Many people ask health care professionals “How can I improve my sleep?” and there is no magic answer. Gabbi from Natural Practices is guest-blogging for us, and has written this fantastic comprehensive guide on not only why sleep is important, but how to get more, naturally. Read on to learn everything you need to know about how to improve your sleep and feel better in every way.
WHY SLEEP IS IMPORTANT
Sleep plays a significant role in healing and repairing our heart and blood vessels. It helps us maintain a healthy weight and a good balance of hormones, as well as controlling sugar levels. In terms of mental health, a great night’s sleep makes the brain work properly. It helps us to learn, remember, solve problems and make decisions, as well as safeguarding against stress, mood swings and depression.
One in three of us suffer from poor sleep. Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions and it shortens your life expectancy, therefore a solid night’s sleep is essential for a long and healthy life.
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO WE NEED?
Most of us need around eight hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly, but some need more and some less. What matters is that you find out how much sleep you need and then try to achieve it. However here is a general guide:
HOW SLEEP CAN IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH
- Boosts immunity
- Boosts mental wellbeing
- Improves weight management
- Decreases the tendency to overeat
- Reduces sugar cravings
- Prevents diabetes
- Lowers blood pressure
- Wards off heart disease
- Increases sex drive
- Increases fertility
- Increases energy
- Enhances recovery from training
THE SLEEP CYCLE
When we first fall asleep we enter non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). This is divided into three stages, with each becoming progressively deeper. NREM1 and NREM2 are light phases of sleep, from which we can be easily roused. NREM3 becomes deeper, and if woken up, we can feel disorientated. Following on from this is rapid eye movement sleep (REM), the stage at which we dream.
Each sleep cycle lasts around 1 and a half hours, and in order to feel fully rested and refreshed when we wake up, we must experience all four stages. A full night’s sleep will include of five or six cycles, while a disturbed, restless night consists of fewer.
WHAT IS GOOD SLEEP HYGIENE?
If you have problems sleeping, then it is important that you practice good sleep ‘hygiene’. This means doing things which are known to improve sleep, and avoiding those things which are known to disturb sleep.
10 TIPS FOR IMPROVED SLEEP HYGIENE
- Keep regular sleep hours. Try to keep regular times for going to bed and getting up or try to keep regular sleeping hours. Choose a time when you’re likely to feel tired and sleepy. This programmes the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine. By working out what time you need to wake up, you can set a regular bedtime schedule. Add several drops of Lavender essential oil to a cloth and place just inside your pillow case. Lavender essential oil has been shown to be helpful in cases of anxiety and depression, and can even help reduce the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic fatigue syndrome. Controlled clinical trials also show comparable results with the common group of medications known as benzodiazepines, without the side effects.
- Create a restful sleeping environment. Your bedroom should be a peaceful place for rest and sleep. Select a mattress, sheets, and pillows that are comfortable. Avoid making your bedroom too hot or too cold; keep at a temperature of between 16°C-18°C. Keep the bedroom tidy and quiet and darkened during the night; fit some dark curtains if you don’t have any. A dark environment promotes melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, promoting a restful sleep. Keep your bedroom mainly for sleeping; try to avoid listening to the radio, or eating in your bedroom, and try to avoid watching television, using tablets, phones and laptops at least one hour (but ideally two hours) before bed in order to experience higher quality relaxation which in turn leads to higher quality sleep. Keep your bedroom just for sleep and sex.
- Exercise regularly. Moderate exercise on a regular basis, such as swimming or walking, can help relieve some of the tension built up over the day. Make sure that you don’t do vigorous exercise, such as running or the gym, at least 2 hours before bedtime though, as it may keep you awake.
- Cut down on caffeine. Cut down on caffeine in tea, coffee, energy drinks or colas, cocoa or chocolate and at least 4 hour hours before bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant and interferes with the process of falling asleep, and also prevents deep sleep. Instead, have a warm herbal tea, such as chamomile, or our very own blend from the Natropathix Range called ‘SereniTea’. The Pleasant tasting tea can lift the spirits and aid sleep, yet is non-drowsy and can be drunk throughout the day to calm the nervous system. It helps to ‘switch off’ an overactive brain, calms a panicky feeling, soothes and restores an over-active nervous system.
- Don’t over-indulge. Too much food, especially late at night, can interrupt your sleep patterns. Avoid eating a large meal immediately before bedtime, although a light snack may be beneficial. Tryptophan promotes good sleep; sources include turkey, chicken, fish, nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, oats, lentils and beans. Bananas also contain a small amount of tryptophan, so consider half a banana before bed.
- Cut down on alcohol. Too much alcohol, especially around bedtime and late at night, can interrupt your sleep patterns. Although alcohol can promote sleep at first, it can disrupt sleep later in the night.
- Don’t smoke. Nicotine is a stimulant. Avoid nicotine (including nicotine patches or chewing gum) an hour before bedtime and when waking at night. Smokers take longer to fall asleep, they wake up more frequently, and they often have more disrupted sleep.
- Try to relax before going to bed. Make sure you wind down as this is a critical stage in preparing for bed. Have a warm (not hot) bath to help your body reach a temperature that’s ideal for rest. Read a book or listen to quiet music or a relaxation CD or app, such as ‘Calm’ to help distract the mind. Do some gentle yoga stretches to help relax the muscles and the mind.
- Write away your worries. If you tend to lie in bed thinking about everything you have to do tomorrow, set aside time before bedtime to make plans for the next day. Writing “to do” lists for the next day can organise your thoughts and clear your mind of any distractions. The aim is to avoid doing these things when you’re in bed, trying to sleep.
- If you can’t sleep, get up. If you can’t sleep, don’t lie there worrying about it. Get up and do something you find relaxing until you feel sleepy again, then go back to bed. If this happens regularly then consider keeping a sleep diary – it may uncover lifestyle habits or daily activities that contribute to your sleeplessness.
Sometimes, we just need more of a helping hand, and that’s when herbs can come in useful. We use ‘Sleepy Time’ tincture with our clients, with fantastic results! It’s a beautiful blend of Chamomile, Lemon balm, Wild lettuce, Passionflower, Valerian and Hops.
Gabi Forrester ND
Naturopath, Herbalist and Iridologist
Natural Practices Clinic www.naturalpractices.co.uk 01625 54 9000
Thanks Gabi, for that very detailed help on how to get more sleep. I hope this will help you, and don’t forget, you can buy our sleep roller remedy here.