If you were to rate your sleep out of 10, what would it currently be? If it’s less than eight, then perhaps it’s time to see what can be done to improve it. “A recent survey by supplement brand Healthspan found that 40 percent of those asked said that they are struggling with sleep and are looking at how they can incorporate new rituals to help them with their sleep,” says Rob Hobson, author of The Art of Sleeping. “Many of these rituals are based around sleep hygiene. You can think of sleep hygiene by way of the acronym BED, which stands for behaviour, environment and diet.” But what if going to sleep is a little more complicated than just streamlining your evening routine? Read on for our guide to solving your sleep woes.
What’s the best way to combat insomnia?
“Try to eat a healthy, wholefood diet with plenty of complex carbohydrates (e.g. cereals, bread, pasta), fruit and vegetables, and avoid overly rich food, especially at night,” says Dr Sarah Brewer, Healthspan medical director. “If you are hungry before going to bed, enjoy a light bedtime snack that includes complex carbohydrates (such as wholegrains) and low-fat dairy products (such as semi-skimmed milk or live yoghurt). These provide calming substances such as magnesium, calcium and tryptophan, which is needed for the production of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. Other foods that contain tryptophan include turkey, bananas, oats, and honey.” Other tips for helping you wave goodbye to insomnia, include:
• Avoid napping during the day.
• Take regular exercise – but not late in the evening.
• Avoid over-indulgence in substances that interfere with sleep such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.
• Have a bath containing magnesium flakes or Dead Sea mineral salts before going to bed. Magnesium is absorbed through the skin for a muscle-relaxing effect that promotes sleep.
• Avoid using a blue screen device (for example, smart phone, tablet) for at least 30 minutes before bed time – and ideally not for an hour or two. Blue light reduces production of melatonin – your natural sleep hormone.
• Make sure your bed is comfortable, and your bedroom warm, dark and quiet – noise and excessive cold or heat will keep you awake. A temperature of 18-24 degrees C is ideal.
“Follow a low to moderate GI diet, based on high-fibre foods such as wholegrain breads, cereals, beans, vegetables and whole fruits,” says Dr Brewer. “This can help balance blood sugar levels and provide a slow release of energy between meals. Also consider your iron intake. Iron is the most common nutrient deficiency globally and it effects more women as a result of their menstrual cycle. This condition can cause debilitating fatigue and tiredness.” Here are some more points to consider if you’re still struggling with fatigue:
- Eat regular meals spaced evenly throughout the day.
- Fluid intake is important, as even mild dehydration can cause fatigue.
- Small amounts of caffeine reduce perception of fatigue through effects on brain chemicals, but excessive intakes lead to restlessness and interfere with sleep.
- Stress and overwork are common causes of tiredness. Get back in control of your life and say ‘no’ to unreasonable demands – both at work and at home. Take time out to relax – treat yourself to a massage, or soak in a candlelit, aromatherapy bath. Just sitting quietly listening to music or reading will help you calm down and chill.
Need a boost? Consider taking:
• A multivitamin and mineral supplement designed for your age group.
• Ubiquinol coenzyme Q10 which is needed for energy production.
• Ashwagandha, a herbal supplement which helps you adapt to stress.
Seek medical advice from your GP first if you’re concerned about introducing a new supplement into your diet.
How can I cope with chronic fatigue?
“Chronic fatigue produces persistent physical and mental fatigue, muscle pain and twitching, poor memory and concentration that is not relieved by sleep or rest,” explains Dr Brewer. “Those affected often feel unwell with flu-like symptoms, sore throat and enlarged glands. Aim to follow a healthy, wholefood diet that is as organic as possible to avoid agricultural chemicals, colourings, preservatives and other food additives. Some people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) recognise they have a certain food or chemical intolerances, and following an elimination/challenge diet may help to pinpoint these. Eat little and often – six small meals per day are better than three larger ones as digestion and absorption appear to be impaired. Make sure you’re getting vitamin B as well. Food sources of B vitamins include, wholegrains, oats, beans, green leafy vegetables, oily fish, meat (especially pork and duck), nuts (especially walnuts), pomegranate, bio yoghurt and fortified cereals. A vitamin B complex supplement may help.” It is important to remain positive about the chance of recovery of chronic tiredness or fatigue. Seek medical advice if fatigue is persistent (e.g. lasts more than two weeks) to exclude underlying causes.
3 ways to nail your sleep hygiene
“When we’re struggling to sleep, many of us turn to a set of rules with the peculiar name of sleep hygiene,” says sleep expert James Wilson (beingwellfamily. com). “A prescriptive list of things to do around sleep to help us fall asleep – and stay asleep. However, many of us who are poor sleepers (including me) have found them to be overly prescriptive, too difficult to implement, and frankly, ineffective.” So, what can we do to give us a better chance to fall asleep and stay asleep?
- In the hour before you plan to go to sleep, focus on activities that help you drop your heart rate (be relaxed) and drop your core temperature (be cooler). For the latter, a warm bath or shower does the trick, raising your core temperature slightly and then dropping it when you step out of the bath or shower.
- Think about what you do at this time of night. Watch something funny, such as your favourite rom-com. This kind of content allows us to switch off, allowing our brain the space to prepare itself for sleep.
- As you start the wind down routine above, make sure you are ready for bed. One of the biggest mistakes we make is that we feel sleepy on the sofa, and then we decide to go to bed. But we start doing stuff; put the pets out, empty the dishwasher, brush our teeth, take our make-up off and then we get into bed thinking we’re ready. What this does is wake our brains up, as our body thinks we want to be awake. So, get on your PJ’s, your dressing gown and your fluffy slippers and then start winding down.