Sleep is essential for the growth and repair of our body cells. This process takes place during the night, therefore getting an adequate amount is imperative to maintain our health. Many people have the odd sleepless night however prolonged periods of insufficient sleep can compromise the immune system and affect the body in many ways. Some of the symptoms associated with inadequate sleep are:
• Poor memory
• Inability to concentrate
• Feeling stressed
• Frequent illness
• Unable to cope with simple tasks
Personal habits to improve sleep
Fix a bedtime and an awakening time
Avoid staying up too late if you need to get up early. Your body “gets used” to falling asleep at a certain time. Get in the habit of going to bed earlier and eventually your body will adjust.
Avoid napping during the day
If you nap during the day it will be harder for you to sleep at night. If you do need to nap then try and limit it to 30 – 45 minutes in the early afternoon long before bedtime.
Exercise regularly but not right before bedtime
Regular exercise can help to deepen sleep. Strenuous exercise within 2 hours of bedtime can decrease you ability to fall asleep.
Use comfortable bedding
Uncomfortable bedding can prevent good sleep. Think about the pillows and sheets. Use pure cotton instead of synthetic mixes. Consider using a weighted blanket.
Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the bedroom ventilated
If your bedroom is too cold or too hot it can keep you awake. A cool bedroom is often the most conducive to sleep.
Block out all distracting noise and keep the room dark
Reserve the bedroom for sleep
Don’t use the bedroom as an office, workroom or recreation room. Let your body “know” that the bedroom is associated with sleeping.
Practice relaxation techniques before bedtime
Relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing, having a warm bath with Epsom salts or magnesium salts, meditation and others may help relieve anxiety and reduce tension. There are many free APPs that provide sleep meditation support.
Don’t take your worries to bed
Leave your worries about your job, school, daily life etc., behind when you go to bed. Some people find it useful to write things down before they go to bed.
Do not watch TV or be on the computer in the bedroom
Television can be very engaging and keep you awake. It is better to quietly listen to the radio and turn it off as soon as you feel sleepy. Looking at a computer screen or phone while in bed can contribute to wakefulness.
What to do if you wake up in the night
If you wake up and cannot fall back to sleep within 15 – 20 minutes then do not remain in bed, get out of bed have a small light snack and do some quiet activity like reading. You will generally find that you can get back to sleep after 20 minutes or so.
Other factors that may upset sleep patterns
Physical and mental factors can affect sleep such as: arthritis, acid reflux with heartburn, menstruation, PMS, menopause, anxiety and depression. A healthcare professional should be consulted about these issues to help determine the problem and the best treatment.
Dietary Advice and Sleep
Avoid eating late at night, heavy meals and foods which are hard to digest
Saturated fatty foods such as dairy products, red meat, hard cheeses take a longer time to digest. This can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Avoid stimulants 4 – 6 hours before bedtime
Tea, coffee, chocolate, sugary foods and sweet drinks interfere with sleep patterns. Alcohol may have an immediate sleep-inducing effect however a few hours later you are more likely to wake up.
In the evening avoid foods containing tyramine just before bed
Tyramine stimulates the production of adrenaline which may disrupt your sleep.
Tyramine is found in:Night shade vegetables: tomatoes, aubergine, courgettes, potatoes and spinach.
Have a tryptophan, B3 and B6 rich meal in the evening
Tryptophan is an amino acid which converts to serotonin a neurotransmitter which induces sleep. B6 is an essential nutrient required for the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin.
B6 – Yeast, eggs, milk, wholegrain, brown rice, lean meat, chicken, peas, sunflower seeds, soya beans, lentils, trout and spinach.
B3 – Yeast, calves liver, tuna, chicken, halibut, mushrooms, pulses, wholemeal wheat and peanuts.
Tryptophan – turkey, chicken, bananas, eggs, fish, walnuts, cashew nuts, tuna, oats and wheat germ.
Include any of these foods with dinner or as a snack before bedtime to help promote sleep.
Magnesium and calcium rich foods
Both these minerals have a tranquilising effect. Eat plenty of foods containing these minerals.
Foods rich in these minerals are:
Magnesium – spinach. Kale, broccoli, peas, brown rice, quinoa, oats, figs, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, brazil nuts, lentil and wheat.
Calcium – hard cheeses, spinach, spring greens, kale, broccoli, sardines, tofu, yoghurt, milk, almonds, seeds and peas.
Sleep promoting evening snack suggestions
Banana with handful of nuts
A cup of warm milk with an oat cake
A small bowl of plain yoghurt with some nuts and seeds
A slice of wholemeal bread with nut butter
By Jessica Andersson, Nutritional Therapist