Louisa Cooling is a practicing Nutrition & Lifestyle Coach operating through her business ENRICHED. Here she shares a memorable guide to getting a good night's sleep.
Did you know that a giraffe only needs 1.9 hours of sleep a day whereas a brown bat spends nearly 20 hours a day sleeping? Most humans need somewhere between seven to nine hours but according to scientists, we are getting up to two hours less sleep each night than 60 years ago.
So, how important is sleep, how do you know if you are getting enough and how can you improve sleep quality as well as quantity?
Sleep does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to health and is one of the four pillars of health along with nutrition, exercise and stress management. You know how energised you feel after a good night's sleep - your food choices, exercise goals and life in general just seems easier.
When sleep is compromised, so too is the body’s repair and restoration process. Low energy is an obvious sign, however, hormonal imbalance, weight gain, poor mood and impaired cognitive function are side effects which may not be immediately associated with sleep deprivation.
Everyone has a different requirement for sleep. The key is to listen to your body. If you need an alarm clock to wake up, are grumpy and irritable, or need a cup of coffee before you can do anything, you are probably sleep deprived.
How to improve?
No matter where you find yourself, the good news is that there are lots of 'tweaks’ you can introduce to improve sleep. My easy to remember CATS & DOGS formula contains eight top tips. Imagine CATS as being sleep disruptors and DOGS as sleep enhancers. Putting the CATS out and bringing the DOGS in as a great way to support your sleep.
Caffeine – If you consume more than two units a day, it could be impacting your sleep. Also, caffeine takes up to 10 hours to completely clear your system, so having a lunchtime curfew will ensure that this sleep disruptor has cleared your system by bedtime. If this seems very far from your current arrangements, try reducing your intake gradually and consider decaffeinated coffee - still contains caffeine, but a much lower level. Opt for brands that have been decaffeinated using water to avoid nasty chemicals. Herbal teas are also nice alternatives.
Alcohol – While it may induce feelings of relaxation, alcohol impacts the quality of sleep. In addition, the detoxification process that follows uses up B vitamins which are needed for energy production and magnesium known to support sleep - double whammy!
Technology – One of the biggest sleep distractions is 24 hour internet access. Late night scrolling also exposes you to blue light emitted from electronic devices which upsets the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. Try reducing exposure to devices late in the evening and at least 60 minutes before bed.
Sugar – The spike in blood sugar levels that comes after eating starchy foods that are high in sugar, is followed by a sugar crash which will disrupt sleep and may actually wake you up in the middle of the night. Best not to eat for at least two hours before bed and if you are hungry in the evening, eat a small protein rich snack such as a Greek yoghurt, some nuts, slice of turkey or an egg.
Dark – Make your room as dark as possible and consider using an eye mask if you need extra help to block out the light. A cool room also makes for better sleep.
Outdoors – Getting outdoor light first thing in the morning resets melatonin and reduces cortisol, the stress hormone. Sleep really benefits from having these two hormones follow their intended 24 hour pattern known as the circadian rhythm.
Gut – Research is finding that the health of our gut impacts sleep so eating a rainbow of fresh fruit and vegetables may improve sleep as well as delivering a myriad of the other health benefits. In particular, magnesium, often referred to as ‘natures tranquiliser’, helps to calm the nervous system and support sleep. Good sources include leafy green vegetables, pumpkin seeds and dark chocolate.
Sleep Routine – Just like a baby benefits from a sleep routine so too do adults. Setting yourself up for a restful sleep is directly related to your actions throughout the day. In particular, giving yourself the time and space to unwind in the 60 - 90 minutes before bedtime provides you with the best chance to fall into restorative sleep. Develop your own ritual which might include a bath, reading, listening to music or doing 10 minutes guided meditation. It is also beneficial to keep the same wake and sleep time 7 days a week – lie ins can lead to a ‘hangover’ effect which throws you off course for a few days.
The good news is that for most people, making small changes will lead to an improvement in sleep. You might start by focusing on one change from either CATS or DOGS.
Notice how your sleep improves and build on your progress. Small changes done consistently can deliver big transformation, particularly where sleep is concerned. So, what will you change?