Sleep is one of the major players when it comes to transforming your health. Not only can a better nights’ sleep help you to feel more energised and happier but it also has a knock on effect on your other decisions throughout the day. Ever experienced that feeling of being constantly hungry after a night tossing and turning? Research shows that poor sleep affects blood sugar regulation which can cause increased cravings for sweet foods and a tendency to over eat. Feeling tired is also not exactly conducive to a good workout either, we are less likely to want to move our bodies when we haven’t slept well and even the best intentions can go out of the window.
That said, here are my top tips to improve your sleep and wake up feeling rested and refreshed!
1. Create an evening routine
Allowing yourself time to wind down before bed is one of the best things you can do to improve your sleep! It might seem obvious but how many times have you found yourself lying awake in bed after checking emails one last time or watching an intense TV show? Our body and mind need time to shift into relaxation mode before bed and an evening routine can help to send the signal that the day is over and it is time to sleep. It doesn’t matter what you do for your evening routine but spending at least half an hour, or an hour if you can spare it, on a relaxing evening routine can reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep and greatly improve your quality of sleep. Some examples of calming activities you can do before bed include gentle yoga, meditation or breathing exercises, journaling, reading or listening to music. You can also build in another self-care habit by using this time for a relaxing skin-care routine or epsom salt bath. Having a set sleep window has been shown to help you fall asleep faster and spend more time in supporting deep and REM sleep so try to start your sleep routine within the same hour each night for optimal results.
2. Say no to technology
One of the most challenging but most supportive things you can do to improve your sleep is to have a cut off point for technology at least one hour before bed. Phones, laptops, TV can all be stimulating for the mind and the blue light that they emit can also confuse our brains into thinking it is still day. Ideally, switching off all devices and wi-fi before bed will help you to get a better nights’ sleep and improve your sleep pattern. However, if you cannot avoid using technology before bed, a good option is to install a red light filter such as Flux onto your phone or computer which will block the disruptive blue light which is so harmful to your sleep cycles. You can set them to gradually shift to red light from sunset to mimic the natural changes in sunlight throughout the evening which I find really useful. Avoiding sleeping with your phone by your bed will also help you to feel more relaxed and avoid the temptation to check social media or browse the internet if you find you can’t sleep. If you use your phone as an alarm you can still keep it in the room but move it far away from the bed. This will also help you to get out of bed in the morning so it is a win-win!
3. Manage your blood sugar
Instable blood sugar has many consequences and is a hidden but common factor in insomnia, particularly early morning waking or sleep maintenance insomnia. This is a condition where you are able to fall asleep but unable to stay asleep and find yourself awake in the early hours of the morning. When there is no acute or chronic psychological stress present, insomnia can be caused by the physical stress of poor nutrition and imbalanced blood sugar. When our blood sugar levels drop low during the night, either because we haven’t eaten enough during the day, limiting carbohydrates (e.g. keto diet) or due to raising our blood sugar too high during the evening resulting in a blood sugar crash, the stress hormone cortisol is released to bring our blood sugar levels back up. This is a normal process that also happens during the day but in some cases the cortisol levels can raise to the point where it wakes you up and gives you a “wired but tired” feeling where you are unable to fall back to sleep. Having a small, balanced snack containing carbohydrates, fat and protein before bed or if you wake up during the night is often enough to resolve this issue and improve sleep duration and quality.
4. Avoid stimulants in the evening
Any food or drink containing caffeine act as stimulants in your body which can prevent you from falling asleep or getting good quality sleep. Most people know that coffee, energy drinks and black tea both contain caffeine but green tea, some herbal teas, cola and chocolate also contain this sleep disrupting chemical! We are very individual when it comes to caffeine metabolism and some people have a higher tolerance and faster clearance of caffeine than others so it’s best to experiment yourself and find out where your limits are when it comes to consuming these foods. Generally it’s a good idea to avoid high caffeine food and drink after 2pm and limit even low caffeine food such as chocolate in the evening hours. You might find though that you sleep better avoiding caffeine all together so if insomnia and low energy are a problem for you, maybe give going caffeine-free a shot for a week or two. Aside from caffeine, other stimulants include heavy TV shows and movies, loud music and stressful conversations so where ever possible try to avoid these in the hours before you sleep and opt for your relaxing evening routine instead.
5. Supplements for better sleep
Natural substances which help your body to relax can be a helpful ally in getting better quality sleep. One of my personal favourites is herbal teas containing chamomile, passion flower and valerian root. These are traditional remedies known to support a calm nervous system state and help to improve sleep. Another useful remedy is aromatherapy, especially lavender oil which can been used for centuries to aid relaxation and help to overcome sleep problems. You can use this as part of your evening routine in the form of essential oils, scented candles or a pillow spray to create a calming environment in your bedroom. When it comes to supplementation, I prefer to keep it simple. One of the key nutrients which aids in relaxation of the physical body is magnesium and it is becoming more popular to use magnesium supplements to support a better nights’ sleep. Again there are several ways to use magnesium including liquid or pill-form oral supplements, body sprays or oils and also as bath salts.
As you can see, these are 5 tips but they can also fit together very nicely. You can create an evening routine which includes avoiding technology, drinking herbal tea or eating a healing snack and using sleep supporting supplements to create the perfect environment for a deep and restful sleep. Reflect on which of the tips you think work best with your lifestyle and your current situation and test them out to see if you can improve your sleep and wake up feeling happier and ready for the day ahead!
Over to you…
I hope you found this article interesting and feel inspired to give these tips a go. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences, I’d love to hear from you. Please like this post and follow along with my blog for more post on nutrition, yoga and holistic health practices to support balanced hormones and overall better health.
If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!