Updated: Apr 17, 2019
Every day we get up to go about our daily life without really thinking about how much or little sleep affects our health. The problem lies with us not recognising the importance of quality sleep and making the issue become a long term health concern.
I don't know about you, but I've had a few late nights recently which I can feel have played havoc with my body. Staying up to The Godfather three nights in a row, New Years Eve, catch ups with friends - it's all caught up to me! There is one rule I have kept though and have for a long time now - I turn off my phone at 8pm each night. This became an ingrained habit that I love and know my body appreciates!!
Sleep is more important than we think!
A lack of sleep has been shown to contribute to metabolic disorders, obesity, increased inflammatory responses, nervous system and hormonal issues, raised stress levels, mood dysfunction, gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular concerns, Alzheimer's and reduced quality of life. (1)
Sleep is one of the things often overlooked when we wonder why we're not functioning well, not losing weight, not recovering from illness, not thinking clearly, not coping emotionally or finding ourselves overly stressed. If you find that you are having trouble with any of these problems or anything else, chances are, lack of quality sleep may be the culprit. A lack of sleep is not unlike performing activities after consuming alcohol as they both impair the ability to function and contribute to an altered mental status. Regrettably many of us don't think twice going about daily tasks such as driving, even if we are tired.
Repair, Renew, Recover
What we must understand is that just as food and water are essential, so too is quality sleep.
Sleep is required by the body to repair, renew and recover from the daily stresses we put it under.
Unfortunately we often don't allow these processes to occur naturally as many of us don't quite know how or when to switch off. To be able to let the body repair, renew and recover, I recommend getting at least 7-9 hours sleep a night for adults, which means turning off anything that prevents you from falling asleep and anything that may disturb this essential biologic process.
Improving the quality of your sleep is definitely one avenue to consider if you are eating well, getting daily exercise and these are failing to give you the results you want. If you are constantly 'tired but wired' and running on constant pick me ups such as caffeine, stimulants, sugar and refined foods, then lack of sleep could be the offender putting your body under extreme stress.
My clinical experience tips and foods for quality sleep:
Lower cortisol levels - avoid refined/processed sugars and foods. Balance blood sugars by eating small to moderate amounts of quality protein, complex carbs and healthy fats in a regular eating pattern. Pain can often contribute to raised cortisol levels so ensuring you are basing your meals on anti-inflammatory foods and undertaking pain management is essential.
Manage emotional stress - undertake meditation, avoid known stressors (fear/anxiety, anger, frustration, distress) learn to switch off, talk to someone or seek professional help if needed.
Increase vitamin C rich foods - Vitamin C is often the first vitamin to be depleted when the adrenals and body is under stress.
Do not eat too close to bedtime - Eating too close to bedtime can contribute to reflux issues and the body will also be involved in digesting food rather than winding down for sleep.
Lose weight - Now this goes hand in hand with getting good sleep, so eating well and exercising will help with improving your sleep cycle.
Maintain a regular sleep time each night so the body becomes accustomed to winding down. This will help with releasing melatonin for a restful sleep and to release cortisol on rising, therefore making you more refreshed for daily activities.
Keep the room you sleep in dark and at a cooler temperature to help the body recognise sleep cues.
Avoid stimulants such as caffeine or exercise right before bed.
Include foods which contain the amino acid tryptophan which is converted to serotonin and from there to melatonin, the hormone necessary for quality sleep. Include tart cherries (not sweet), nuts, seeds, eggs, banana, poultry to name a few.
The Mediterranean way of eating has been shown to have a positive impact on sleep quality due the variety of wholefoods, magnesium rich foods, oleic acid rich foods, complex carbohydrates and exclusion of processed foods. (2)
Include daily exercise/movement - Movement helps as a behavioural therapy, lifts mood, relieves stress and when done long term, contributes to better quality sleep.
Time to make changes
A lack of quality sleep is often blamed on 'busyness' or other cop outs but really, we choose to watch The Godfather, stay up late, send that email, check out social media, watch that TV show, shop on the internet, whatever it may - we choose to do it rather than helping our body to switch off, and it is often staying up later that contributes to late night snacking (and not for healthy options)!
So don't underestimate how important quality sleep is and how a poor sleep routine can impact your overall health. We need this time to allow our body to the job it does best when we give it what it needs - quality nutrition, daily movement and essential shut down and repair time.
Sweet dreams x
(1) Medic, G., Wille, M. and Hemels, M. (2017). Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Nature and Science of Sleep, Volume 9, pp.151-161.
(2) Castro-Diehl, C., Wood, A., Redline, S., Reid, M., Johnson, D., Maras, J., Jacobs, D., Shea, S., Crawford, A. and St-Onge, M. (2018). Mediterranean diet pattern and sleep duration and insomnia symptoms in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Sleep, 41(11).
** For further help for improved sleep, please contact me for a consultation.