‘Sleep is your body’s most potent anti-inflammatory’ Jay Lombard DO Annu. Rev. Physiol. 2010
Sleep deprivation can interfere with memory, upset the immune system, increase the risk for type 2 diabetes and can increase the risk for heart disease.
Insomnia results in high levels of the stress hormones cortisol and noradrenalin and low levels of the calming neurotransmitters gaba and serotonin – the perfect recipe for stress and anxiety during the day.
Studies have shown that the effects of long periods of poor sleep can’t be fixed by a little extra snoozing during the day so if a good night’s sleep is rare for you then here are 5 things you should try:
- Eliminate all caffeine from your diet and reduce alcohol consumption
You may have read that coffee is full of antioxidants and increases energy but it might not suit you so try avoiding it for at least a week to see if it makes a difference. Don’t forget that black tea, green tea, Coke, Diet Coke and dark chocolate all contain caffeine.
Alcohol is tempting and you may think that a big glass of red wine is just what you need to relax but it upsets blood sugar levels and might be adding to your sleep problems.
- Avoid heavy meals prior to bedtime
Try and leave at least two hours between finishing your evening meal and getting into bed. Your body should be in a relaxed state for sleep rather than busy digesting. Experiment with having your heaviest meal in the middle of the day and changing your evening meal to a more simple soup or salad – try this whenever possible and see if it helps.
- Try taking natural supplements
5-HTP is a precursor to the relaxing brain chemical serotonin (avoid taking this supplement if you are on anti-depressants).
There are many relaxing herbs that have been reported to promote relaxation – passion flower, skullcap, hops, lemon balm, valerian, extracts of magnolia and phellondendron bark are all thought to boost levels of the relaxing neurotransmitter GABA.
Supplementing l-theanine is also thought to increase GABA levels
- Investigate whether you are exposed to too many toxins
It is thought that toxins can induce sleep disorders by decreasing the stress busting brain chemicals melatonin and serotonin. Start to look more carefully at the cosmetics, cleaning products, Teflon, pesticides and plastics you are in daily contact with. Consider switching to more eco friendly brands and opt for more organic fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products.
- Take regular exercise but earlier in the day rather than at night
Exercising in the evening blunts melatonin so try switching your exercise sessions to the mornings.
Finally, don’t forget how important it is to sort out your sleep hygiene; you need a good mattress, the right pillow, a quiet, dark, cool room and to relax without a screen for at least one hour before bed – avoid watching a thriller or answering emails just before lights off!
Alli Godbold is a qualified nutritional therapist, specialising in weight loss, fatigue and digestive and hormonal health. She is also a certified gluten practitioner. Alli has worked forThe Food Doctor and currently works as nutritionist for The Healthy Holiday Company and is a regular contributor to Healthista.com. She runs frequent cookery workshops from her West London kitchen and has published a popular cookery book Feed Your Health. She created the Nourish diet for weight loss and improved health and has recently published a book of healthy recipes for her Nourish clients More Nourish Diet Recipes.