We all feel that we need more sleep, don’t we? There are very few people out there who spring out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off, feeling refreshed and ready to start their day. Most of us are hiding under the covers, hitting the snooze button and hoping we can get an early night tonight.
Most healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night - but most of us are getting nowhere near that. We burn the candle at both ends, and then often find ourselves awake in the middle of the night, too wired to drop off. It’s not healthy, and can actually lead to brain damage in the long term.
Getting enough sleep helps us to be more productive, to feel more positive and even to keep excess weight at bay. So many of us struggle to get enough sleep though; even if our heads hit the pillow by 10pm we often struggle to get to sleep or fall asleep only to wake in the middle of the night. Here are our top natural ways to cure sleep problems without resorting to sleeping pills:
Eat the right foods
It’s important to maintain a nutritious diet for good sleep. That can be hard when you’re constantly on the go, rushing between work and home - but you can make simple changes that will help. Try to avoid starchy carbs and overly processed foods as much as possible, and include foods that contain tryptophan. Tryptohpan is an essential amino acid that our bodies cannot produce; it’s present in protein but we need carbs with it to help our bodies absorb it correctly.
Turkey is the most tryptophan rich food, but it’s also available in seeds and nuts, soya, cheeses, beef and chicken (especially the dark meat), fish, beans, lentils and eggs. Try to have these with a good source of healthy carbs (for example sweet potato, vegetables or fruit) in your evening meal.
If you’re struggling with sleep, caffeine is not your friend. We all feel that we need a coffee to get us going in the morning, but caffeine has a half life of five to six hours - so if you have a coffee at 5pm, then by 10pm your body has only eliminated half of that caffeine from your system. No wonder you still feel wired and awake when you’re trying to get to sleep! Most of us will be horrified by the idea of cutting out caffeine completely; if the thought of giving up your morning brew terrifies you and your mantra is “death before decaf,” consider putting a caffeine curfew in place. After midday, limit yourself only to water or non-caffeinated drinks. You should notice an improvement in your sleep quality almost immediately.
Get some exercise
The main reason people don’t exercise is that they don’t have time to go to the gym, get changed, do an hour on the treadmill, get a shower and get dressed again. But a lot of the reason we are not able to sleep at night is that while our brains are exhausted, our bodies have been sitting in a car/on a train/at a desk for twelve hours or more - they are not tired! The good news is that you can actually do a fairly effective workout in a short space of time; you don’t need a couple of hours spare. Try a little burst training: just go all out for a minute or so, recover for twice that amount of time, and then go. You can do that a couple of times in the morning and again in the afternoon, it’s enough to get your metabolism working and give you more energy; that will in turn allow you to sleep a little better come bedtime.
Supplement with magnesium
Magnesium seems to be the world’s best-kept secret when it comes to insomnia and sleep problems. It is actually a component of more than three hundred different enzymes in the human body, and plays an important role in everything from hydration to energy production. Magnesium also plays a part in muscle relaxation, energy production and deactivation of adrenaline production. It’s crucial in the functioning of GABA receptors, which are present across the entire body and nervous system. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter, so if GABA receptors are not working properly, we will find it hard to calm down. Without correctly functioning GABA receptors, we remain alert and tense - even if we feel exhausted. Getting enough magnesium doesn’t automatically mean you’ll sleep like a baby, but if you are deficient in magnesium it almost guarantees you won’t sleep well.
Experts suggest taking a good quality supplement in a chelated form (either citrate, ascorbate, orotate or glycinate) before bed; around 400-600mg is ideal. As well as this, epsom salts in a bath before bed will help as your skin will absorb the magnesium from the water.
We all know that lavender is supposed to make us sleepy, but there are many other scents out there that will help you to feel more calm and serene, and therefore more likely to sleep off into a blissful sleep. Our Sleep Well Therapy Balm contains lavender, palmarosa and ylang ylang to help you relax and clear your head. Massage some into your temples and wrists as part of your evening routine.
Darkness is your friend
A dark room can make a massive difference to the quality of your sleep. Blackout blinds are an obvious choice, but also look at what you have that lights up in your room: flashing alarm clocks; a mobile phone; a landing light left on for the children. All of these can have an adverse effect on the quality of your sleep. Get rid of as much light as possible from your bedroom, and definitely get rid of that TV set; the blue light from the screen is the worst thing for anyone who’s trying to sleep. Also consider getting a sleep mask to wear to bed. You might think it would feel restrictive to have your eyes completely covered, but it really can make a difference to good quality sleep for a longer period of time - especially in the summer, when the sun rises much earlier than most of us intend to wake up.
Avoid blue light
The light that comes from your TV, your laptop, tablet or mobile is what we call “blue” light, and it actually stimulates the brain, waking us up. Working on your laptop or answering emails on you phone right up until lights out might make you feel really productive, but it will also have you awake and staring at the ceiling when you should be fast asleep. For the last hour before bed, switch off all screens and read a good book instead. If you must use a screen, invest in a pair of blue light blocking glasses, but don’t think that gives you free rein to carry on with the screen time. Taking the time to read a book and wind down helps the brain to relax and get out of “work” mode - only use the glasses when you’re up against a tight deadline and absolutely must use a screen.
Plan your sleep & set a routine
Don’t just look up at midnight and think “oh, I’d better go to bed… how will I get to sleep?” Plan your sleep in the same way you would plan and schedule any other time in your day. If you want to get eight hours of sleep, and you need to be up at 7 to get the kids ready for school, you need to be asleep by 11. And to be asleep by 11, you need to begin winding down and thinking about heading to bed well before that. Having a set bedtime routine will help you to sleep not only when you’re at home but also any time you travel and are in a strange hotel room. We’ve already talked about the foods you can eat during the day to help you sleep; about limiting your caffeine intake; and switching off your devices. A good bedtime routine might also include a bath with epsom salts as mentioned above; reading a good - but not great - book (you don’t want a whodunnit keeping you reading until 2am); and perhaps a short mindfulness or meditation practice.
Sleep is something many of us struggle with, and something very few of us get enough of. It can be hard to wind down after a hectic, stressful day but winding down and relaxing is the only way to ensure we can get to sleep and stay there. There are many ways to help yourself get a peaceful night’s sleep before reaching for the sleeping tablets; try a few of our suggestions and see how you fare.