According to the Sleep Council one third of us in the UK sleep for just five to six hours per night. It’s generally accepted, and has been well-researched over many years, that the body needs more sleep than this, ideally around seven or eight hours each night.
So, what’s going wrong and why are we generally so sleep deprived?
Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a closer look at why our shut-eye is so important and shares some tips on how to get more.
Why is sleep so essential?
It’s no secret that the body repairs and re-generates during sleep. It’s also a time of growth as specific growth hormones are released during the night. However, when sleep is problematic, the body and brain are fatigued and it becomes increasingly difficult to function effectively.
The body’s sleep hormone, melatonin, is naturally released during the hours of darkness. This is likely to be why night shift workers, who have to sleep during the day, will generally need to get their much-needed rest in a fully darkened room.
What to eat
What you eat and drink during the day and before bedtime can have a significant baring on how you sleep. For example, caffeine in coffee and theophylline in tea blocks our sleep-inducing chemical, adenosine. It’s best, therefore not to drink either of these after 3 pm.
The amino acid tryptophan is needed to make melatonin, therefore eating tryptophan-rich foods is really going to help you get some shut eye. These foods include turkey, eggs, soya, cheese, nuts and oats. However, tryptophan also needs carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, grains and beans) to work most effectively. Therefore, having a carbohydrate and tryptophan-rich snack before bed-time can really help. Great choices would be oatcakes with cottage cheese, natural yoghurt (soya or dairy), a small bowl of oats or some sliced apple with nuts.
Vitamin B6 is also needed for the production of melatonin and one of its best sources is bananas. In fact, bananas hit the spot as a pre-bedtime snack because they’re also high in carbohydrates. The best advice is to change your snack each night and see what works best for you. Even more important, is not to go to bed hungry – you’ll certainly be counting sheep into the wee small hours if that’s the case.
Adopt a bed-time routine
It may sound strange, but going back to babyhood with a fixed bedtime routine can really promote good sleep. Most importantly, phones and other electronic equipment emit blue light which stops you from sleeping. Therefore, all these devices should be turned off two hours before bedtime. Ideally your phone should never be by the side of your bed as some studies suggest that the radio waves emitted may prevent sleep.
Have your main meal at least three hours before bed. Whilst going to bed hungry is not good, equally, being over-full may cause digestive upsets and acid reflux. About an hour before bed time try a warm, relaxing bath with some Epsom salts. It may be an old wives tale but they contain plenty of the mineral magnesium which is a natural muscle relaxant.
Have that bed time snack about half an hour before turning in, spray some lavender onto your pillow and enjoy some bed time reading. And as much as you can try and go to bed at the same time each evening and get up at the same time too. Once you’ve adopted a strong routine, your body will really start to enjoy and expect its nightly ritual.
Enjoy some evening yoga
Yoga is an ancient practise but is wonderful for encouraging controlled breathing, strength, flexibility and relaxation. Hatha yoga is particularly good and really helps the mind and body to de-stress and switch off. Many people have found that attending a yoga class or doing some at home in the evenings has really helped them to sleep better afterwards.
Practicing yogic breathing techniques is also beneficial, even without the moves. Additionally, if you’re struggling to get to sleep or you’ve awoken in the night, then adopting the 5-7-11 routine can really help; breathe in deeply for five seconds, hold for seven seconds and breathe deeply out for 11 seconds. You should be able to feel your body relaxing after a few rounds of this and hopefully you’ll quickly fall back to sleep.
For more information visit the sleep council website.
Sleep is so important for our overall health, so make getting enough a priority and you will feel the health benefits longer term.
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