Full disclosure: I will hold my hands up and share with you that sleep is my current pet project or biggest area of work in progress. It is the one thing that ‘gives’ most regularly in my life but currently my biggest area of focus that I am working really hard to improve.
In terms of MY WHY…. I have always been a bit of a night owl and have previously spent 7 years working shifts – earlies, lates and nights which can really play havoc with our circadian rhythm.
Since changing my career I have still favoured working late into the evening and beyond … on a few occasions pulling a few “all nighters” hello assignment deadlines! Unfortunately the night time is the time of least disruption in a house with a busy sassy 7 year old!!!! That being said, I recognise SLEEP is the area I know I can do better and I have been working hard to rein the late nights in and strive for balance and restoration through sleep!
For this reason, I wanted to share a few facts about sleep, why we need it, how much we need and what can affect it adversely …AND let you in on some of my go to sleep hacks to help you get back on track and feel your very best through restorative sleep.
WHY IS SLEEP IMPORTANT
Sleep is essential for our mental and our physical health. It allows our body and our mind to rest and repair. Sleep has a direct impact on our productivity, energy and quality of life. On the flip side, poor sleep can affect our mood and our immunity. it can also affect the food choices we make. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, it seeps into the cracks and slowly but progressively impacts our health and overall wellbeing, our resilience and even our ability to cope with life!
How much sleep do we need?
It can really vary by person but adults typically need between 7-9 hours sleep per night. We also want to be aiming for a consistent bedtime of around 1 hour every night. For other ages, we tend to need a little more…
Newborns (0-4 months) 14-17 hours, Infants (4-11 months) need 12-15 hours, toddlers (1-2 years) 11-14 hour, pre-school children (3-5 years) 10-13 hours, children (6-13 years) 9-11 hours, teens (14-17 years) 9-10 hours.
Factors that can affect your sleep negatively:
- Stimulants close to bed time: alcohol, caffeine, smoking.
- Some food that can affect digestion and cause reflux: fatty and fried foods, spicy foods, citrus fruits, chocolate, garlic, onions, tomatoes.
- A long nap can affect your ability to sleep in the evening.
- Screens and electronic devices in the evening: TV, phone, computer.
What happens in the body?
Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that can affect and regulate mood, appetite, digestion and sleep. It is often called the “happy hormone” because it contributes to wellbeing.
Eating foods that contain the essential amino acid “tryptophan” can help the body to produce more serotonin, which then converts into “melatonin”: the hormone that regulates our circadian or awake / sleep cycle.
Magnesium, calcium and vitamin B6 also help to promote sleep: magnesium promotes relaxation, calcium contributes to melatonin production and vitamin B6 converts tryptophan into melatonin.
Factors that can help you sleep better:
- Exercise: gentle exercise such as cycling, walking or swimming.
- Natural light: spending enough time outside during the day regulates our internal clock (circadian rhythm or system).
- A relaxing bedtime routine: this varies for each of us but could include a warm bath, reading a book, gentle stretching.
- A relaxing OR supportive sleep environment: comfortable bed, blackout curtains, dim lights, no electronic objects, cool temperature, lavender oil. Limit distractions. The bedroom should be a place for sleep, sex and not much else!
- Food that promote sleep: tryptophan rich-food, carbohydrates, magnesium rich food promote a good night sleep.
- A positive attitude to life stimulates the production of serotonin.
What food can help you sleep better?
Tryptophan-rich food is widely available and most sources also contain good amounts of magnesium,
calcium and vitamin B6:
- Vegetarian and vegan sources: grains (rice, oats, barley), vegetables (spinach, broccoli, onions), fruits (apples, peaches, avocado), seeds, soy products (tofu), nuts, legumes, lentils.
- Animal sources: salmon, poultry, eggs, milk, cheese, milk.
- Carbohydrates help tryptophan to reach the brain and create serotonin. It is therefore recommended that you eat tryptophan rich foods with a little source of carbohydrate to facilitate this. The best carbohydrates choices (most nutrient dense and health promoting) include: fruits, vegetables and whole-grain breads and pastas.
5 simple hacks to improve your bedtime routine
- Switch off your electronic devices at least one hour before bed time.
- Drink herbal tea: the best calming effect herbal teas are: chamomile, valerian, lavender, lemon
balm, passionflower, magnolia. Two teabags are best for a therapeutic dose!
- Read a book (pick carefully, and ideally not the newspaper).
- Have a warm bath/shower: add Magnesium flakes to your bath to relax your muscles.
- Practice relaxation exercise for 10 minutes before bedtime. You could try the following on Youtube:
- Speed Zen: a quick & powerful Alpha Meditation.
- Honest guys: guided meditation: blissful deep relaxation and sleep.
- 15 minute deep breathing exercise.
MY TECH GAMECHANGERS
I do love a bit of TECH… I use an Oura ring to track my sleep and it keeps me accountable. I tend to be a typical “Type A” personality who finds it hard to slow down or rest. If my Oura shows me with data that my sleep is affecting me, I am more likely to take action.
I also have a SENSATE which I use in conjunction with my Oura. It helps me relax before I go to sleep and switch off into my parasympathetic nervous system state and leads to deeper sleep which is always reflected by the data returned from my Oura.
If you have the basics in place and are still STRUGGLING with your SLEEP, you may pattern interrupter geared to your specific circumstances to break your negative sleep cycle or habits and get you back on track OR there may be more going on that needs to be addressed through dietary or lifestyle changes or tweaks to tackle the root cause.
What are your SLEEP HACKS? I would love to know!