Getting a good nights sleep is absolutely fundamental to good health. When we are in a deep sleep our bodies switch in to restorative mode: cellular cleansing, tissue repair and cell growth are all essential functions that happen when we sleep and need to be carried out on a very regular basis in order to maintain optimum health.
Having a good nights sleep also allows us to cope better with the physical and mental demands of the following day. If you are not getting sufficient sleep, your ability to cope with the stresses and strains of daily life will rapidly diminish.
If you are finding it hard to get off to sleep or if you nod off easily but find you wake in the early hours and cannot get back to sleep there are some simple, effective things you can do to help your body get the sleep it needs:
• Most people are aware that coffee is a stimulant. If you are struggling with getting a good nights sleep cut out all coffee but also tea, green tea and chocolate as they all contain caffeine and are therefore stimulants.
• Also, watch how much alcohol you have. Yes, it might make you feel relaxed but if you have alcohol on an empty stomach it will cause a big sugar rush leading to stress hormones being released. If you have these powerful stimulants charging around your body there is absolutely no way your body will be able to switch in to sleep mode. Another problem with alcohol, it interferes with serotonin levels in the brain – serotonin being key to relaxation and a good nights sleep.
• Exercise in the morning is really beneficial. Exercise is initially stimulating, (so avoid it in the evening), revving you up to face the day but leaving you tired by the end of the day. Most people are mentally not physically exhausted by bedtime which makes them feel tired but interferes with the nervous system switching off. Exercise is also a really effective way of reducing stress hormones – as I said above, if you have adrenaline and cortisol in your system, your nervous system simply cannot switch into sleep mode, however tired you are.
• There are some key nutrients to help you sleep too. The B vitamins and magnesium are essential for calming the nervous system and allowing it to switch off. Eat plenty of whole-grains, pulses and animal protein to get enough of these nutrients and also, try having a snack high in complex carbohydrates, like a banana or oat cake with hummus, about an hour before bedtime – this will stimulate the production of that all important brain chemical, serotonin.
• A really fantastic relaxation technique is ‘Progressive Muscle Relaxation’ (google it!), it is a great thing to do when you go to bed in order to trigger your sleep mode.
More easy tips: a cup of chamomile tea before bed; sprinkling lavender oil on your pillow; a hot bath; writing down what’s on your mind, what you have to do the next day will help your brain quieten down and rather than watch the telly, go to bed with a good book – it’s much more relaxing.
For those of you who have long-term insomnia, I would strongly advise visiting a qualified nutritional therapist (such as myself :)) as there are many more interventions that can be recommended which will be tailored specifically to your needs.