Digital devices, hormones, diet, stress and inactivity can all make it more difficult to get the amount of sleep you need to stay well and to function.
My top 12 sleep tips should help get you moving towards better quality sleep even if you find you can’t sleep for the length of time you’d like
- Create a caffeine cut-off time. Because it stays in our system for around 7 hours, perhaps avoid it after 3pm - see what works for you.
- Have a 30-minute wind down period before you go to bed. Your brain does not switch off like a light when you click the switch; you need to help your body prepare for sleep. Turn down the lights and switch OFF your electronic devices - these all lower melatonin levels; a hormone that we need to sleep.
- Listen to music or audio books. If you find it hard to get your brain to switch off, certain white noises can also soothe you to sleep. Look up ASMR sleep whispers or ask Alexa to play sleep sounds. I love the sound of rain and distant thunder to help me get off. Also check out the Calm app or the free Insight Timer.
- Run a warm (not hot) bubble bath an hour before bedtime. Scents such as lavender and geranium are naturally calming. Passionflower, orange blossom, chamomile and peppermint may also help with relaxation and sleep.
- Don't go to bed hungry - have you ever tried this? Have a light snack if you’re feeling peckish (see below for ideas).
- Try a soothing milky drink or calming night-time herbal tea which are good alternatives to a late-night caffeinated cuppa or alcohol.
- Magnesium citrate is an easily absorbed form of magnesium supplement that may help with anxiety and restlessness. It can be taken during the day and at night-time. Magnesium glycinate can be useful just to take at night (an hour before bed) to help with dropping off to sleep and can be helpful with sleep disruptions due to menopause symptoms..
- Ensure your room is a sleep haven; dark, quiet and free from distractions - leave your phone charging downstairs. Get rid of the TV and any other unnecessary electronics. Reserve your bed for sleep and sex, not work!
- Make sure your bed is comfy! Around 13% of us don't sleep because of an uncomfortable mattress / bed. Getting a topper can be a more affordable option.
- Keep your bedroom cool (16-18°C); open the window before you got to bed, use a fan and consider cooling bed clothes. Think about comfy and breathable bedding too.
- Get moving! Inactivity is linked to poor quality sleep and fewer hours too. You don’t need to choose something exhausting; gentle movement that takes you outside into some green spaces can naturally boost your serotonin levels.
- Nap when you need to. It's not a selfish act, you are looking after your body, which is working incredibly hard for you.
Top 8 Sleepy Snacks
We naturally go for sugary, fatty, high energy foods when tired or stressed. They can however, play havoc with our metabolism and ultimately our sleep; taking us down a slippery slope of craving more foods which can make us feel more tired. Here are 8 bedtime snack suggestions to help you stay on the straight and narrow.
- Seeds and nuts for calming, sleep inducing Tryptophan. Found in protein rich foods, we convert Tryptophan into the key feel-good hormone serotonin. Serotonin helps with sleep (as we turn it into sleep inducing melatonin) and it helps stablilise our mood too.
- Bananas for Potassium and Magnesium. Both of these minerals play a role in muscle function - an extra dose may help induce muscle relaxation - great if you suffer with twitchy / restless leg syndrome or have had a late session at the gym or at work.
- Avocado and whole grains are also rich in Magnesium (how about avocado or banana on toast?) Magnesium interrupts Adrenalin (the hormone that is central to our stress response) and is also really important in the production of calming hormones. Melatonin, GABA and Dopamine production are all supported by Magnesium and may help induce a restful state. Other sources of Magnesium include dark green veg, brown rice and lentils.
- A mug of warm milk. Milk is not famous for its high Tryptophan content so it may not be entirely responsible for making us sleepy. It may just be the comforting memories from childhood that help soothe the mind and body, helping us prepare for sleep but worth a go if it works!
- Kiwis! Especially the golden varieties that are rich in both Vitamin C and serotonin. An interesting study showed having 2 kiwi fruit an hour before bed meant they dropped off to sleep 35% faster. That's pretty significant and I've heard lots of other anecdotal evidence of this too!
- Tart cherry juice. A pricier option but interesting nonetheless! Montmorency cherries help maintain Tryptophan levels (so we can make more Serotonin) and produce high levels of melatonin in the brain. Melatonin is a hormone that helps control our sleep and wake cycles; basically, making us feel sleepy at bedtime and awake in the morning. One study showed that having a shot of tart cherry juice am and pm increased their sleep by an hour a night!
- Sleepy tea. Thankfully, mainstream tea makers offer blends of different herbs such as Valerian (well known for its sedative effect), lemon balm, peppermint and lavender create teas that make a much nicer cuppa in my opinion than good old-fashioned Chamomile. Why not take advantage of their calming and soothing properties in a pre-bedtime cuppa, rather than an alcoholic tipple?
- Green tea. If you are sensitive to caffeine then this probably isn't the best option but if you are looking to wean yourself off caffeine, green tea contains about half the caffeine as black tea and much less than coffee. Green tea contains 2 metabolites of caffeine called theophylline and theobromine which gives a more subtle boost compared to coffee. Another component of interest is L-theanine: this helps induce relaxation which can help to 'take the edge off' caffeine and could be a good option if you are struggling to nod off.
Remember that food alone often won't solve sleep problems but keeping a sleep diary can help you identify other factors with might be having a negative impact on your sleep.
If you have any more tried and tested tips, do let me know!