One of the things I see time and time again in my practise is clients with poor sleep. Often times they are happy to make dietary changes and incorporate an exercise routine into their lifestyle, but they ignore the importance of optimal sleep. In addition to poor sleep, they are struggling with other issues such as hormonal issues, the inability to lose weight, mood swings, sugar cravings… and when they start addressing their sleep, suddenly the other issues start to resolve as well.
We spend so much time focusing on diet and exercise, but sleep is an area of our lives which can have such a profound impact on our health. Whenever I see clients who are not sleeping enough or well, that becomes my first area of focus. You may be wondering why that is, after all, isn’t it admirable to be able to function on minimal hours of sleep? Are you one of those ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ kind of people who thrives on a few hours of sleep a night? Let me tell you why sleep is so important and why it may be impacting your health goals, and what you can do to optimise it.
Did you know that the average adult spends 33% of their lives sleeping? If a third of our lives are reliant on sleep, then it must be quite an important function for our bodies, right? Anyone who has had a sleepless night can attest that it can affect not only our energy levels the next day, but our mood, ability to think and even the ability to make good choices (ie. not reach for the donuts and coffee!)
The functions of sleep are:
- Body and brain repair
- Mood regulation
- Memory and learning
- Modulation of immune responses
Having the odd night of suboptimal sleep will not do much long term damage, but if we are chronically sleep deprived, or are not sleeping well, then we are heading down a dangerous path. If you are having trouble sleeping, this could be impairing your health goals, as you will be running on the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. If you don’t know how chronic cortisol production can affect your health, read my blog post about it here. Did you know that lack of sleep has actually been associated with the following:
- Weight gain
- Premature ageing
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Decreased libido
- Brain fog
- Impaired judgement and proneness to accidents
Anyone who has experienced a bad night’s sleep can attest to how it impairs our ability to function the next day.
I remember the first year of my daughter’s life, she went through a phase where she would wake up every 40 minutes throughout the night, and it would take me around 20 minutes to get her back to sleep, only for her to then wake up again 40 minutes later. This went on for a couple of months, and I honestly thought I was going to lose my mind. My moods were horrendous, I could barely function the next day, and I would do things like go out for a walk with my daughter and child only to return to find a burning pan on the stove, which I had forgotten to switch off.
Sleep deprivation is no joke! Whenever I see clients who are not sleeping enough, or well, it becomes my priority to address that area of their life. So, what are some things we can do to optimise our sleep and get our health back on track?
- Prepare your bedroom: your bedroom should be somewhere you look forward to retiring to in the evening, somewhere you can relax and unwind before falling into a deep slumber. I advise my clients to avoid having a TV or other gadgets in the bedroom. The lights should be dimmed so as to not disrupt the release of melatonin in the evening, and the temperature should be on the cooler side for optimal sleep. Scented candles, salt lamps, fluffy cushions and luxurious throws are optional but do add a relaxing touch to the room!
- Aim to get to bed before 11pm for optimal sleep. This is one that a lot of my clients struggle with, especially those who need time for themselves after a long day of working and/ or parenting. But I have to insist on this, as the body’s main hours of repair are between 10pm and 2am so it’s better to go to bed earlier (and wake up earlier) than to go to bed after midnight and wake up at 10am. For all you self proclaimed night owls out there, I recommend you go camping… and then tell me how late you stay up when there are no screens or bright lights to keep you awake 🙂
- Prepare for sleep. Wear comfortable and breathable nightwear to avoid waking up in a hot sweat, take an Epsom salt bath just before bed, spray some magnesium oil on your skin and lavender on your pillows and use ear plugs if you are easily awakened throughout the night.
- Avoid sleep disruptors. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine in the latter part of day. Alcohol, as much as it may knock you out temporarily, actually disrupts sleep as it affects our blood sugar and causes our body to go into a state of stress and secrete cortisol throughout the night. Exposure to blue light (such as on our phones, computers, tablets and TV) will also shunt the release of melatonin, which is normally secreted in the early evening to get us ready for sleep. And high intensity exercise in the evening will increase cortisol production (which should be naturally low in the evening) and make it harder for us to go to sleep.
- Have a bedtime snack containing carbohydrates and protein. Oftentimes when we wake through the night, it is caused by our liver running out of glycogen and triggering the release of adrenaline, which makes our eyes pop open in the middle of the night repeatedly. By fuelling our bodies adequately throughout the day, as well as having a snack just before bed, we are ensuring that our liver has enough glycogen to keep our blood sugar stable whilst we sleep. My favourite bedtime snacks are:
- A glass of warm milk and honey
- Jelly or gummies made with tart cherry juice ( montmorency cherries contain natural sources of melatonin which can help us fall asleep)
- Freshly squeezed orange juice with collagen and salt. This can also be sipped on in the night if waking up, to help us fall back asleep. The natural sugar in the orange juice and the salt are fantastic for getting the body out of a stressed state.
- A hot chocolate with honey or maple syrup.
One of my clients has had trouble sleeping for years (she is also someone who suffers from chronic stress and has thrived on it for most of her life). This client of mine has tried everything: herbal sleep formulas, melatonin, magnesium spray, lavender… and then moved on to sleep medication to ensure she’d get a decent nights’ sleep. I asked her to start drinking some warm milk with honey before bed to see if it would help, and the last time I spoke to her she told me that her sleep had improved and she had stopped taking the medication! Warm milk sounds like such a simple thing, but let’s never underestimate the power of food!!
These are just a few of my favourite tips for healthy sleep. I’d love to hear from you if you have tried them!
If you’re ready to feel empowered, back in control of your health and achieving your health goals, click here to book a free call and let’s chat about how some simple diet and lifestyle changes can help you flourish.