Why sleep matters: 8 steps to a good night’s sleep
Sleep is a topic that seems to be on everyone’s lips at the moment – but just how important is it?
For some people, there is a perception that not needing to sleep indicates that we are strong, successful and dealing with stress. There are blogs which actively encourage people to spend less time in bed, and more time living.
Too much time spent in bed may indeed be an indication that something is wrong. However, too little time in bed has been shown to be equally bad. In fact, one study found that the effect of too little sleep on a person’s ability to drive was as bad as several pints of beer! Don’t underestimate what sleep does for the brain.
Too little sleep has been shown to affect our mood, our ability to think, react and recall, as well as our ability to respond accurately and quickly. And, far from a lack of sleep being an indication of success and strength, research has proven that too little sleep plays a role in the development of problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension and is the leading cause of accidents.
On the other hand, getting our sleep patterns sorted out has been shown to be vital in achieving career success, being creative, and for making clear and logical decisions.
Therefore, in this blog I will look at some of the things we can do to ensure a good night’s sleep.
1. DEVELOP A GOOD ROUTINE
When we are sleep training a baby, one of the most important things is the development of a good bedtime routine. This continues to be true for us as adults.
A helpful, relaxing bedtime routine, carried out every night, will help train the body and brain to expect sleep.
2. DOWNLOAD YOUR BRAIN BEFORE BED
Make a list of all the things running around in your brain before bed. Write your to-do list, jot down little reminders – this will stop them from running around your brain when you are trying to switch off and get to sleep.
3. SWITCH OFF THE SCREENS
Shining bright lights into our eyes in the form of phones, tablets and e-readers is thought to be one of the reasons why sleep issues are on the increase.
Banning screens at bedtime helps to increase the brains production of our natural sleep chemicals.
4. KEEP OUT THE LIGHT
A darkened room is important to sleep. This is because low levels of light help to increase the brain’s production of melatonin – one of our most important sleep chemicals.
5. GET A GOOD MATTRESS
It is always going to be much easier to get a good night’s sleep on a comfortable mattress – rather than an old, lumpy or sagging one!
6. DON’T KEEP GETTING UP
When we are lying down resting, the production of hormones such as adrenalin drop – which should help us to sleep better. Every time we stand up and move around adrenalin production increases, making sleep even harder to achieve.
Better to learn some relaxation techniques such as controlled breathing (see my previous blog for more information).
7. CAREFUL WITH CAFFEINE
Most people would not dream of having an espresso before bed. However, I have met plenty of people who do not think twice about a cup of tea or even a glass of cola. I have even had clients who got up in the middle of the night and made a cup of tea to drink when they were struggling to sleep!
The trouble is, whilst a warm drink can feel very comforting, tea does still contain quite a lot of caffeine.
Caffeine decreases the production of melatonin – our important sleep chemical – so every cup of tea we have makes that good night’s sleep less likely.
8. STIMULATE THE RIGHT NEUROTRANSMITTERS
Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals. Some make us feel motivated, some help us feel happy, and others – especially melatonin and serotonin – help us to sleep.
Cutting out caffeine and sleeping in a darkened room will help increase melatonin.
Having a high protein snack – some peanut butter or a glass of milk – before bed could help to increase serotonin levels.
There are also some supplements which may offer further assistance:
o Montmorency Cherry Extract – These sour cherries are said to be an excellent natural source of melatonin.
o 5-HTP – This amino acid is thought to increase the amount of serotonin the brain makes, which in turn could help to improve sleep.
Written by Jenny Logan DNMed. (Jenny is a nutritional therapist who has worked with clients in health food stores and private clinics for over 20 years.)