Sleep is an essential element to our health and wellbeing. Some of us sleep better than others – though it is estimated that approximately 85% of the population experience sleep disturbances to some degree. This may include difficulty getting to sleep, difficulty staying asleep, or a combination of the two.
Sleeping issues are increasingly common and can be incredibly frustrating. Not only does a poor night’s sleep reduce energy levels, memory and cognition, it also contributes to weight gain, hormone imbalances, anxiety, depression, poor immunity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
1. Tryptophan is a nutrient which is key to getting a good night’s sleep. In the body, it converts to serotonin, which makes us eel relaxed, and then into melatonin, which is our natural sleep hormone.Tryptophan is considered an essential amino acid, which means our bodies don’t make it by its own accord - so we must ingest it through our diets. Tryptophani s found in foods such as oats, yoghurt, cottage cheese, chickpeas, almonds, organic tofu, seeds, turkey, red meats, eggs and fish.
2. Melatonin is our main sleep hormone. It is found in foods such as cherries, bananas, oats, rice, ginger, tomatoes, barley and radishes – so these are great inclusions to have in your evening meal or as an after-dinner snack. Daytime light exposure promotes higher melatonin levels at night, whilst artificial light at night time decreases melatonin production. Ensure your bedroom is dark and avoid light from mobile phones, laptops and televisions in the bedroom which all disrupt the body’s natural production of melatonin.
3. Avoid stimulants! Coffee, black and green tea, alcohol, sugar and chocolate are all central nervous system stimulants and can prevent both the onset and the maintenance of sleep. Whilst alcohol appears to induce sleep initially, it actually reduces the amount of REM sleep (deep sleep) and leaves us feeling unrefreshed when we wake up.
4. Exercise is one of the best ways to regulate the bodies sleep/wake cycle. High intensity exercise should be kept to before 4pm in sensitive people as it can cause an adrenaline and cortisol spike – these are chemicals released during times of stress, which have a stimulating effect and can keep us awake at night. Opt for more relaxing exercise in the evening such as yoga or pilates and keep high intensity exercise for the morning and early afternoon.
5. Relaxation is a great way to prepare the nervous system for a good night’s sleep. Focusing on your breath helps to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system which helps us relax and repair. Focus on deep belly breaths, unwind with a bath, drink some chamomile tea or diffuse some lavender essential oil to calm the mind for a good night’s sleep.