Day 25 – How to get a good night sleep

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Day 25 of our Bitesize Nutrition challenge is to check how your nutrition could be stopping you getting a good night sleep.

A June 2020 survey carried out by King’s College London identified in the UK since lockdown:

  • 50% reported disturbed sleep more than normal
  • Disturbed sleep in people who find coronavirus stressful
  • 20% have slept fewer hours per night on average compared with before the lockdown.

A study estimated people are three times more likely to develop a cold with less than 7 hours sleep compared to 8 or more hours sleep. And perhaps more importantly in another study lack of quality sleep can increase the risk of fatigue, mental health, increased risk of stroke and heart disease.

A reduction in daylight exposure may be involved in recent insomnia. Less commuting to work in daylight hours and endless hours in front of blue light from devices is impacting circadian rhythm – ideally we should have 30mins minimum exposure to daylight preferably in the morning to reset circadian rhythm, and reduced exposure to blue light in the evening which is stopping our release of melatonin.

During the many sleep seminars we’ve facilitated over the years we’ve summarised some of the main reasons people struggle with sleep, and we also include them in our Insomnia webinar:

  • Stress
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Muscle cramps
  • Night sweats

Stress

The natural response to stress is to release adrenaline – which is fine in small amounts. However, continual demands mean adrenaline is released a little more frequently than it perhaps should be. When adrenalin is realised, so is cortisol – which is normally high when we wake, but should reduce throughout the day. However, when stressed cortisol levels are higher during the day and possibly into the evening and may be responsible for waking us 3-4am. Mindfulness or taking a walk in nature and away from the stressful event can be great to help to manage stress, and from a nutrition perspective reducing foods which increase adrenaline production (caffeine).

Caffeine

Caffeine triggers the release of adrenalin and cortisol which is OK in small amounts, but over the longer term may affect sleep. The half-life of caffeine is 5-7 hours, but as we’re all unique – some people are more able to metabolise caffeine more effectively than others so there’s no “ideal” amount, but awareness of the effect it has and to drink as few cups as you can. If sleep is being illusive try to avoid caffeine after midday. An alternative to tea is Rooibos (red bush tea) which is naturally caffeine free and available in all supermarkets. Just make it as you would your normal cup of tea. For more tips check out Day 22 all about caffeine.

Alcohol

Alcohol is also impacting quality of sleep. In lockdown alcohol consumption increased by 21% according to one study and this leads to increased wakefulness during the night. Alcohol is often used to aid relaxation…… and it does in small amounts (a small glass), however greater amounts start to impact the REM stage of sleep which is the crucial stage for adults and it’s all to do with thought processing/memory. You may have the same number of hours sleep but it’s not deep sleep so you’ll likely wake feeling refreshed. Alternating alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, drinking smaller measurers, or remind yourself of the financial saving you make being the driver – soft drinks are much cheaper! More on alcohol in day 27 article of #BitesizeNutrition30.

Muscle cramps

Waking in the night with a jump, leaping out of bed or waking because you’re feeling uncomfortable. Muscle cramps can be avoided – it may be due to exercise – have you stretched enough? It may be a deficiency in magnesium – magnesium is a relaxing mineral. A simple and safe remedy is to soak in Epsom salts (bought from chemist/pharmacy or online). Adding them to warm water, then either soaking in the bath or soaking feet in a bowl or hands in a basin. Whichever body part it doesn’t matter the important thing is allowing your skin to absorb as much as it wants of the magnesium without guessing how much magnesium supplement you may need to take. Doing this perhaps weekly to replenish magnesium stores.

Night sweats

It happens at some point to many women – night sweats! Obviously cotton clothing and bed sheets, but also think about reducing caffeine and alcohol. During peri-menopause/menopause the adrenal glands are working overtime to produce a form of oestrogen. You may have noticed night sweats are worse after alcohol and caffeine later in the day? The adrenal glands are having to work even harder now providing the hormones in addition to their usual job. Try it, a couple of days with no caffeine or alcohol and see the effect on night sweats. Find out more in our Managing Menopause webinar.

Calming teas

Lemon balm is a herbal tea which increases GABA (calming neurotransmitter). Chamomile is another worth trying instead of tea which has some caffeine.

Probiotics

Lactobacillus rhamnosus is one probiotic strain which can help to increase GABA and also influences serotonin.

Non-nutrition tips

  • Bed time routine which is calming and in dim light
  • Regular bed time
  • Increase daylight exposure particularly in the morning
  • Sleep in a dark quiet room
  • Move more each day
  • Minimize caffeine and stimulants

If you’d like to find out more tips to improve your health, check out our Insomnia webinar and our Bitesize Nutrition podcasts.

Don’t forget to let us know what you think using #nutritionchallenge30

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Day 26 – Vitamin D, the facts
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Day 24 – Salt

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