Sleep Hygiene and Health is everywhere this January, and that’s no surprise. Last years’ 2017 Nobel prize winners for medicine was for a ground-breaking study into the effects of sleep and our circadian rhythm.
What the studies concluded (in its most simplistic form!) was that that the body works on a 24-hour cycle, and if you don’t give it enough sleep, your metabolism and hormone levels get thrown out of whack. This can have detrimental effects on your weight, energy, mood and immune system.
So with this in mind, I have written up my SIX SLEEP HACKS to help you get the best out of your nighttime slumber this year.
Caffeine can be a bit of a minefield, as not all of us metabolise caffeine in the same way. This is down to our genetics. Some people can tolerate a coffee before bed, and fall into a deep and fulfilling sleep, others can’t have a coffee after midday without it having detrimental effects on our sleep quality.
But if you are struggling with your sleep, my first priority would be to cut down your caffeine consumption. Caffeine is not just found in coffee however, and many of my clients are unknowingly consuming caffeine in the evenings. Chocolate & cacao, green tea, matcha, black tea, fizzy drinks, some paracetamol combination medicines, energy bars and drinks all contain levels of caffeine.
To stop – avoid going ‘cold turkey’ as this can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and mood
swings. Slowly reduce the amount you consume and set a deadline time that prevents you from consuming caffeine late in the day.
There are a few alternatives on the market that can help you slowly transition away from coffee. Check out chicory coffee, dandelion root coffee or try swapping to drinks like maca and turmeric lattes or naturally decaf teas such as rooibos.
The plus side of regulating your caffeine intake – when you do have that cup of joe it will be a firecracker!
Curfews aren’t just for the little ones! Implementing a sleep curfew can help those who are having trouble physically falling to sleep at night. This is all down to Melatonin, the sleep hormone.
The blue light emitted from screens; phones, computers, TVs, etc. suppress the secretion of Melatonin and trick our bodies and minds into thinking that it is no longer night time.
To avoid this, make sure you set your screens to automatically switch onto a warm tint after 9pm, and ideally, switch off all screens at least 1 hour before bed. There are some great apps you can download on your devices that will change your light setting automatically. Check out F.lux free app for your computers – https://justgetflux.com/
The best solution – avoid all electronics before bed and focus on alternatives such as reading a book, mindful colouring in books, listening to music and podcasts and talking with loved ones.
TIME YOUR WORKOUT
Cortisol, a key ‘stress’ hormone is naturally produced in response to exercise – but hold up, don’t stop exercising right away, Cortisol isn’t always a bad thing, and it is essential for our survival too!
A normal pattern of cortisol production looks like this.At around 6am cortisol is released which helps us get up and get going for the day and begins to dip around 10pm which may help us begin to fall asleep.
If you are struggling with your sleep, it may be a good idea to try to work with your natural cortisol curve, and schedule exercise in the morning rather than in the evenings. If you do find you want to exercise in the evenings, try some yoga, a walk or light Pilates – all exercised which won’t skyrocket your cortisol and consequently affect your shut-eye!
Being mindful is about focused attention. For some people this is meditation, for others, this is focusing on the present or just listening to your thoughts. Everyone is mindfully unique, which is why it is such an essential practice for each person. I personally enjoy colouring in and drawing as my mindfulness practice.
Practicing mindfulness can help you get into a state of relaxation which will not only help you fall into a deep slumber but will also help reduce stress and quieten the thoughts and feelings from your day. If you suffer from a racing mind before bed, being mindful over time will help you control this.
I love herbal teas, all flavours and kinds, from ginger and lemon in the morning to fennel tea for poorly tummies. There are a few teas that I suggest to aid with sleep – these are purely herbal teas – avoid ones with caffeine and also any special teas that say they are sleep teas with dodgy ingredients!
Magnesium doesn’t get much hype, but you would be surprised to find out just how vital it is for our health and how many of us have low levels of this essential building block!
Magnesium and potassium both help contribute to healthy sleep. Magnesium has been shown to help muscle relaxation and reduce cortisol (the stress hormone that can keep us wide-eyed!). Potassium is synergistic with magnesium in that it helps reduce cramps and contributes to relaxed muscles.
Eating a diet that contains both is essential. Potassium can be found in bananas, broccoli, nuts, seeds and fish and Magnesium is found in almonds, spinach, legumes, seeds, avocado and yoghurt.
Sometimes, people develop a low magnesium level because they don’t consume enough in their diet, or because they excrete more than usual (sweating, diarrhoea, excessive urination, over consumption of alcohol).
Before reverting to supplements I usually suggest that people try first to increase their magnesium consumption through food. Try making a magnesium filled smoothie (sounds bizarre I know!) but blend together a handful of spinach, avocado, almond butter, banana, yoghurt and coconut water and ta-da you have your magnesium hit for the day.
Epsom salt baths are great for muscle relaxation (and relaxation of the mind!) but reports show they don’t increase are bodily magnesium levels by very much – so try to get a combination of both techniques into your weekly routine!
PLEASE NOTE – if you start to notice that you are getting diarrhoea or very soft stools, cut back on your magnesium levels – pop me an email to discuss how you can carefully increase your magnesium levels – firstname.lastname@example.org