Is there anything worse than laying in bed and not being able to sleep? Massive exaggeration but, I’m writing this whilst tired!
Hour after hour seems to go by, you look at the clock and it’s been 20mins… another toilet trip just incase and back to the waiting game. It’s warm and cosy in bed but, you just can't get comfortable and wtf are the foxes doing outside?!
I’ve had really shit sleep the last 3 nights and feel like I’ve checked the clock every hour on the hour all night… ergh!
So why is sleep so important?
How much should you have? For the record - It’s between 7 - 9 hours per night for adults.
How the hell do you get a good sleep?
And can you eat your way to better sleep?
In the UK it is estimated that nearly three quarters (71 per cent) of UK adults do not have the recommended seven to nine hours’ sleep a night and even one in seven (14 per cent) survive on extremely low levels of sleep a night of under five hours!
Sleep is when your body repairs its cells and is thought to be just as, if not more important than eating healthily and exercising combined!
During sleep your body also replenishes hormones, the brain stores new information, restores energy and the body deals with any toxic waste.
Whilst missing a few hours of sleep here and there can affect your day to day life causing you to eat more carby sugary foods, become more irritable or struggle to concentrate, chronic sleep deprivation can have seriously detrimental effects on the body.
Ranging from a weakened immune system, increased chance of obesity, infertility, depression and anxiety, long term sleep issues really can cause long term problems.
So how do you get to sleep and actually sleep effectively?
Firstly, I’ll start by saying that nightcap is not helping you.
Yes, you might feel slightly calmer and find it easier to fall asleep but alcohol affects the quality of your sleep by stopping your body falling into REM sleep (the good nourishing stuff) as easily and for as long as if you were booze free.
Alcohol is also a diuretic meaning you’re more likely to need the toilet in the night (unless you're blackout drunk obvs) or wake up like you’ve licked a cat litter tray where your mouth is soooo dry, disturbing your sleep and depending on how much you’ve drunk you’ll wake up potentially hungover as well… tiredness and a hangover… not fun!
Even very low amounts of alcohol (less than 2 drinks for a male and less than 1 for a female) decreases sleep quality by around 9.3%!
Addressing stressors in your life is also vitally important when it comes to sleep, your ability to sleep and the quality of your sleep.
This one really is a vicious cycle with the stress of life, the stress of being tired adding to the stress of life, then the stress of worrying about sleeping on top.
This can be tackled in a plethora of ways including meditation, journaling before bed to empty out some of the thoughts from your mind, speaking with friends and family about problems you may be having - A problem shared is a problem halved after all however, in some situations seeking professional support from a counsellor or specialist in the field you are concerned about.
Please don’t suffer in silence!
If you’re not stressed or drunk then what else can you do to improve that shut eye?
1. Create a sleep routine - Start to wind down about an hour before you plan to be asleep. That means phones away or at least turn the brightness right down, begin to minimise screens in general (blue light from screens mimics daylight causing you to be more alert, great in the day not when you're trying to sleep!). Turn on lamps instead of ‘the big light’ or even better light candles… Ambience darlings!
2. Avoiding caffeine after lunchtime - 6 hours after consuming caffeine approximately 50% is still in your bloodstream! Even tea contains caffeine so if you are particularly sensitive definitely go decaf after lunch!
3. Create a blissful place to get those Z’s - A cool, dark room without noise or light pollution is ideal for optimal sleep. If it's not possible black out blinds, ear plugs and face masks might help to block out some of the distractions. Where possible only use your bedroom for sleeping too, your body associates different places with different things so if you're working in your bedroom your body may associate that space with work rather than relaxation!
Brownie points for sleepy scents in diffusers such as Lavender, Chamomile and Bergamot.
4. Regulate your body clock - I say this, understandably this can be very difficult for shift workers but, the more consistent you are with your sleep and wake up times (even over weekends) the more regularly you’ll fall asleep quickly and wake up easily. Our bodies love routine and sleep loves consistency so doing this will regulate your bodies own clock - the circadian rhythm!
5. Speaking of the circadian rhythm - Get morning sunlight wherever possible! This is the good kind of light that increases melatonin which weirdly, as it’s morning actually helps you to sleep better at night! During the winter this can be difficult but, lamps and sunrise alarm clocks are out there and I highly recommend both!
6. If you’re in bed and can’t sleep - Get up and re-try that wind down rather than stressing about the time. Relax and try again.
Now to my favorite part… food. Can you eat your way to better sleep and no, I don't mean those post Christmas Dinner food comas… although there could be science behind those!
Cue a mini science lesson…let's talk amino acids. These are molecules that combine together and form protein for the body and one in particular is key to our sleepy topic… L-Tryptophan.
This particular amino acid is converted by the body into a molecule 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) which is used to make serotonin and melatonin.
Serotonin affects the brain through sleep, mood and cognitive function and melatonin is the most common hormone in your sleep - wake cycle.
Sorry hungry folk, that’s the boring part over, wtf does this have to do with food? Drumroll…
Tryptophan is found in food! So you really can eat your way to a better sleep and potentially even happier moods with a serotonin boost too!
From Turkey (hey Christmas nap), kiwi, almonds, eggs, pumpkin and sesame seeds to leafy greens and mushrooms there are plenty of ways to incorporate Tryptophan into your diet to quickly ease you into dreamland.
Add in a mug of calming Chamomile tea in the evenings before bed whilst you relax and unwind and you’re all set!
I really hope these little tips and tweaks help in your quest for better sleep!
Thanks for reading and happy sleeping!
P.S - If you are really struggling with your sleep for prolonged periods of time, struggling to sleep, waking up feeling unrefreshed or feeling extreme tiredness during the day time do talk to your GP or a sleep specialist.