Five top tips for a peaceful night’s sleep

Woman asleep in bed

We all long for a restful night’s sleep and to wake up feeling fully refreshed.  But, how much attention do we really pay to our sleep hygiene? 

Are we really giving ourselves the best opportunity of getting some good shuteye?

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for ‘cleaning-up’ your bedtime routine.

Your day is as important as your night

What you eat and drink during the day has a massive impact on how well you sleep.  For example, if you’re overloaded with caffeinated or fizzy drinks, or alcohol, these are all sleep disrupters.  It’s best not to have anything caffeinated or stimulatory after lunchtime.  Whilst the effects of caffeine may wear off after a few hours, they have a lasting effect on blood sugar balance which will stimulate stress hormones, keeping you more awake.

A glass mug of coffee alonsgside some biscotti

Additionally, drinking alcohol during the evening (or even throughout the day), may make you feel drowsy at bedtime, but it will still disrupt your sleep.  Waking in the middle of the night is pretty normal after a ‘heavy night’ again partly due to imbalanced blood sugar levels and dehydration.

Stress can keep you awake

Most of us lead busy and, often, stressful lives.  However, it’s how we deal with stress that has the biggest impact on how well we sleep.  If you’re constantly juggling during the day, then your adrenal glands that secrete stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, require some support to help you feel more balanced and calmer.

A range of fruits and vegetables

To work effectively, the adrenals need plenty of vitamin C, found in most fruits and vegetables.  Therefore, make sure you’re eating plenty of colour every day.  The more stressed you are, the more vitamin C you’ll burn.  Additionally, the family of B-vitamins, especially vitamin B5, is key to good adrenal function.  Include plenty of fish, eggs, broccoli and legumes in your diet – all especially rich in vitamin B5.

Take some herbal helpers

There are several herbs, known as adaptogens, which balance the body and help support it through stressful times as well as regulate sleep patterns.  The herbs ashwagandha, rhodiola and ginseng will all provide great help at getting sleep back on track.

A woman looked worried sitting on a sofa

Sleep patterns can often be disturbed because cortisol levels are too high in the evening.  In these cases, cortisol maybe low in the mornings (when it should be higher) which is why some people struggle to get out of bed.  Adaptogenic herbs are effective at getting stress hormones back into good balance.

Adopt a regular routine

Just as the body loves (and needs) to be fed regularly, it craves a regular sleep pattern.  Sleep is essential for the body to rest, repair and detoxify.  The body is much better able to complete all these functions if it’s used to a regular routine.  For example, try to go to bed at roughly the same time each night and get up at the same time.

CLose up of an alarm clock and a woman getting out of bed to represent getting up at the same time every day

Good sleep hygiene means trying to achieve seven or eight hours of sleep per night.  If this is a struggle for you because you wake early, then find a sleep or calming app that you can use if you find yourself waking too early.Try to resist the urge to get up, just because you’ve woken up.  You can re-train your body, it just takes a little patience and perseverance.

Don’t sleep with electronics

Falling asleep in bed with your laptop, tablet or phone is definitely not good sleep hygiene. Research suggests that emissions from electronic devices can have a negative effect on the body.  Try and keep electronic devices out of the bedroom and resist the urge to use them in the hours leading up to sleep too. Blue light keeps up awake, so it can have an adverse effect on how easily you can fall asleep.

CLose up of a woman relaxing in the bath reading a book, surrounded by candles

Instead, have a warming bath, maybe adding some Epsom salts, rich in soothing magnesium. Play some gentle music, spray some lavender on your pillow and grab your favourite book.  You’ll be amazed just how effective a strong bedtime routine can be when trying to get sleep on track.

Your body works hard for you so treat it to the best rest you can!

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Women’s health: nutrition at every life stage

group of women of varying ages in a yoga class

Women’s health needs vary throughout their lives.  There are many years spent balancing hormones and this can have other knock-on health implications.

Thankfully there are some vitamins and minerals which can specifically offer solutions to women at every life stage.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer looks at which are the top nutrients women should be focusing on during their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.

The fertility years – 30’s

A group of women in their 30's

More women are now having babies in their 30’s than in their 20’s in the UK. And there are certain nutrients that can help support fertility.

It’s important to ensure the body is being fed specific nutrients such as the mineral zinc, needed for fertility as well as immune health.  Oysters (also aphrodisiacs), whole grains, seafood, beef, beans and mushrooms are all good sources so make sure they feature in your daily diet.  Zinc also helps with hormone balance which will help manage fluctuations better.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

In terms of looking after your hair, skin and nails, then the beauty vitamin is biotin.  It’s found in organ meats, soya products, oats and dairy.  Also make sure you are eating a varied, colourful diet, with plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables to keep you looking your best from the inside out.

