Sleep Glorious Sleep
Why is sleep so important?
All of the vital processes in our bodies undergo rest and repair during the night. A good night’s sleep is essential for the health, growth and rejuvenation of our immune system, nervous system, bones & muscles.
What does a lack of sleep do to us?
Lack of sleep or disrupted sleep affects both our mental and emotional as well as physical health. Neuroscience is showing more and more how sleep deprivation interferes with our mental abilities, focus, productivity and performance, as well as making us moody, impatient, irritable, stressed and scattered.
Sleep deprivation interferes with important (and very precise) hormonal processes, increasing levels of a hunger hormone and decreasing levels of the hormone that makes you feel full, which is why when we’re tired we keep reaching for comfort food. More worryingly, poor sleep patterns are now also linked to a growing list of serious health conditions, including obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimers/dementia.
Why are we so sleep deprived?
Our culture of longer working hours has us believing 5-6 hours is fine, which scientists are increasingly proving is not the case, with adults needing between 7 and 9 hours for long term good health. We are cramming more and more into our days, so many people counteract the fatigue with caffeine and stimulants (energy drinks and high street coffee chains, which didn’t exist 20 years ago, are now multi billion dollar worldwide industries!). In the moment this may help, but it is disastrous to your long term health. Artificial light and particularly the blue light from or screens can be very disruptive to our sleep processes.
How can food affect our sleep?
Eating fresh, whole, unprocessed foods and eating the bulk of your food earlier in the day is the best route to deep, refreshing sleep. Eating late, eating rich, sugary or hard to digest foods will make sleep less restful as your bodies processes are competing for energy. If energy is going towards digestion less is available for rest, growth and repair. Alcohol and caffeine are also big culprits in disturbing sleep, so try to avoid too close to bedtime. And refined grains & sugars will disrupt your sugar and hormone balance, which can lead to erratic sleeping patterns. Stick to wholegrains and a little protein for late night snacks.
Which foods can help regulate sleep cycles / help you nod off?
Tryptophan-containing foods, such as turkey, wholegrains, lentils, chickpeas, bananas, nuts & seeds are perfect to eat in the evening, as this is the amino acid which produces melatonin, which encourages sleep.
But it is also essential to develop good, regular eating patterns throughout the whole day, as blood sugar instability and hormonal peaks and troughs during the day have a knock-on effect at night, and you can find yourself waking at odd hours. “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and supper like a pauper” is good advice, including some protein at every meal to keep your blood sugar stable.
Top tips for better sleep
– Try to get exercise, sunshine and fresh air during the day - a good brisk walk at the very least - but avoid anything too intense close to bedtime
– Keep your bedroom cool, dark and uncluttered, and try to switch off all electronics (mobiles, tvs, computers and WiFi connections) a couple of hours before bedtime - as the bright screens and electrical interference can really impair sleep
– Regular sleep and waking times are important - not staying up too late or lying in too late at weekends for instance
– Enjoy relaxing bedtime routines (warm baths, herbal teas, essential oils, relaxing music) to help wind down after a busy head-focussed day
– Practice deep breathing throughout the day, as it is easy to slip into shallow breathing when we are busy or stressed, which can interrupt our sleep later on
– Herbal teas and supplements such as Valerian are a great natural way to help improve sleep, without the side effects of medicinal sleeping aids. Another great relaxer for your nervous system is rosemary tea - boil up a teaspoon of rosemary in some water for 5 mins, strain and drink.