effect sleep quality. So please do get in touch if you would like to book a discovery call to talk about working together or feel free to sign up to my mailing list to receive tips on balancing your hormones, a link to my monthly blog and information on upcoming events.