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Our Ultimate Sleep Better Guide

6 MIN READ • 6th July 2022
Health and Wellbeing by Health and Wellbeing

Say goodbye to restful nights and tired mornings with our ultimate guide to getting more Zzzs...

Move over clean eating – there’s a new trend in town, and this is one that’s guaranteed to make you sit up and pay attention. Or, actually, lay down and rest. Yes, that’s right ladies, 2017 is the year of clean sleeping. Gone are the days when it was trendy to survive on as little down time as possible, or when we’d look to successful figures such as Margaret Thatcher who famously survived on just four hours a night as a beacon of inspiration. Now it’s all about catching as many Zzzs as possible.

Made famous by wellbeing guru Gwyneth Paltrow, the term clean sleeping basically refers to getting enough good quality sleep at night – for her that’s at least seven or eight, or ideally even 10 hours. In her new book, Clean Beauty, she claims that a good night’s rest is her first priority (even above a clean diet) and talks about how it can help keep our waistlines trim, stave off wrinkles and maintain healthy glossy hair.

But we don’t just have to take Gwyneth’s word for it – the importance of getting enough shut eye is something researchers have been talking about for decades. As expert Dr Neil Stanley (thesleepconsultancy.com) explains: “Good sleep is vital for good physical, mental and emotional health. The short term consequences of poor sleep are mainly related to reduced immune system function, so you are more likely to pick up any bugs going around and take longer to recover from them. Long-term poor slumber is more serious and has been associated with increased risk of heart disease, stroke, depression, diabetes, obesity and some cancers.” Yikes!

There’s also the fact that not getting enough has been scientifically shown to led to increased weight gain. Yes, really! “Poor sleep can have an effect on some of the hormones that are responsible for appetite which means that when you are sleep deprived you feel more hungry and particularly crave high sugar, high fat foods,” Dr Stanley explains. “You also actually eat more before the body tells you that you are full.”

So how can you ensure you rest better? We’ve enlisted the experts to help…

Know the basics

First things first, let’s get the main points straight.

  • Generally adults need between seven and eight hours sleep, although there are some occasions when we need more or less. It’s not ideal to build up a sleep debt which you hope to ‘repay’ at the weekend – it’s far better to try to consistently reach your target.
  • Try to ensure your bedroom is as quiet and dark as possible. Blackout blinds can help keep light out and ear plugs may be useful if you live in a busy area.
  • The temperature in your room should be ‘thermally neutral’ – around 18.5°C. This means that your body shouldn’t have to expel energy to reach your ideal temperature by shivering or sweating.
  • Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time everyday, even at the weekend. Getting into a routine like this will help your body’s natural rhythm.
  • Turn your phone and laptop off. Yes, we know it’s hard not to have that last scroll through Instagram before you close your eyes, but the blue light from electronics affects our body’s levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. If you really can’t be without your mobile, turn it onto night mode or download an app that lowers blue light emission.

Learn how to switch off

So, your room is dark, your body is a perfect temperature, you haven’t checked your phone for at least half an hour and everything is quiet, but you still can’t quite fall into the land of nod. What’s the problem?

It’s probably your overactive mind, says Professor Gringras, scientific sleep adviser for Leesa (leesa.co.uk), who adds that making sure we take the time to unwind and process our thoughts before hitting the sack is key. “Bedtime is often when worries and work concerns come flooding in,” he explains. “Telling yourself to stop thinking about them is not going to work, but there are a few proven methods that are effective. Use relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation to calm your body and mind. Start with your toes and tense all the muscles as tightly as you can, then completely relax. Work your way up from your feet to the top of your head.

“You can also practice mindfulness, which focuses on the ‘here and now’ (often the ‘in’ and ‘out’ of your breathing). Notice, but do not worry about, the intrusive thoughts that pop in to your mind and draw your attention back to the current moment.”

Don’t let wake-ups disturb your sleep

There’s nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night for what feels like no reason (especially if it’s taken you an age to drift off), but the truth is there probably is a cause behind your midnight stirring. This could be anything from anxieties creeping in to a drop in blood sugar levels or a need to go to the loo.

