Sleep is vital for all round good health. Many people do not know that it is also important for weight loss and gut health. Studies show that a poor nights sleep can increase hunger and cravings for high energy foods.
It is essential for physical, emotional and mental well-being, but it’s the first thing that is compromised when life gets busy or stressful. It’s easy to let everything else take over and end up in poor sleep pattern that drains your energy and eventually becomes habitual. Most of us know how awful it feels to try and get through the day when we haven’t slept well so it’s worth making it a priority.
Investigate all the reasons why your sleep is disturbed
Don’t expect instant results if you have a persistent problem, these tips might take a few weeks to improve things. If you are consistent with them your sleep quality should gradually improve. This will then help to increase your energy levels and make a real difference to how you feel in general.
Bear in mind that for some people with sleep disorders, insomnia could be a kind of revenge for suppressed thoughts or questions of conscience and life problems that need to be tackled.
Long term sleep problems can affect your physical and mental health, so it’s worth investigating whether there might be psychological reasons, as well as the other things mentioned here.
How does your diet affect sleep
Eating certain foods at the right time and correcting any imbalance or nutritional deficiencies can also help you get a good night’s rest. An healthy diet helps improve the quality of your sleep. A predominantly plant-based diet such as the mediterranean diet is a good example of a well studied healthy diet. Aim to increase the fibre in your diet by eating more foods such as:
- Whole grains
- Fruits and vegetables
- Legumes (peas, lentils and beans)
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy fats (EV olive oil, avocados)
Try to make sure you have some protein and healthy fats at every meal. Reduce your intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates such as cake and biscuits which can cause blood sugar imbalance. This is especially important if you are trying to lose weight.
Foods that contain magnesium can help to support GABA which promotes relaxation. Magnesium rich foods are nuts, seeds, leafy greens, bananas, figs, avocados and fish. Foods that support melatonin which regulates the sleep cycle are nuts, seeds, pomegranate, oats and olives.
It is also important to reduce caffeine and ultra processed foods in your diet. Especially sugary foods such as fizzy drinks and juices, as well as packaged sweets, cakes and biscuits.
Set the scene for a good nights sleep
Ideally, we need to aim for about 7-9 hours. We are all unique so we need different amounts of sleep but you should wake feeling well rested.
The ideal bedroom temperature is between 15°C and 19°C according to the National Sleep Foundation, temperatures above 24°C can interfere with the quality of your sleep.
Make sure your curtains block out enough light so you don’t get woken in the early hours, or wear an eye mask and use warm light bulbs in the bedroom. Ear plugs can be helpful if you are woken by noise like a snoring partner or a noisy neighbourhood.
Top 5 tips to Train Yourself to Sleep Better
Prioritising your sleep by making lifestyle changes and reducing stress can improve mood, increase energy levels and lower your risk of serious health problems.
You’ve most likely heard of sleep training for children, well sometimes adults actually need it more than the little ones.
- Routine, sleep is vital for every system in your body. Your body likes to have a routine so that it knows what to expect. It’s important to have a regular eating pattern, making your evening meal at least 2 hours before your bedtime. Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even at the weekend! This helps to create a more predictable daily rhythm. A routine can help to reset your sleeping patterns within a few weeks.
- Daylight, this helps to regulate your circadian rhythm, improving mood and energy. Try to get at least 20 minutes of natural daylight, ideally in the morning. It’s best if you can get outside but you can also use a daylight SAD lamp or sit near a bright window. This helps to regulate your sleep wake cycle by clearly signalling to your body that it’s morning time. Exposing yourself to more daylight before midday will help increase energy and give you more get-up-and-go for the day ahead.
- Lighting in your home, your body likes to know it’s night time. Soft lighting is the key to reducing stress and setting your body up for a good night’s sleep. Try to limit your use of electronic devices in the evening, ideally 2 hours before bedtime. This helps to reduce blue light exposure which alters your important sleep hormones. You can wear some blue light blocking glasses if you absolutely need to use your devices in the evening.
- Relaxation, this might seem like an obvious tip but many of us don’t prioritise relaxation in the evening. Unfortunately sitting in front of the television doesn’t count because of the blue light exposure. You can help to improve your mindset by doing something you find relaxing in the evening to reduce stress. This can be something you enjoy such as reading, listening to music, taking a warm bath, meditation, a relaxation track or some gentle yoga. If you find your mind is still active when you get in bed you can keep a notebook at your bedside. This can be used for lists or thoughts which will help to settle your mind.
- Hydration, improve your energy during the day by staying properly hydrated. Aim for about 8 glasses of water daily. Limit caffeine and alcohol, both disrupt sleep, especially the deep restorative sleep needed for energy and emotional balance. It’s best to stop drinking any caffeinated drinks after 2 pm. Even having just one alcoholic drink has been proven to interfere with sleep and reduce energy. Herbal teas such as chamomile and Valerian are often good for relaxation in the evening.
Improving your nutrition can also help you get a good night’s rest. Read more about healthy eating and getting your 5-a-day.