The Peri-menopause years – 40’s

Group of women in their 40's

However, much we try to avoid saying the ‘M’ word, unfortunately menopause can start to become noticeable during our 40’s.  The average age for menopause is 51, however, during the 5-10 years leading up to it we may start to notice various symptoms. It’s sometimes difficult to differentiate what’s down to peri-menopause symptoms and what’s caused by stress.  Anxiety, low mood, unwanted weight gain, poor sleep and heavy periods can all be problematic.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Thankfully there is some nutritional help at hand. Top of the list for supporting both stress and peri-menopause symptoms is vitamin B6. It’s needed to produce brain neurotransmitters, helps with the stress response and keeps female hormones in good balance.  Cereals, beans, poultry, fish and dark leafy greens are your hormone-friendly foods.

The Menopause years – 50’s

A group of women in their 50's looking at a photo on the screen of a camera

Around 80% of women suffer from menopause symptoms in varying degrees.  Some are so debilitating that women have to stop working, have relationship issues or just feel total despair.  The good news is that there’s much that can be done to alleviate symptoms.  Top of the list are phytoestrogen foods which help to balance falling levels of oestrogen naturally.

A range of phytoestrogen foods

Soya products such as soya milk and tofu, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, beans (especially edamame beans) and chickpeas are all great sources of phytoestrogens so try to have some at every mealtime.

Disturbed sleep can also be a problem during these years; if you’re struggling, the herb valerian, taken about an hour before bedtime is very effective and it won’t make you feel drowsy in the morning.

And if you’re looking for natural support for the symptoms of the menopause you could try Black Cohosh – a traditional herbal remedy used to help hot flushes, night sweats, disturbed sleep and mood swings.

The Freedom years – 60’s

Group of retired women in their 60's walking on a beach

Hormonal fluctuations are diminishing, family life and work pressures should be lessened and hopefully there’s finally a lot more time on your hands!  However, it’s also time when you need to be taking really good care of your bones.

Peak bone density is reached during your 30’s (or earlier) so bone strength can decline thereafter, and this can really accelerate after the menopause due to lack of oestrogen.  Make sure you’re eating plenty of bone-loving calcium-rich foods.  It’s not all about dairy. Soya products, green leafy vegetables, oily fish including bones (such as tinned fish) and nuts and seeds are all great sources.

A range of foods containing calcium

Additionally, calcium can’t do it’s work within bone structure without the ‘sunshine’ vitamin D.  During winter months, it’s impossible to get enough from the sun itself, so do make sure you’re taking a daily vitamin D supplement.

Exercise is also essential for bone health and mental wellbeing so make sure you’re doing some every day. It’s not about going to the gym if that’s not your bag, but simply about being as active as possible and enjoying what you’re doing.

So, with a little careful planning, us women can help meet our health needs with specific nutrition throughout all our life stages. 

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Nutrition and lifestyle advice for minimising stress and anxiety

A woman looked worried sitting on a sofa

Many of us frequently suffer from anxiety or stress, whether we are worried about a work situation, a relationship or an upcoming social event. This is can often be accompanied by feelings of low mood and a sense of inadequacy.

In our fast-moving ‘always on’ society, pressure to perform can be overwhelming.  And as simple as it sounds smiling more can also really help! 

 

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great lifestyle tips to help us feel calm and more balanced.

What to drink

Certain drinks can have a marked effect on anxiety and mood.  Out should go stimulants such as alcohol (also a depressant) and fizzy drinks (even the sugar-free varieties which contain unhelpful chemicals). Try to avoid caffeinated coffee, tea and colas (providing a quick ‘high’ then an edgy low).

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

In should come calming camomile and valerian teas. Try non-caffeinated varieties such as red bush and green tea which contains theanine, a calming amino acid.  Whilst green tea does contain a small amount of caffeine, the stimulatory effects are off-set by the theanine.  However, it’s best not drunk before bedtime.

And of course, make sure you are getting your daily water quota – aim for 1.5 – 2 litres a day.

What to eat

What we put into our mouths has the biggest influence on how we feel emotionally and physically.  The body needs around 45 nutrients daily to function at its best. When these are lacking we can certainly feel tired and cranky.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

The mineral magnesium, ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ is key to coping with anxiety and is used up more during times of stress.  Therefore, making sure you are getting enough in your diet is important. Green leafy veg such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are great sources of magnesium.

If you find you are waking during the night due to worries or anxious thoughts, eating a few almonds, also rich in magnesium, before bedtime can really help.

A basket of almonds

The B vitamins are also key in controlling the body’s stress response. Vitamin B5 is especially important in helping produce our stress hormones.  The good news is that it’s found in plenty of foods such as poultry, whole grains, oily fish (also rich in brain-loving omega 3s), legumes and dairy products.

Try natural herbal remedies

If you’re struggling with anxiety, then there are plenty of additional herbal helpers.

