8 Steps to a Deep and Blissful Sleep
I started working with Katie* a few months ago as she was dealing with missing periods and anxiety attacks.
Her diet was amazing.
Organic, home-cooked, nutrient rich...all the things I want to see as a Nutritional Therapist!
I actually felt a little nervous, as I wasn't sure if there was going to be much I could help her with.
She was also using non toxic cleaning and skincare products and was exercising 5 times per week!
"What am I going to talk to her about? Her diet and exercise regime is better than mine!"
I spent the next couple of hours researching co-infections, methylation defects and other complex conditions that may have been contributing to her symptoms, before noticing some extremely valuable information that I had missed on her paperwork.
Her sleep!... (or lack thereof!)
Although she was doing 'all the right things' during the day, she didn't prioritise her sleep, (often working on her laptop into the early hours), and had struggled with insomnia for years.
After working on these issues with me for a few months, Katie* experienced major improvements in her mental health, stress resilience and even regained her menstrual cycle!
(Don't worry, I am sharing the exact recommendations I gave, in this post!)
SLEEP IS SO IMPORTANT!
When we sleep our body is able to heal, detoxify and regenerate our tissues. The hours between 10pm and 2am are especially important and are referred to as the 'golden hours' as it is believed that the majority of these restorative processes occur during this time.
Lack of sleep is a stress on the body and can increase cortisol levels, create hormone imbalances and even alter our hunger signals the following day, making us more likely to reach for the crisps and chocolate!
There are many different factors that affect the quality and timing of our sleep, however today I am sharing 8 easy ways to improve your sleep quality and experience that deep, restorative slumber, that makes you feel amazing!...
1. Set Your Sleep Routine
Sleeping & waking up at similar times everyday can help establish regular sleep patterns. Although this may be difficult at first, your body will adapt to learn at what time to release hormones that cause alertness during the day and sleepiness at night.
The ideal sleeping time is between 10pm-6am however this may vary slightly due to your lifestyle and work schedule. On average, we should be aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep per night for optimal health.
Using a journal to write down thoughts, and actions to do for the following day can help to reduce anxiety, which can cause insomnia. Keeping a gratitude journal or doing a 10 minute guided meditation before bed can also help to calm any mental chatter and teach the body to be in a relaxed state in the evenings.
2. Ditch the Gadgets at 8pm
The artificial blue light emitted by electronic devices such as laptops, iPhone's, kindles and TV's can inhibit the release of our sleep hormone melatonin. We should try to avoid these gadgets at least 90 minutes before going to sleep, in order to signal to our brains that it is time to rest. You can also use free software such as ‘f.lux’ for laptop and PC's and turn on 'night shift' on iPhone brightness settings if you have to work into the evenings, as this lowers your blue light exposure.
A room that is pitch black is more suited for better quality sleep. If you live on a busy, well lit street you can try using an eye mask or purchasing black out curtains and blinds. If there are any devices or gadgets in your room emitting light, cover them up or unplug them as even a small amount of light is able to disrupt proper sleep cycles.
3. Get some sunlight!
Exposing your eyes (not directly) and body to natural sunlight during the day can help regulate sleep patterns and enhance quality of sleep. Light causes the body to become more alert and produce daytime hormones.
If you spend a lot of time indoors, working in an office etc, try to get outside during your break time so that you are not missing out on this crucial factor. Walking to the local park to eat your lunch or to the shops and back may also help your mood and productivity levels too.
If you feel like you are velcroed to your bed in the morning or have to set 17 alarms to make sure you get up, you can purchase an alarm clock which emits light (like the Lumie Bodyclock) as a way to support your internal body clock and energy levels in the morning.
4. Move your Body!
Full body exercise causes a physical exertion on the body, which makes it easier to fall asleep at night. Working out early in the morning is particularly useful as it will be easier to unwind at night, rather than doing a body-pump class and sprints at 9pm. The endorphins released during exercise will also help fight against the effects of stress, which can often prevent us from getting quality sleep.
Add more movement into your daily life too! Take the stairs, park your car further away from the supermarket, have 5 minute stretching breaks at work and do some body weight exercises in the kitchen whilst waiting for your food to cook. All of these things will not only improve your physical fitness, but will also ensure your body has been active enough, in order to fall asleep easily at the end of the day.
5. Avoid Caffeine
Coffee and other caffeine sources have stimulatory effects that can last for up to 12 hours. Even an early afternoon cup of coffee or few squares of dark chocolate could be responsible for keeping you awake at night.
Try to consume any caffeinated drinks before lunchtime and use alternative forms of energy in the forms of nutrient packed smoothies, protein balls and herbal tea's.
I recommend that everyone tries a 30-day caffeine 'detox' as a way to see how your body functions without it and if you are just using it as a crutch to get through your day.
You can read my blog post 'Do You Need To Quit Coffee To Save Your Hormones?' by clicking here.
6. Create a Sleep Sanctuary
Your bedroom should be primarily used for sleeping and relaxing. Any entertainment or work should not be done in the bedroom, meaning you should avoid answering emails in bed or using it as an office. The bed itself should only be used for sleeping & intimacy. This association of bed with only sleep can help promote a higher quality of sleep.
Adding plants, de-cluttering and dimming lights can all help create a serene environment. You can also use essential oils such as lavender and chamomile, either in a diffuser, topically or sprayed onto your pillow, to help create a better sleep environment.
7. Keep it cool
The ideal sleeping temperature falls anywhere between 60 and 67 degree Fahrenheit, and as you sleep your body temperature lowers naturally. Introducing your body to a cooler environment helps stimulate sleep and allows you to cycle naturally though the sleep stages.
Temperatures outside this range can disrupt your REM (rapid eye movement) stage, which is a restorative phase of our sleep and possibly where our brain processing many of our experiences. Disruptions in this stage can force you to try and catch back up, resulting in grogginess and a sense of being tired even if you feel you got enough sleep.
Avoid lots of blankets, hot water bottles and fluffy PJ's and instead let your body adapt to the shifting temperatures during the cooler months.
8. Balance Your Blood Sugar When we are on a blood sugar rollercoaster throughout the day, this can continue on into the night, preventing you from getting high quality sleep. Eating too much sugar, simple carbohydrates, fruit juices, fizzy drinks and processed refined foods, and not enough healthy fats, protein, complex carbohydrates and fibre, can create blood sugar imbalances.
If you wake several times during the night, this may be an indication that your blood sugar levels are fluctuating and our main stress hormone cortisol is being produced in order to stabilise this. Many women actually find that consuming a serving of complex carbohydrates at their evening meal helps them get a better nights sleep! Foods to include are sweet potatoes, squash, beetroot, quinoa, buckwheat, plantain, parsnips etc.
Carbohydrates are responsible for helping drive the amino acid tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier. Tryptophan is needed for the production of serotonin, which is then converted into melatonin, our sleep hormone.
Poor sleep quality can be a driver of many chronic health conditions including headaches, migraines, depression, Alzheimer's Disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), obesity and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
I am lucky to have never really dealt with insomnia or sleep difficulties, and I believe that if I did, the health issues I dealt with several years ago (PCOS, food intolerances, SIBO, fatigue, joint pain, hair loss, cystic acne...) would have been 10x worse.
Try not to immediately reach for valerian root, melatonin supplements or sleeping pills when you are dealing with insomnia or a restless night. Address some of the root causes mentioned in this blog post and try my natural, effective recommendations first.
Hopefully you won't just see improvements in your sleep and energy levels, but also your hormones, immune system, mood and inflammation levels.
Because everything is connected.