Tossing and turning? Waking up in the middle of the night? Here are 10 effective strategies to help you say good night to sleep problems
Sleep is critical to the proper functioning of your brain and body, as well as to your mood. Research shows that losing even just one night of sleep can weaken immunity, because it significantly decreases the activity of T-cells, the white blood cells that fight pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Poor or insufficient sleep is also linked to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn may trigger age-related insulin resistance and the on set of type 2 diabetes. Studies show that sleep deprivation compromises memory, concentration, reaction time and logical reasoning – for example, a person who has not slept for 24 hours is seven times more likely to have a car accident than a driver who is not tired
The good news is that many sleep disorders can be treated with simple lifestyle tweaks, such as exercise and dietary changes, along with natural therapies and gentle herbal and nutritional supplements.
- Avoid Caffeine A common cause of sleeplessness is caffeine, because it has a stimulant effect on the body. Caffeine’s effects can last for 24 hours, so avoiding it altogether or at least cutting it out after breakfast may be required to improve sleep patterns. Interestingly, caffeine sensitivity is thought to become greater with age.
- Check for food sensitivities: It is not widely known that insomnia and disturbed sleep are a common symptom in food allergies and underlying sensitivities, because foods causing the reaction may increase the heart rate and interfere with indigestion. A naturopath or a nutritionist will be able to suggest tests to see if this is the case.
- Exercise: but not late at night If you’re physically tired at the end of the day, you will take less time to fall asleep and be more likely to enjoy deep, quality sleep. Outdoor exercise is especially helpful, because sunlight helps to reinforce your body clock. However, avoid exercise for up to three hours before bedtime, because this may have an energising effect.
- Create a sleep haven: Your bedroom should be quiet and dark, because this sends a message to your pineal gland to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone. Heavy block-out curtains can keep out ambient light and ear plugs help to cut down noise. Replace your mattress if it’s over10 years old, as a sagging or lumpy mattress may cause backpain. Wear loose-fitting pyjamas and keep the room temperature moderate – not too hot or cold.
- Pick a herb: Herbal medicines are used worldwide for sleep disorders, and can be a safe, effective and non-addictive solution. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is especially useful for insomnia where anxiety is a factor. Other herbal remedies include hops (Humulus lupulus), lemon verbena (Lippia citriodora), sour cherry (Prunus cerasus) and skullcap (Scutellarialaterifolia). Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a gentle, relaxing, antispasmodic herb – a cup of chamomile tea is particularly helpful if sleeplessness is caused by worry or muscle tension, and it is a wonderful remedy for exam stress in teens or nightmares in children.
- Say ‘M’ for magnesium: At Go Vita, our go-to nutrient for getting some shut-eye is definitely magnesium. Magnesium is essential for muscles and nervous system health, helping to prevent night-time cramps and easing tension. Speak to a Go Vita consultant and about a magnesium formula that is enhanced with passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) and California poppy (Eschscholzia california), two mildly sedative herbs traditionally used in Western herbal medicine to relieve anxiety, restlessness and muscle spasms.
- Treat yourself: Studies show that having regular massage treatments is linked to significant improvements in sleep, particularly in people with chronic pain.
- Relax: Research has shown that practising gentle yoga and finishing with a meditation sequence before bed time will boost the body’s natural production of melatonin, the hormone that helps to foster and sustain sleep. Guided imagery programs combine progressive relaxation with conscious prompts to turn off the racing mind and negative self-chatter that accompany shallow sleep and insomnia.
- Snack for zzz’s: Milk, oats, turkey, cheese and pumpkin seeds all contain a compound called L-tryptophan, which is an amino acid that encourages deep sleep by triggering an increase in the body’s production of melatonin.
- Take it to the tub: A warm bath an hour before bedtime is a well-known insomnia remedy for a good reason – it works. Add soothing rose or lavender essential oil to make it even more nurturing and relaxing.