Both the herbs ashwagandha and rhodiola are known as ‘adaptogenic’, meaning they help the body better cope during stressful times and adapt to its needs.  Both are available as supplements. Ideally take them in the morning as both can stimulate and give an energy boost, whilst reducing feelings of anxiety.  Additionally, the herb passionflower can be taken as a supplement and works really quickly; it’s especially helpful if you’re struggling with a nervous tummy.

Vitamin D written in sand on a beach

Don’t forget to also take a vitamin D supplement, especially now the winter months are upon us. As well as supporting the nervous system it helps lift low mood and also induces feelings of calm.

You are what you think…

It’s very easy to focus too much on worries and anxious thoughts, perhaps over-thinking situations and life itself.  It’s a question of managing your brain and its thought processes.  Sometimes visualising holding up a hand to stop negative thoughts coming in can help.  Equally, practising meditation is one of the best ways of gaining back control of your brain.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

There are plenty of ‘calming’ apps that you can download and listen to; find what works for you.  However, our over-use of technology and social media can have a negative impact on our mental well-being.  Additionally, the blue light emitted from electronic goods can keep us awake. So, turn off the social media apps and switch everything off a couple of hours before bedtime. Try to have good amounts of time during the day when you’re not glued to your laptop or phone; even if it’s only for 20 minutes, make it a habit to take yourself away from your phone or laptop every day.

Get moving

Any form of exercise is incredibly positive for mind and body.  Some people need to do fast-paced exercise to help with stress and anxiety, whilst others do better with calming, gentle activities.  Whatever suits you, doing strenuous exercise in the evening is not recommended as it stimulates the stress hormone cortisol, which will keep you awake.

Close up of two women enjoying a run outdoors together to show benefits of exercise

Yoga and Pilates can help calm and relax you as you focus on the movements paired with your breath. These can even be practised in your own living room, if time or availability of classes is a problem.  However, the benefits of engaging regularly in the type of exercise that works for you can’t be over-stated.

So with some small changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can help yourself to become less anxious and more relaxed.

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

 

 

Enjoy your healthiest festival ever with these top nutrition tips!

Two women lying in a tent at a festival wearing wellington boots

Festival season is here! And whilst they’re not renowned for being the healthiest of experiences, there is much you can do both before and during the event to ensure you stay happy and healthy throughout.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips for festival health!

 

 

Before you go

As the saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’ and this is most certainly the case when it comes to festival health. The body is going to be severely challenged during a festival; low-nutrient food choices with the potential for an upset tummy, lack of sleep, too much sun (if you’re lucky!) and maybe a tad too much alcohol.

However, your digestive system is your best friend here because if you can keep that in good shape, everything else will be supported. First up is the friendly bacteria in your gut; when this is well balanced it will help prevent tummy troubles, support the immune system and help the body better metabolise alcohol or too much sugar generally. If possible, take a course of probiotics for a couple of weeks prior to the event; these are readily available in health food stores.

A word cloud around Probiotics

Additionally, eat loads of foods that help feed the good gut bacteria such as live natural yoghurt, onions, garlic and green leafy vegetables. Green tea is also fantastic for both the immune system and the digestive tract.

Your natural health survival kit

There’s a few natural health aids you can take with you which will help to keep troublesome symptoms at bay. For a start, keep taking the probiotics (one a day is fine) for the duration of the festival. Also be sure to pack the herb Milk Thistle which can be easily purchased in tablet form from health food stores. It’s one of the best herbs for supporting the liver and soothing nasty hangovers. It also helps the digestion, so may soothe a grumbling tummy whilst you’re away.

Milk thistle flower and herbal medicine tablets

Whilst you’ve not gone to the festival to sleep, you’ll feel a whole lot better and enjoy the event to the full if you’re able to get some shut-eye. The herb valerian specifically helps with sleep, so take it while you’re there. An eye-mask and earplugs might also be advisable!

Make great food choices

Clearly, there’s a lot of unhealthy food to tempt you at festivals but there are some great staples which can provide you with a good balance of healthy nutrients. Breakfast is THE most important meal when you’re at a festival to help keep blood sugar in balance and energy levels sustained. Plus, you’ll be less likely to be tempted by unhealthy snacks and food later if you’ve started the day right. Eggs are always the best choice.

Poached egg on brown toast

Some of the best festival food choices are veggie options, including falafels, tacos and bean salads which are all energy-dense. They’ll fill you up without causing bloating. Plus, there’s often a coconut van on site; coconuts are great for energy and will also banish hunger pangs.

