good night's sleep
I believe that sleep is the most important thing we can get right for our health. Often when seeing clients I will give them tips for a better night's sleep as well as help with their nutrition. If you aren't getting enough sleep then how can you be expected to have the energy to cook yourself nutritious meals and look after your family? Poor sleep is implicated in a range of health conditions such as heart disease, poor immunity and insulin resistance.
My sleep journey
I know what it's like to suffer poor sleep. I always slept well until my father died very unexpectedly in my early 30s. I think I spent the next year regularly waking at 3am and watching the clock move slowly until it was time to get up. Luckily my sleep is much improved since those dark days, but I still have nights where I toss and turn in the early hours. Usually when I'm stressed or I spent the evening on my computer rather than relaxing. Consuming alcohol often disturbs my sleep too and I never sleep as soundly. When I do sleep badly, that's when I will make poor food choices - reaching for a piece of chocolate or a cake as an energy boost. Without a decent night's sleep you can't be expected to be in your peak health so it's something you must address as well as your nutrition.
Tips for a good night's sleep
Below are some tips to help you get a good night's sleep.
In the day
• Get outside for at least an hour every day. The exposure to natural light on a daily basis helps to regulate your body's sleep cycle.
• Limit your caffeine consumption. Have your last cup of tea or coffee by 2pm and then switch to herbal tea or chicory root coffee substitute. Remember that even decaffeinated coffee and green tea contain some caffeine.
• Increase your consumption of green leafy vegetables. These contain magnesium which is essential for relaxation of your muscles. It is thought that up to 80% of people in the UK are now deficient in this mineral, which can be depleted through alcohol, stress and low intake of vegetables.
• Eat a healthy well balanced diet in the day with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit.
• Avoid sugary food and processed carbohydrates which will elevate your blood sugar. Swap for whole grain and wild rice.
• Aim to drink 2 litres of water a day.
In the evening
• Don't use your phone or computer in the two hour's before your bedtime. The blue light disrupts your circadian rhythm making it more difficult to get to sleep. If you must use your computer before bed then download F.lux to reduce the impact of blue light on your body clock.
• Don't eat too late. We should ideally leave a couple of hours before eating and going to sleep.
• Try a 10 minute meditation to help you relax – it's not just for hippies!. There are lots of videos and apps to help guide you through your meditation. The "Honest Guys" on You Tube or the Headspace app are very popular.
• Try eating some cherries. Cherries can boost your body's melatonin levels, which helps regulate the sleep/wake cycle. Montmorency cherries contain the highest amounts. If you can't find them in supermarkets you can buy a tart cherry juice from health food shops.
In your bedroom
• Have your bedroom as dark as you can. Investing in a blackout blind will really help.
• Keep phones and tablets out of the bedroom. A study by King's College, London in 2016 found that smart phones in bedrooms disrupted sleep, even if they were turned off.
• Have an Epsom Salt bath. The magnesium in the salts help you to relax and promote a good night's sleep.
• Try putting essential oil in a diffuser or putting a couple of drops on your pillow. Lavender or clary sage work well for me. Be careful to only put a couple of drops as lavender can also overstimulate in large amounts.