The Dos & Don'ts of Sleep - How To Get The Most From Your Sleep
If you’re not prioritising your sleep, it’s highly likely that you’re not getting enough. When we’re as time poor as we are these days, sleep tends to be the first thing pushed to the side as binging that Netflix series, scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, or enjoying a nightcap take priority. Yet more than a quarter of us experience poor sleep. A good night’s sleep is essential for a long and healthy life. Sleep enriches our ability to learn, memorise, and make logical decisions. It recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism and regulates our appetite. Good quality sleep reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Diabetes by allowing the brain and body to heal, and dreaming can help soothe painful memories.
However there are things we can do to put sleep back on the agenda and make it top of our priority list. The main thing is practicing good sleep hygiene. This means doing things which are known to improve sleep, and avoiding those things which disturb sleep.
The Dos of Sleep Hygiene:
Programme your body clock: keep regular sleep hours. Most of us need between seven and nine hours of sleep.
Create the right environment: your bedroom should be cool (between 18°C and 24°C) and free from noise and light. Consider blackout curtains, an eye mask or ear plugs if necessary. Ensure your mattress and pillows are comfortable, supportive and clean.
Sleep and sex only in the bedroom: there’s a strong association in people’s minds between sleep and the bedroom. TVs, electronic gadgets and work materials in the room weaken that association.
Introduce relaxing activities: writing ‘to do’ lists for the next day can organise your thoughts and clear your mind. Gentle exercises such as light stretches can help relax the muscles and meditation, music and breathing exercises can help relax the mind. A warm bath (not hot) will help your body reach a temperature that’s ideal for sleep. Consider adding chamomile or lavender essential oils.
My favourites our Yoga With Adrienne on Youtube & Tara Brach Meditations
Get up if you are not asleep after 20 minutes: get up, go to another room and engage in a relaxing activity such as reading or listening to music until you feel tired again.
Embrace morning light: opening the curtains or getting outside soon after waking cues your brain to start the day. Research shows that greater exposure to sunlight induces deeper sleep. During the winter months consider a light box which mimics outdoor light.
Exercise and keep active: as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can dramatically improve sleep quality and duration. It’s a great stress buster too!
The Don’ts of Sleep Hygiene
Avoid energetic exercise 3 hours before bed: demanding physical activity can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol which is associated with increasing alertness making it difficult to fall asleep.
Avoid large meals 2 hours before bed: your digestive system will continue working and sleep may be disrupted even if you don’t wake up. If you feel hungry try a light snack 45 minutes before bed.
Avoid blue light 1 hour before bed: dim as many lights as possible and avoid electronic blue lights, such as TV, tablets and mobile phones. Darkness releases melatonin, the brain chemical that makes us sleepy.
Avoid nicotine and alcohol: these act as stimulants meaning you will spend less time in deep sleep and more in the less restful REM stage leaving you feeling tired the next day.
Avoid caffeine after 2pm, or earlier: caffeine is a stimulant. It has a half-life of approximately 6 hours, meaning if you sip a latte at 4pm half of the caffeine will still be in your system at 10pm.
Nap early or not at all: if you must nap, it’s better to keep it short and before 5pm.
Sleep promoting foods:
Carbohydrates: starchy foods induce drowsiness (3pm slump anyone?) so they are perfect to be consumed with an evening meal. They encourage the body to produce the brain chemical serotonin which improves the quality of sleep. Add a small portion of pasta, potatoes or brown rice.
Tryptophan rich foods: serotonin is made from a constituent of protein called tryptophan so include more foods such as fish, turkey, chicken, cottage cheese, beans, avocados and wheat germ.
Bedtime snack: a bedtime snack of sliced banana on an oat cake can help support sleep as both are a good source of tryptophan. A small snack before bed can also help prevent early wakening associated with low blood sugar.
Chamomile tea: swap your night time cup of tea for a cup of chamomile tea or any night –time formulas. Pukka do a blend called ‘Night Time’ which is particularly effective. If you can’t stand the taste of chamomile, consider adding a peppermint teabag as well.
Natural sleep aid – Magnesium
Nowadays, nutrient-poor Western diets and stressful, busy lifestyles mean that many people are depleted in magnesium, yet this mighty mineral has a vital role to play in supporting healthy sleep. There’s good scientific reason why magnesium is nicknamed ‘nature’s tranquiliser’. Magnesium supports neurotransmitters that calm the body and mind. Magnesium is a pivotal nutrient for the healthy functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system - the part of the nervous system that’s responsible for getting your body into a calm and relaxed state, ready for bed. Magnesium also helps to support bodily levels of the calming neurotransmitter GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) – a vital chemical messenger that promotes sleep. ‘Nature’s tranquiliser’ not only relaxes the brain but relaxes your muscles too. Without magnesium, muscles can’t relax and cramps and spasms may start to occur.
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Early research even suggests that some cases of restless legs syndrome (RLS), which itself can cause sleep problems, may be caused by a magnesium deficiency.
You can increase your magnesium intake by increasing the intake of magnesium-rich foods (listed below), reducing behaviours that deplete magnesium and consider supplementation.
Magnesium rich foods
Green leafy vegetables including spinach