Leila Spencer shares her tips for improving your sleep.
Sleep – something that everyone is familiar with, yet something that is problematic for many. There are a plethora of health benefits to good quality sleep, including maintaining a healthy weight, improved mental health, increased productivity and many more. Ultimately, sleeping is your body’s opportunity to recover and rest from working hard all day, as well as a detox from life’s daily stresses. Have you ever had a bad night sleep and been ravenous the next day? That could be because it has been found that poor sleep can increase leptin – the hormone responsible for hunger, for the duration of the next day. Whether you’re struggling to get to sleep, struggling to stay asleep or you simply don’t wake up feeling refreshed and rested, there are a variety of techniques you can try to tackle these sleep problems and get those zzz’s you crave. Hopefully, you will benefit from trying a few of these tips!
Firstly, sleep is a biological mechanism allowing the body to rest and recover from the activity your body has endured throughout the day. Yet, if your body hasn’t moved enough, you may not kickstart the mechanism for rest. Moving more throughout the day may help you to drop off faster and sleep more deeply. A few tips that can help you move more is to aim to surpass 10,000 steps per day. Do little exercises when you would normally sit or stand like calf raises when you brush your teeth or squat reps while you wait for the kettle. Sign up to a fitness class in your area or go for a light jog. Moving throughout the day may help to literally tire you out, so you are ready for a good rest.
Tryptophan-containing foods, such as oats, bananas and beans can release melatonin (the hormone related to sleep) so eating these types of food in the evening can prove beneficial to your sleep pattern. It has also been found that complex carbohydrates in the evening can also increase serotonin (your happy hormone). Complex carbs include ingredients such as sweet potato, brown rice and whole grains. These are great ingredients to add to your plate at dinner time! Leading on from this, reducing simple sugar intake before bed is vitally important. If a few biscuits before bed is your go-to nightcap, think again! The simple sugars spike your blood sugar, making you feel wired before bed, followed by a subsequent drop that can disrupt sleep and even wake you up in the middle of the night. Swap the digestives for a cup of camomile tea to help keep your blood sugars balanced.
Relaxing your body is essential for getting into the right state to sleep and magnesium is an amazing mineral for this! Magnesium can calm the nervous system and help to relieve tense muscles promoting good sleep. You may be thinking, ‘where on Earth do I get magnesium from?’ To answer your question, it can be found in health stores and on Amazon pretty easily and without a hefty price tag. Ways to incorporate magnesium into your routine is adding magnesium/Epsom bath salts to your bath and eating lots of magnesium-rich foods like sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, spinach and broccoli.
This is the one tip that I believe is truly effective for getting your body and mind into the right state to sleep. Focusing on the wind-down period leading up to bedtime is absolutely key. Many of us work, text, scroll through Instagram/Twitter or watch one Netflix show that turns into 3 and then 4… and before you know it it’s 1 am already. The wind-down period should technically be about two hours before you get into bed, but for very busy people even 30 minutes of winding down can make a difference. Reducing screen-time, reading books rather than Instagram captions, lighting a candle, stretching out the daily stresses that have made your shoulders a bundle of knots are all simple actions that help to relax you and wash away the stresses of the day can that can keep you up at night. Using screens around bedtime can biologically affect your sleep quality as the blue light powering your phone or laptop can trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime and thus make it harder for you to drop off. Calming the parasympathetic nervous system is also recommended to enhance sleep quality. Exercises that incorporate breathwork, such as the 4-7 breathing technique (breathing in for 4 seconds and breathing out for 7) can also be beneficial. Yoga, meditation or simply stretching and noticing your breath can be enough to get your body ready for rest.
Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep spoke about the importance of ‘sleep hygiene’. Hygiene is a concept that is so ingrained in our day-to-day activities and is solidly integrated into our lives. Washing our hands, showering and staying dirt-free are all efforts we make to maintain good hygiene without really thinking about it. The same measures should be taken to protect our health regarding our sleep. Walker suggests that sleep hygiene should become routine. Switching screens off two hours before bed and sleeping in a pitch-black room are both shown to improve sleep, regulate sleep and wake-up times and adjust and solidify circadian rhythms. It is also recommended that the bedroom should be cool – 18 degrees to be exact. These are little tips that Walker, a professor of neuroscience, suggests for improving our health in all aspects, starting from the way we sleep
So, to recap, if you’re struggling with your sleep be sure to try out a few of the tips in this article. Hopefully, a restful night’s sleep will become more than a concept you simply dream of. Sleep tight!