5 Tips On How To Get A Good Night’s Sleep Naturally
I wonder if our ancestors would laugh or be completely baffled as to how as a society we have lost the ability to achieve a restorative sleep, one of the most natural and innate circadian rhythms known to our biology. But a lack of sleep or poor quality sleep is no laughing matter - it is vital to our mental and physical health. 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep is considered ideal, plus 30 minutes or less to fall asleep and being able to go back to sleep easily should we wake. One good measure to know if you are getting a restorative sleep is how you feel when you wake up or even as the day goes on.
Sadly, it has become a badge of honour in the West to function off less and less sleep and dare I say seen as lazy to get 8 or more hours? Insomnia and sleep quality issue are increasingly becoming a problem and the research is showing that this correlates with increased risk for diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gut issues, mental health issues and Alzheimer’.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Our bodies are incredibly forgiving and often I find the solutions for clients’ sleeping difficulties are fairly simple and revolve around two key factors: One, is to promote the ‘rest and digest’ part of the nervous system known as the parasympathetic nervous system. Secondly, to promote and not suppress important hormones and neurotransmitters that help us sleep such as melatonin and adenosine.
So what can you do?
Caffeine. Enjoy that comforting cup of morning coffee (or two) but avoid caffeine later in the day. Whilst caffeine may have wonderful benefits such as increased focus and concentration it is not ideal to consume it after about noon. Caffeine supresses a neurotransmitter called adenosine that gradually increases throughout the day calming our nervous system to prepare us for sleep that night. Caffeine also supresses melatonin, a key player in putting us into a deep restorative sleep, for up to 10 hours. Not a coffee drinker? Be aware that caffeine found in many energy and soda drinks, and in lower doses in chocolate and tea. Alternatives are chicory coffee, herbal teas (careful as green tea has caffeine) or decaf options. Decaf can still contain some caffeine but the amount ranges depending on the brand of the coffee.
Eating late and alcohol. I would advise to try and not eat or drink alcohol 2-3 hours before bed. If you must eat within this window make sure it is a lighter meal and consider the addition of foods that help produce melatonin or tryptophan which helps make melatonin. Some of these foods include bananas, morello cherries, oats, rice, peanuts, spinach, turkey and walnuts. Some herbs have high concentrations of melatonin too such as sage. Eating large, heavy meals in the evening time has been associated with higher levels of body fat and also blood sugar dysregulation which could cause cortisol to rise too quickly and result in waking around 2-3am. Did you know just like our sleep/wake cycle our gut also has a natural circadian rhythm? Giving your gut a chance to digest your food before bed frees it up to do what it is meant to do at night; rest and repair itself.
Technology. We all know this by now, but how often do you do it? Put the technology away! Another suppressor of our beloved sleepy hormone melatonin is the blue light emitted from iPhone, iPad and lap tops. The blue light signals to our brain that it is daytime and thus melatonin is suppressed again. This can cause difficultly falling asleep or getting a deep restorative sleep. I recommend putting the technology down 90 minutes before bed but if you must be on your phone there are blue light glasses you can buy that block the blue light from hitting your retina. It is also ideal to have your phone on airplane mode and night if you want to further aid your quality of sleep, if you use it as an alarm the alarm will still work on this setting. One recent study showed that not having your phone switched off or to airplane mode at nighttime actually shortened the time our brain spent in ‘theta and delta’. Theta and delta are deep, slow brain waves that put us into our deepest sleep.
Meditation. Meditation and deep breathing is the quickest way to tell your nervous system that you are safe and it is okay to relax. Deep breaths in the nose allow you to breath deeper and has been shown to lower cortisol levels! Do not under estimate the power of meditation. You would be amazed at what 5 minutes can do for both your sleep, and how less reactive you soon become to stressful situations. Try any way that works for you - calming music or an app many clients of mine have found very useful is Head Space. Just 5 minutes that’s all I ask! . You can find ‘binaural sounds’ on You Tube that have also been shown to induce delta waves, which signal to the brain to go to sleep.
Magnesium. One of my favourite minerals is Magnesium (doesn’t everyone have a favourite mineral?). Magnesium is a mineral that many people are deficient in. Deficiency can be due to medications, chronic stress and less available in soil and vegetables because of industrialised farming methods. Magnesium is found naturally in most nuts and seeds and dark green leafy vegetables. Magnesium is vital for literally 100’s of cellular reactions inside your body, but one of its key roles is keeping the nervous system calm and lowering stress. You can take a relaxing magnesium salts bath (don’t forget some lavender drops and a calming chamomile tea!) or take a supplement of about 400mg an hour before bedtime. There are other ‘magical’ herbs and supplements that can help you become a sleeping beauty but it is best to see a nutritional therapist or other practitioner to find the one specifically suited to you.
Article Written By: Jennifer Still