Water is your best friend

There’s rarely a more important time than when you’re at a festival for keeping the body properly hydrated. Lack of water is going to leave you literally feeling ‘drained’. Worse still, severe dehydration, coupled with sun and alcohol can lead to health problems. However, this is easily avoided by drinking around ¼ litre water every couple of hours, and definitely try and hit the 1.5-2 litres per day (more so if the weather is hot). If you are drinking alcohol try and alternate with a large cup of water in between alcoholic drinks.

Close up of woman drinking a bottle of water in summer

It’s also an occasion where drinking slightly diluted fruit juice is good to do; the body rehydrates quicker with a very slightly sweetened liquid.

Sneak in some snacks

Whilst it’s not always easy to take your own food into a festival and each event will differ, it’s not normally too difficult to take snacks such as protein bars, nut and seed combinations, coconut pieces, dried fruit or energy bars.

A selection of nuts as a snack

Whilst many snack bars are fairly high in calories, because they’re generally a combination of protein and carbohydrate, they will certainly get over any energy dips and keep blood sugar levels in balance. It might not always be convenient to buy food and having some handy snacks will help you through. Equally, you’ll be getting some additional nutrients such as vitamin C and zinc, to support your immune system.

So enjoy your festivals this season and hopefully you will return home feeling relatively healthy!

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How to practise Self-Love this February

Close up of a note book with a woman writing 'Love Yourself'

Valentine’s Day and the month of love is upon us. And whilst it’s often a time when we think about how best to treat our loved ones, we shouldn’t forget about the greatest love of all – the love we should have and show to ourselves.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Practicing self-love and self-care has wonderfully positive effects on health.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite ways of practicing nutritional and lifestyle self-love.

Sleep like a baby

As we know, babies always prioritise their sleep. It’s just their exhausted parents that don’t manage to do this! However, why not go back to when you were a baby? With a very high percentage of the population suffering from sleep deprivation, make sure that getting a good night’s sleep is a priority and at the top of your self-love list.

Happy woman sleeping, cuddling pillow and smiling

Adopt a ‘baby’ routine. Turn off all electronic devices at least two hours before bedtime; blue light disrupts sleep and brain chemistry. Eat your last meal around 7 pm at night so you’re not bloated when you go to bed. Have a small tryptophan-rich snack half hour before bedtime to promote the body’s natural release of the sleep hormone, melatonin: try oat cakes, a banana, some nuts or yoghurt.

Have a warm bath, grab a good book and spray some lavender on your pillow. If sleep is a real problem, then try taking some herbal relief such as valerian which will help. You and your body will love the benefits you gain from sleeping soundly.

Eat dark chocolate

Valentine’s Day would not be complete without chocolate and what better news that it can actually be healthy! Cocoa is super-healthy; it’s packed with antioxidant-rich polyphenols that help reduce blood pressure, prevent serious degenerative diseases and keep the brain sharp.

Pieces of dark chocolate

It is the other ingredients that manufacturers use in chocolate products that make them unhealthy, packed with sugar and fat-laden. So look to buy chocolate made from at least 80/85% cocoa solids. Chocolate is the food of love, so make sure you give your body what it deserves!

Eat mindfully

This may be a well-quoted phrase but it’s a really important part of your self-love programme. Most importantly, eating food on the run and in a rushed state means the body can’t digest it properly, leading to bloating. When the body is in the fight or flight mode (during the stress response), blood flow is moved away from the digestive organs and sent to muscles which also doesn’t help digestion.

Woman eating a healthy breakfast with berries, yoghurt and orange juice

One of the most important things about eating mindfully is to eat lunch away from your desk and really appreciate every mouthful. Many afternoon digestive issues have been solved by taking a complete break from emails (and social media) and really enjoying a meal.

Have lots of vitamin C

If you’re not feeling great about yourself and want some self-love, then freshening up your complexion can really help. Vitamin C is key in keeping skin looking young, fresh and wrinkle-free. This is partly due to its key role in the production of collagen, the body’s main structural protein.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

As vitamin C is easily lost during storage, preparation and cooking of food, then you should be aiming to eat around seven portions of fruit and veg daily (aim for 80%/20% Vegetables to fruit to avoid too much sugar). However, it’s certainly worth also including a vitamin C supplement every day in order to maximise its activity and get working on your skin from the inside out.

Get your B’s

That’s B vitamins! There are eight of them and they all work together. Most importantly, they’re essential for keeping your nervous system running smoothly, balancing your mood and increasing energy levels – all key ingredients for making sure you ‘feel the love’.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Foods such as eggs, salmon, nuts, oats, bananas, spinach and broccoli (plus many more) are all rich sources of B Vitamins. B-vitamins are water-soluble so easily excreted from the body. If you’re feeling low and lacking in motivation, then it is really worth looking at your diet to see what’s lacking. Low vitamin B12 is often implicated in cases of depression and is only found in animal produce, so supplements may well be needed.

So enjoy the month of (self) love and don’t forget about YOU in the process.

 

 

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts