By Zoë Palmer-Wright
Spending hours tossing and turning at night when you’re trying to fall asleep is stressful and downright frustrating and sleep deprivation, over time, has significant negative impacts on mood, focus, productivity and even increases your risk of developing certain chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease and dementia. Anxiety, stress, and overstimulation are just some of the factors that can cause sleep problems
Thankfully, making some simple changes to your diet and lifestyle can have a hugely positive impact on your sleep quality and quantity. Nutrients from food play a huge role in the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, as well as other important neurotransmitters that help regulate sleep. An imbalance in these nutrients can lead to poor sleep quality and trouble falling asleep.
MY TOP TIPS FOR IMPROVING YOUR SLEEP
Eat magnesium-rich foods - the mineral magnesium is a natural sedative. Deficiency of magnesium can result in difficulty sleeping, muscle cramps, anxiety, irritability and pain. Increasing magnesium intake can also help people with restless leg syndrome. Foods rich in magnesium are legumes and seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, almonds, cashews and real dark chocolate (cacao). Do intense exercise in the morning rather than the evening Avoid caffeine after 2pm and go easy on the stimulants in general (sugar, caffeine, alcohol) Two hours before bedtime switch off all electronic screens. The blue light that’s emitted from smart phones, laptops, TVs and other electronic devices can disrupt the body clock (circadian rhythm) and suppress the body’s secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep.
Try reading a good book instead or journaling (getting thoughts and worries down on paper can be really therapeutic and make it a lot less likely you’ll struggle to fall asleep because of things on your mind) Have a hot bath in the evening with two generous handfuls of magnesium-rich Epsom salts and 8 drops of sleep-promoting lavender essential oil. Have a cup of sleep-promoting herbal tea 1-2 hours before bed; herbal teas which can help with insomnia include lemon balm, passionflower and chamomile. Eat a light snack before bedtime to help produce serotonin (the calming hormone) — 200 calories or less — that’s mainly carbohydrate with a touch of protein. Combining foods rich in healthy, high fibre carbohydrates with a small amount of protein which contains the amino acid tryptophan (an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin) can make falling asleep much easier.
Prepare the scene for sleep – make sure the light, sound, and temperature as well as your bed and pillow, are all comfortable. Breathing techniques can be sleep miracle workers – even just 5-10 mins before bed can have a big impact - you want to focus on breathing techniques which involve longer exhalations than inhalations.