According to the NHS, one in three people in the UK will be affected by insomnia at some point in their lives. It’s an alarmingly common problem and can be extremely debilitating for those who suffer from it for extended periods. Our lives are now so busy and stressful, with less and less time dedicated to rest and relaxation, that its no wonder so many of us are suffering from periods of sleep deprivation.
How much sleep we get affects everything from our weight, appetite and blood sugar control to the processing of hormones and our mental state. Good sleep is vital for our immune system as it’s a crucial time for our body to enter into deep repair mode. Rejuvenating our body is essential for our mental wellbeing, as during sleep we process what we have learnt in the day and the emotions we have experienced.
Lack of sleep can have a major impact on our weight, due to the interaction of a crucial hormone Leptin, which controls our appetite. Leptin is the chemical that tells our brain when we are full. During sleep, Leptin levels increase, telling the brain you have plenty of energy and there's no need to trigger the feeling of hunger and the burning of calories. When you don't get enough sleep, Leptin levels decrease, making your brain think you don't have enough energy for your needs. This decrease can result in constant feelings of hunger and a general slow-down of your metabolism.
The good news is, there are some simple diet and lifestyle changes you can make to improve your quality and duration of sleep:
Consume Magnesium Rich Foods
Magnesium is nature’s tranquiliser and helps our body, particularly our muscles to relax. Include Magnesium rich foods in your evening meal such as brown rice, kale, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, buckwheat, avocado, and figs. Alternatively, take a magnesium supplement 1-2 hours before bedtime but make sure to get a good quality supplement containing magnesium citrate or food-state magnesium as these are better absorbed by the body.
Eat Tryptophan Foods
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that acts like a natural mood regulator, bringing on calming effects and inducing sleep. It is the body’s precursor to serotonin, our feel good hormone, which in turn is converted to melatonin, which is responsible for regulating our circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. Good sources of Tryptophan include: chicken, turkey, oats, lentils, bananas, cashew nuts and eggs.
Cut down on caffeine in tea, coffee, energy drinks or colas, especially in the evening. Caffeine interferes with the process of falling asleep, and also prevents deep sleep. Instead, have a herbal tea containing Camomile or Valerian.
Allow Your Food to Digest
It is best to allow 2-3 hours for your body to process food before going to sleep. Going to bed on a full stomach not only interrupts sleep patterns but can cause indigestion and gut discomfort which can affect sleep.
Have a Regular Routine
Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day will programme your body to sleep better. Creating a relaxing pre-bed routine can also be helpful to get your body into a restful mindset. Try a warm bath with lavender essential oils and two handfuls of Magnesium-rich Epsom salts – all designed to relax the body. How about meditation, some gentle yoga stretches or simply taking the time to review your day and set your intentions for tomorrow, so that your brain is peaceful.
Create the Right Environment
Your bedroom should be a peaceful place for rest and sleep. Temperature, lighting and noise should be controlled and most importantly, don’t go to bed with electronic devises such as phones, tablets and laptops. Even TVs in the bedroom should be banned. There is robust scientific evidence documenting the role of light in promoting wakefulness and even our small electronic devices emit sufficient light to miscue the brain and promote wakefulness, upsetting our circadian rhythms.