SLEEP: Beyond Beauty.
SLEEP: Beyond Beauty
Heather Smith, Nourish Nutrition and Lifestyle Coaching
SLEEP… one of the most relished and essential activities in life. There’s nothing like tucking yourself into bed after a long day and waking feeling refreshed, bright eyed and ready to face the world. And that weekend sleep-in – it’s priceless! We all know sleep is good for us and without it we’re likely to feel sluggish for most of the day, be a little foggy in the head, be a bit cranky… and don’t forget those dark circles under our eyes. But a good night’s sleep goes way beyond just making us feel refreshed.
Sleep is essential to restore our body and support healthy brain function. Despite the recommendation that we get seven to eight hours’ sleep a night, recent surveys show that many people get six hours or less most nights, and that as many as 75 per cent of people get poor quality sleep at least three nights a week. I see many clients in clinic with chronic sleep deprivation and in all honesty, I’ve had periods of disruption myself. While a short bout of sleep disruption isn’t likely to be serious, chronic sleep loss can have major consequences. In the last decade, research has linked chronic sleep problems to weight gain, development of insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, lowered immune function, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and depression.
SO WHAT CONTROLS HOW WE SLEEP?
Our body’s internal clock – the circadian rhythm – governs all our biological processes, including our sleep. While rhythms can vary in individuals, it’s believed the average rhythm for the sleep cycle runs in 90-minute blocks (take note of that number – you’ll see why that’s important shortly). Certain health conditions, medications and the menopause can disrupt the circadian rhythm, as can shift work and air travel. For most of us though, the disruption comes from our everyday activities.
- Exposure to blue light that comes from iPhones, television, iPads and computer screens suppresses the release of melatonin – the hormone that tell us it’s time to sleep.
- Exercising later in the day elevates adrenaline and cortisol, which can continue rising for hours afterwards and disrupt our body’s natural rhythms.
- Eating late is a common culprit. At the time your body should be resting and restoring, you’re forcing it to work hard to digest a plate of food.
- Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine are all stimulants on the system. The liver works hard to detoxify them and is one of the reasons for a 2–4am wake-up time.
HOW CAN I IMPROVE MY SLEEP?
A few of the clients I see with sleep issues have tried medications as a first line of defence. While it may help initially, they often find their poor sleep cycle returns after a couple of weeks. Before reaching for the sleeping pills, here are some key strategies that could help improve your sleeping habits.
- Turn off televisions, tablets and all other screens an hour before bedtime. Put that mobile phone in a drawer or in an adjacent room. Bedtime reader? Opt for paper books instead.
- Remember that 90-minute cycle I mentioned? If you find yourself doing tasks when your body is telling you it’s ready for bed, it might be well over an hour before your body is ready to sleep again! Researchers call it ‘bedtime procrastination’, and it’s really about willpower. If you want the benefit of extra sleep, you have to decide on the trade-off: one less link, one less episode, one less page. Determine to go to bed at a set time and then stick to it.
- Avoid exercise before bed. It’s important that you have time for the adrenal release of adrenaline and cortisol to wind down.
- Don’t eat within two to three hours of bedtime.
- For those who feel the night-time heat, skip the hot shower or bath too close to bedtime. You can also buy toppers for mattresses designed for thermoregulation. These can be really helpful if hot flushes are a problem.
- If you struggle to sleep, skip that afternoon cup of tea. Remember, a slow metaboliser can take up to eight hours to move caffeine out of their system.
- Cut down on the alcohol – it produces a stimulant that wakes you in the early hours of the morning.
- Try drinking a cup of chamomile tea two hours before bed.
If you’re still struggling after making some changes, get in touch with your holistic nutritionist or naturopath for a thorough assessment and a tailored strategy to get your sleep back on track!
Heather Smith is a Nutritionist and Coach passionate about whole food and the nourishment it provides. She believes that healthy, nutritious food is also the best tasting food and is committed to inspiring, motivating and encouraging clients to achieve their personal best and be positive about themselves and the choices they make.
Heather and Nourish Nutrition and Lifestyle Coaching are a part of the Nourish Melbourne Community. Heather offers Nourish Melbourne Members $20 off their initial consult fee and 10% of follow up appointments, ongoing (excludes supplementation). Click here to find out more about our partnership, or click here to find out more about becoming a Nourish Melbourne Member.