Dr Mark Winwood, director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP healthcare, says that recording your sleeping patterns can help if you’re a frequent waker. “Keeping a sleep diary allows you to monitor when you fall asleep and wake up, how many times you wake up during the night and how rested you feel in the morning,” he says. “After a week, reflecting on your notes can help you pinpoint the cause of your sleep problems, identify what helps and what makes the situation worse.”

If you think it may be something to do with hunger levels, nutritionist Cassandra Barns suggests having a snack containing complex carbs and protein before bed. “If your blood sugar falls too low in the early hours of the morning, this can trigger adrenaline to be released,” she explains. “The result is that you’ll wake up, often with a racing heart and a racing mind. So as well as balancing your blood sugar by eating whole foods and including protein with every meal, try having a snack containing complex carbohydrates in the late evening, to help stop your blood sugar dropping in the night. A good example is a couple of oatcakes with a teaspoon of nut butter.”

If you’re likely to wake up thinking about work worries, make sure you take proper time to unwind before you put your head on the pillow. Take a bath, do some breathing exercises or read a book to quieten your mind and relax your body. You may even find writing a list of your anxieties helps you to unload before bedtime.

And whatever the reason for your untimely wake-up, Cassandra says you shouldn’t give up on sleep. “Most importantly, don’t reach for your phone and start checking emails or social media,” she adds. “When you wake up in the night, give yourself half an hour – or even an hour – to lie quietly in the dark, just appreciating the rest. You might find that you fall asleep again, even if you weren’t expecting to.“

Eat the right foods

As well as helping to stave off hunger pains in the middle of the night, the right sort of food can help you doze off too.

Nutritionist Victoria Robertson, head of Culinary at Hello Fresh (hellofresh.co.uk), says: “You should aim to eat lots of tryptophan-rich foods to aid a better night’s sleep. Tryptophan is used by the body to make serotonin (the happy hormone), which in turn is used to make melatonin. Examples of tryptophan-rich foods include turkey, milk, chia seeds, sesame seeds, tahini, watermelon seeds, cashew nuts, almonds, pistachios and flaxseeds. It is best to eat these alongside carbs to help your body transport the tryptophan to your brain.”

Tropical fruits such as pineapples, bananas and oranges are also good at helping increase melatonin production.

Use exercise to your advantage

Are you a keen gym bunny? Make sure your love of fitness is helping, not hindering your slumber. “Exercise can improve sleep quantity, quality, mood, and general daytime wellness, and is one of the best ‘sleep-medicines’ around,” Professor Gringras explains. “But like all medicines, there is a right and wrong way to use it.”

As he says, the timing of the exercise can make a big difference – working out in the morning is unlikely to make a big difference to how you feel at night, and doing it too close to bedtime is likely to cause problems in falling asleep.

“Also consider the intensity of the exercise you do,” he adds. “In one study, sleep was enhanced only after 30 minutes of slightly more vigorous exercise. As a rough guide, try taking 20-30 minutes of exercise that is moderate for you, between 4pm and 7pm.”

So there you have it, everything you need for a better night’s sleep. Now all that’s left to do is to tuck yourself in and switch off your lamp. Sweet dreams!

Sleep hacks

1.

Drink Cherry juice.

It may not be your tipple of choice, but tart cherries can help boost the production of melatonin.

2.

Wear socks in bed.

Keeping your extremities at a good temperature is key to falling asleep quickly – socks may help on those really chilly nights!

3.

Eat a Kiwi every day.

This fruit is rich in serotonin, which helps regulate our sleep cycles, and one study found that eating a kiwi an hour before bed every day could improve sleep.

4.

Drink banana tea.

No, we’ve not gone mad – bananas are rich in magnesium (a natural relaxant) and can help you snooze. Simply cut the ends off a washed banana and boil in hot water for three minutes. Add some honey and cinnamon to the water if desired and enjoy!

5.

Use essential oils.

Scents like lavender and bergamot can encourage good quality sleep so put a few drops of oil in a warm bath before bed or on your pillow.

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