Three surprising ways to sleep better that you may have not yet tried.

Some of the healthiest foods can be the most inexpensive. Nutritional Therapist Karen Geary explores the options for cheap protein and veg.

I have just concluded a gruelling six months writing up my dissertation on sleep disturbance during menopause. I can’t say much here as it is yet to be published, but what I can share are a few surprising things I learned about sleep more generally and what we can do to help us have better quality sleep.
The Sleep Council in the UK says that 40% of us suffer with sleep issues of some description and for all kinds of reasons, so we know lack of sleep affects a lot of people. The pandemic has materially added to the
numbers, with a number of pieces of research indicating that the prevalence of stress, anxiety and depression have all increased over the last two years, leading to greater sleep disturbance and the potential for developing long-term habitual sleep issues if left unchecked.

Sleep isn’t just ‘getting some rest’
Lack of sleep makes us vulnerable to infections and illnesses, lowers our immunity and encourages weight gain. Prolonged sleep deficiency can lead to chronic, systemic low-grade inflammation, and is associated with various diseases that have an inflammatory component, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and neuro degeneration.
Good sleep improves your immunity and among other things it can also increase your brain function, promote skin health and control insulin (and therefore help with weight management) and is anti-ageing.
Most people who suffer with sleep issues say that have ‘tried everything’, and this was certainly the case in my research. If you struggle with sleep, you have no doubt already heard about terms such as ‘sleep hygiene’, the importance of winding down, stepping away from the smartphones and having a cool room etc. If that is you and you are still not sleeping properly then keep reading. I hope not to disappoint – but then again you already know there is no magic bullet.

Your food may be keeping you awake.

When we eat.
Eating too late is a common issue for people with sleep disturbance. By the time they get home from work
and have dealt with family and evening routines, mealtimes can be quite late. I had a Spanish client who did not eat until 9pm at the earliest, which of course is cultural for him, but his sleep was terribly disturbed and he was suffering the next day. We agreed to see what happened if he brought his meal time forward and went to bed slightly earlier. Over a period of six weeks he lost weight and the quality of his sleep improved.
While this is an example of one, a recent study concluded that both sleep efficiency and the timing of going to bed were factors in managing blood sugar; people who had a later bedtime were less able to control their blood sugar the next morning, and craved a sugary breakfast. Poor blood sugar control can lead to poor sleep. I know from my own experiments, that I sleep (and eat) much better if I eat before 7pm.

What we eat.
There was a fascinating edition of Secrets of Your Supermarket Food last year (Season 3, Episode 2 –
see it here), when Stefan Gates and Hayley Pedrick demonstrated through monitoring the impact caffeine, alcohol and takeaways can have on sleep. Alcohol and caffeine are well known sleep disruptors, so experiment with what is right for you.
A high caffeine, alcohol and salt intake can also wake you up in the night needing to pee, so cut down on
those if that is happening to you.
There are some studies that suggest that foods with good dietary sources of tryptophan, (found in foods such as chicken/turkey, tofu, milk, salmon, oatmeal, pumpkin seeds) and melatonin (found in milk, tart
cherry juice, and pistachios),may lead to better sleep outcomes.

Ageing
I found a number of interesting studies showing that while sleep may be shorter with ageing, it may get deeper. So while you may be frustrated with waking up early, the quality of your sleep may not be quite as bad as you think. One way of improving sleep is to make sure that our internal clocks reflect the natural periods of day and night. Help this by consciously stepping outside in the morning and get 15 minutes of daylight into your eyes. This action begins the process of converting serotonin to our night-time hormone, melatonin. Melatonin reduces as we age, so encouraging this through daylight exposure may be helpful. Matthew Walker in his book ‘Why We Sleep”, suggests that if you are waking up super early, try the daylight exposure technique slightly later in the morning.

For more sleeping tips, read the longer article on my website here.

by Karen Geary, a Registered Nutritional Therapist DipION, mBANT, CNHC at Amplify

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