Sleep problems are sometimes complex, but many issues can be remedied quickly and effectively – leaving you to (finally) rest easy. Here’s how to revamp your slumber
Spoiler: not drinking enough water can seriously impact the quality of your sleep. “If you’re dehydrated, you may have a reduction in levels of essential amino acids, which you need to produce melatonin – the sleep-inducing hormone,” explains sleep expert Lucy Shrimpton, (sleepnanny.co.uk). However, drink too much, and you’ll fall foul of the night-time toilet run. “We have a decreased need to urinate at night to allow us 6-8 hours uninterrupted sleep, but if you drink a lot of water close to bedtime, your sleep may be disturbed because of a need to use the bathroom,” Lucy explains. So, what’s your optimal amount? The NHS (nhs.uk) recommends drinking six to eight glasses of fluid a day – and water, low-fat milk and sugarfree drinks, including tea and coffee, all count.
If you’ve ever spent a night tossing and turning, ruminating on conversations you’ve had during daylight hours, you’ll know that stress plays a big part in not drifting off. “Stress comes with a release of the hormone cortisol, which is like having adrenaline running through your body,” says Lucy. “This can make it extremely difficult to settle and sleep – and this hindrance can lead to more stress, so the cycle continues.” The solution? Find another way to get your worries out. Try meditation, evening yoga, or jotting down your concerns each day to find a way of de-stressing that works for you.
Not moving enough can also affect sleep. “Numerous studies have shown that regular exercise helps people to sleep more easily and experience a better quality of sleep through the night,” says Lucy. “Also, a lack of exercise can lead to weight gain which can cause other sleep-related issues, such as snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea.”
Avoiding screens and social media can help improve our sleep. “It’s widely known that using a screen within two hours of going to bed can cause sleep disturbance,” says Liz Cooper, a nutritional advisor at Bio-Kult (bio-kult.com). “This is because the light-emitting diode (LED) screens found on televisions, computers, iPads and gaming consoles emit blue light, which can affect our circadian rhythm – a process that responds to light and dark exposure and governs our sleep-wake cycle.”
What we eat can also affect how we sleep, but avoiding sugar and your daily latte may not go far enough. “Getting the balance right with protein is equally important,” says Liz. “Low protein intake is associated with poorquality sleep, while too much protein can contribute to restless nights. Try to incorporate good-quality protein sources, such as fish, turkey, eggs, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and chicken. These foods also contain tryptophan, which is needed to make melatonin. Other than increasing tryptophan, sufficient protein may support folate and vitamin B12. These compounds have a role in melatonin metabolism and balanced circadian rhythm.”
Studies have shown that poor sleep could result from micronutrient deficiency. “Insomnia has been linked to low selenium and calcium,” says Liz. “Research has also suggested that low consumption of certain B vitamins can negatively affect sleep. This is because of their role in the production and release of some of the neurotransmitters and hormones involved in sleep regulation, such as serotonin. The good news is, zinc can help regulate sleep, and the B vitamins found in eggs, meat, poultry, fish, legumes and wholegrains can relieve restless leg syndrome (where a person has the urge to continually move their limbs) – a condition that can wake a person up repeatedly.”
Magnesium has also been associated with sleep issues. “A study in 2019 found that those with better sleep quality were found to consume higher levels of vitamin B6 and magnesium,” says Liz. “Magnesium is a great mineral which helps to regulate neurotransmitters, chemicals that send messages from your nervous system to your brain, aiding relaxation and the normal function of the nervous system. Upping your magnesium intake by eating leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains is an obvious win, but also taking a magnesium supplement, spray or even warm bath with Epsom salts before bed may help to improve levels, too.”
Maintaining good digestive health by having a balanced microbiome can help improve our nutrient absorption. “If we look after our gut health, it could help our bodies produce more sleep-promoting hormones, such as serotonin and melatonin,” says Liz. “Poor sleep and feelings of fatigue are often reported alongside digestive issues. However, even in those who do not suffer with noticeable digestive complaints, sleep disorders may provide a clue that the community of bacteria residing in your gut is out of balance. A human trial in 2015, suggested that multi-strain live bacteria supplements may help to regulate melatonin production, which helps to regulate the sleepwake cycle.”
It might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you’re trying to work out why you’re tired, but our social connections can impact our ability to drift off, as Dr Guy Meadows from Sleep School (thesleepschool.org) explains: “We’ve evolved to be in groups, and humans are naturally social beings. So, when we’re alone, our bodies activate a fightor- flight system. Our sleep becomes lighter and fragmented because our body is on the lookout.” While nourishing social interactions are a little trickier in the current climate, booking regular catch-ups in with friends and family – virtually or IRL – can help fulfil our social needs and hopefully aid a more peaceful and sounder slumber.
While it may be tempting to end the day with a tipple, your end-of-day treat might be causing disturbed sleep. According to Sleep Foundation, research has shown “sleepers who drink large amounts of alcohol before going to bed are often prone to delayed sleep onset, meaning they need more time to fall asleep.” The organisation also highlights the role our liver has during this process: “As liver enzymes metabolise the alcohol during the night and their blood alcohol level decreases, these individuals are also more likely to experience sleep disruptions and decreases in quality.” The best way to end the day? Almond milk, chamomile tea, or even a simple glass of water.
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