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18.5.2019

Want to Improve Your Sleep?

Sleep Cycles


We sleep in cycles throughout the night, with each cycle lasting around 90 minutes. Different stages within each cycle include light sleep, deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement).



You can track your own sleep cycles through various technologies now. Oura rings are a great way to do this, by monitoring physiological signals from your body.



However, if you want something more affordable, there are a range of different apps on your phone that you could also try.



So not only is it important to make sure we get enough sleep as a whole, but we need to ensure that we can get enough restorative deep sleep too.

Many of us experience some form of sleep problem at some point in our lives for a variety of reasons, and it can be extremely frustrating. Not only that, but anxiety over not sleeping can sometimes fuel the cycle.

So what can we do from a sleep hygiene and nutritional perspective?

Routine


It may seem like basic common sense; but trying to establish a routine is important. Waking up at 5 am during the week is one thing but if you go to bed at 2 am on the weekend and try to sleep in until 10 am the next day, that’s effectively like trying to move in and out of a different time zone just for a day or two each week.

Temperature


How warm is your bedroom? As tempting as it might be to snuggle up in a toasty room, keeping it cool could be key to a good night’s sleep.

The ideal temperature is said to be somewhere between 16 and 18C.

A hot bath before bed can not only help you to relax for bedtime, but it can also help to lower your body temperature to sleep.

Avoid Blue Light


The body has its own circadian rhythm (24 hour sleep-wake cycle) which is affected by environmental factors – especially light.

To help your circadian cycle, take in as much light as possible first thing in the morning and during the day. Being inside during daylight hours can reduce night time production of the sleep hormone, melatonin, by as much as 50%, so take a walk on your lunch break. Better yet – get out into some green space!



At night time it is important to limit your exposure to artificial light – especially blue light from TV and devices. Blue light suppresses the release of melatonin. Phones and tablets have night time settings to help reduce this blue light, but blue light blocking glasses can help to reduce this further, and help with light from the TV and general household lighting.

You can buy blue light blockers fairly cheaply online and wearing these for an hour or so before bed can help to avoid disrupting melatonin release.



Nutrition


Nutrition can of course play an important role in sleep also.

Tryptophan is one of the essential amino acids needed to produce serotonin (the feel good neurotransmitter) and melatonin (the sleep hormone). Foods rich in tryptophan include: pumpkin and sunflower seeds, poultry and salmon.

Montmorency cherries help to increase melatonin as well as providing a range of antioxidants. Given their beneficial effects on reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) – this tart cherry juice is ideal to include in a post workout smoothie if you exercise in the evening.



Magnesium is an important mineral for muscle relaxation and deficiency can cause sleep issues. This is particularly relevant if you are going through a period of high stress and/or have an intense training schedule, as both stress and exercise use a lot of magnesium.

Magnesium citrate can be taken at night time before bed, or magnesium bath salts or sprays can be absorbed directly through the skin.



Supplements that combine magnesium, zinc and vitamin B6 (ZMA) are often used by people looking to boost testosterone to muscle build. These can support sleep but this combination can also give vivid dreams!

L-theanine is an amino acid that helps to increase levels of GABA – one of the neurotramsitters that promotes relaxation for sleep, as well as reducing some of the more excitatory neurotransmitters. You can raise levels by drinking green tea during the day, but it can also be found in some sleep supplements.

Adaptogens are a group of herbs that help your body adapt to stress. Certain adaptogens can be particularly helpful in promoting relxation and supporting good quality sleep. These include ashwagandha and rhodiola rosea.

Personally I like to use a combination of these, and my current favourite supplement combines these adaptogens with magnesium, Montmorency cherry and l-theanine.



What Else?


Relaxation before bed is hugely important, so make sure you take some time to unwind after the day. Late night can be a perfect time for a short meditation, especially after watching any intense TV programmes or films!

Exercise can be hugely beneficial for sleep; however, try not to work out late in the evening, as that can make it harder to fall asleep.

Finally – make your bedroom as inviting as possible and try to make it a device-free zone!  No TVs, tablets or phones, even if that means getting an old-fashioned alarm clock. Personally I love the dawn simulating alarms that gradually waken you with increasing light.

I’ve personally tried and tested these tips and they can really make a difference. If you’re struggling with your sleep give them a go.

Sweet dreams!









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