There’s nothing like the feeling of getting a good night’s sleep: you feel more you, energised, refreshed and clear headed. When we sleep, our bodies repair and recharge, so it’s absolutely critical that we get enough rest. Good-quality sleep is also super important for weight balance and appetite control. When we’re tired, we’re more likely to make poor food choices and lifestyle choices.
For so many of us, good-quality sleep isn’t always realistic especially this time of year when we seem to be extra busy! If you’ve been struggling to get a good night’s sleep, here are a few questions to consider: do you have trouble falling asleep? Do you wake up in the middle of the night? What is your diet like? Do you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning? Do you hit ‘snooze’ on your alarm clock repeatedly? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, it’s likely that you have disrupted sleep and something needs tweaking.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand how your normal everyday habits could be playing a part. These are the diet and lifestyle factors that stimulate the body and brain, which interfere with your body’s ability to switch off at night time:
-You’re consuming caffeine in the afternoon, perhaps when you hit that 4pm slump at your desk. This includes coffee, green tea and black tea.
-You’re drinking alcohol in the lead-up to bedtime , this includes red wine, which revs up the liver or sugary mixers.
-You’re eating sugar at night (Late night popcorn, cookies, sweets).
-You’re highly stressed/worried and have an overactive mind (Which is the most common one for us Women!)
-Your pituitary gland is not functioning as well as it should, meaning your hormones are imbalanced
-You’re not eating enough protein at dinnertime
-You’re exercising at night, and going to bed with adrenaline coursing through your veins
-Your bedroom is located in a noisy area perhaps at the front of the house near a main road
-You’re on your phone or watching TV right before bed
-Your room is too bright (letting light in from the outside from street lamps/traffic/shops etc) or too warm
-You’re on thyroid medication
These are all factors that can contribute to a bad night’s sleep but they can be addressed now we have acknowledged them…
In the busy weeks leading up to Christmas and the end of the year lots of us sacrifice sleep to tick off other items on our to-do list and I understand… The days are shorter and you still have so much to do! But there’s a reason why we sleep for one-third of our lives: it’s essential for our health. Starting now, you need to prioritise your rest. Do whatever you can to get into bed at a reasonable time so that you can sleep for at least seven to eight hours. If you have to wake up early the next day, make an effort to turn the lights off a little earlier than usual the night before. When you prioritise sleep, the rewards are phenomenal; you’ll be able to function better in your day-to-day life. When you’re energised and rested, you’re more likely to think clearly and make healthier food and lifestyle choices.
At night, after a busy day you need to relax and unwind your mind, signalling to the body that it’s almost time for bed. To do that, set up a night time routine for yourself full of sleep-provoking rituals. These are the main points:
-Turn your phone and computer off at 8pm
-Don’t eat too much after you’ve had dinner (A little bit of raw dark magnesium filled chocolate is okay!)
-Have a relaxing bath to calm the mind
-Sip a warming caffeine free herbal tea (I love camomile, lemon balm or a sweet fennel) the compounds found in many of them are brilliant for calming the nervous system.
-Try reading for 30 mins for bed instead of scrolling emails/social media on your phone
The goal is to make your bedroom desirable and to associate it with relaxation and sleep. In the hour or so before bed, dim the lights, put lavender oil on the pillows, and light a candle or burn essential oils. If you have an extra busy mind keep a notepad on your bedside table, and jot down any pesky thoughts that come into your mind while you’re trying to wind down. Make sure your room isn’t cluttered and messy. Take away any computers and distractions so the room is a technology-free zone, and ensure the room temperature is comfortable. Ideally, your bedroom should be dark and fairly cool. Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary; you’ll be amazed at how relaxing you find the space once you take the time to adjust a few things.
Many people don’t realise the connection between diet and sleep but it is a really important one and is not to be over looked. For a deeper sweeter sleep, it’s important to eat protein at night, which helps to stabilise blood sugar levels, consume good fats (avocados!) to balance out your hormones, and support your liver with brassica veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower and kale. Consuming a balanced meal that contains your protein, fat and a complex carbohydrate source also ensures you are not going to bed uncomfortably hungry. It helps encourage a deeper sleep and will keep you feeling satiated/keep your blood sugars stable. Ideally try to have dinner 2-3 hours pre bedtime so your body has time to digest the food and rest.
Eat more warming cooked meals as opposed to cold raw foods at dinner time. Enjoy your seasonal soups/stews/casseroles/slow cooked meats/sautéed veggies in coconut oil – they are much more internally warming and nourishing for the nervous system.
Add some of yummy sleep inducing foods to your shopping list this week and try to incorporate them into your meals every evening:
-Organic free range turkey; One of the amino acids that turkey contains is tryptophan, which plays a role in aiding melatonin production crucial for sleep.
– Bananas; Full of potassium and magnesium wonderful for their ability to relax muscles. Consuming these natural muscle relaxants can help you to feel more calm at night, allowing you to fall asleep and stay asleep more easily. (Banana bread and organic Greek/coconut yoghurt for pudding!)
-Broccoli; Fibre is so important for our digestive systems, and less disturbances means deeper sleep.
-Salmon/fatty fish; Important for brain health, hormones, skin it’s also great at helping us fall asleep due to its high omega 3 and Vit D content both working together to help serotonin production.
Some of my other favourite sleep inducing foods include raw organic honey, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, oats, cacao, spinach, kale, cherries, walnuts, pistachios, mackerel, trout, quinoa.
I will stress however it’s much more important to focus on what you’re NOT eating i.e. Fried foods that are high in inflammatory cooking oils, alcohol, additives etc. Foods that are going to cause havoc on your digestive system in the evenings (and also your brain).
Focus on wholesome plant foods, lots of colours and as always pair with some good quality fat (cold pressed olive oil, seeds, nuts, avocados).
For those that struggle with falling asleep and are looking for a little extra help… supplementing can be very beneficial especially during busy periods of the year and during times of stress. If you have implemented the above steps and are still struggling, consider talking to a practitioner about what you could be taking but I would suggest the below.
Other supplements to consider:
-Magnesium citrate (500-800mg). Magnesium can be wonderful to calm the mind and nervous system, relieve symptoms of mild anxiety and support you in a better night’s sleep.
-Magnesium/Epsom salts in bath, my favourite for relaxing!
-Zinc (30mg before bed). Another great one for calming the nervous system and supporting your body while you rest by boosting immunity and helping healthy cell growth, sleep is that important time for our bodies to heal from any injuries or illnesses.
-CBD oil, commonly used to treat pain, reduce inflammation and ease anxiety CBD oil is also brilliant when used to treat sleep problems, mainly for its properties to relax the nervous system and quieten the mind. I would personally look at CBD oil as more of a step in your relaxing evening routine instead of a ‘magical sleeping’ pill. It’s certainly a very good addition in helping you to de stress and ease any anxiety you may have which of course can keep for having a peaceful nights sleep.
-Valerian root tea is made from the Valerian plant the root of this plant is dried and used in sleep remedies/teas due to the high concentration of valerenic acid, flavanones, alkaloids, and sesquiterpenes. These powerful active ingredients can work as a VERY mild sedative and make a wonderful tool for relaxation. Try brewing a tea and adding a heaped teaspoon of raw honey to it just before bed.