Updated: Oct 28, 2020
If only it was that easy.
We are frequently told how important it is for our bodies that we get good quality sleep and eight hours is THE number to be aiming for. That can be added pressure, that will add to our already stressed body and make it even harder to sleep. Have you ever lay in bed and stared at your clock and panicked that you wouldn't get enough sleep to function in work the next day or be a calm parent? Did you manage to fall back to sleep or did you lie in a panicked state with circulating thoughts going through your head? Unfortunately, this is a common story that I hear in my nutrition clinic.
There are a number of things that I discuss with my clients when we are looking to optimise sleep. First of all, we are all individuals and comparing ourselves to our friends or family members who "can fall asleep anywhere" can add to the emotional impact that we feel when we are poor sleepers. Some signs that you may notice that could mean that you are not getting enough sleep are poor memory, inability to concentrate, feeling stressed, low mood, fatigue, frequent illness and being unable to cope with simple tasks. If you would like to change some habits that may improve your sleep here are some things to consider.
Research shows that going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning can help our body learn a sleep routine.
Having a routine in the evening before we go to bed can help some people too. This may be doing a few gentle stretches before bed, having a warm bath (this will also cool your core body temperature which can help with sleep), meditation or spraying lavender on your pillow before getting into bed. The trick is to find something you that you like to do and do it regularly.
Getting light into your eyes during the day is important at regulating our inner clock (circadian rhythm). Aim for 30-60 minutes before noon.
Reducing light exposure in the evening is important for melatonin production (which helps us sleep). Dimming lights in the evening and turning off electronic devices is important. These devices can suppress the onset of melatonin.
Stress and sleep do not have a good relationship. This is an individual thing and should be approached in that way. Stress can be physical, mental and emotional. It can be acute or chronic. Some people can be more resilient to stress. Seeing a health practitioner to discuss stress is important, talking and lifestyle changes can have an impact. I have seen my clients benefiting from a regular breathing exercises or using meditation before bed and I regularly recommend the Calm and Headspace app for this.
The first thing that I would discuss with my clients would be possible food intolerances as this can have an impact on our sleep. Speaking to a nutritional therapist can help you start to get to the bottom of it.
Eating too close to going to bed has been shown to impact the quality of our sleep (REM sleep) but not quantity. A later bedtime has been linked to an increase of overall food intake in the day.
Protein is an important macronutrient for sleep and I regularly discuss foods that are rich in tryptophan with my clients. Tryptophan (when eaten with a carbohydrate) will convert to melatonin at night and aid sleep. Foods that are rich in tryptophan are turkey, pumpkin and sesame seeds, Montmorency cherry (tart cherry) and milk.
The information above is not intended and is not a replacement for medical advice. If you are worried about your sleep please contact your GP to discuss it.
Claire and I recorded an episode of What about you? were we discussed sleep in more detail. You can find the episode below.