While I like to whack the likes of childbirth, colds, flu and various other ailments on the head with hardcore medicine, I do prefer the natural route when it comes to things like good sleep. Unsurprisingly, Nutritional Therapist Jo Saunders, co-founder of Cooking Them Healthy, is also a fan of natural sleep solutions and has some great tips on how we all can help induce those much-wanted z’s….
Eat sleepy foods
Melatonin is the body’s main sleep hormone. It is also essential for repair whilst we sleep. There is a pathway required to make hormones in the body and by ensuring we provide the body with the building blocks it needs, in the form of the amino acid trytptophan, it should result in adequate melatonin production for a good nights sleep. Tryptophan rich foods include nuts, seeds, tofu, cheese, red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, oats, beans, lentils, and eggs. Carbohydrates make tryptophan more available for the brain, so try to combine tryptophan rich foods with carbohydrates for an evening snack, such as nut butter on oatcakes, or a turkey sandwich.
Cherries are one of the few food sources of melatonin, the body’s sleep hormone, and research indicates that Montmorency cherry juice may help improve the quality and duration of sleep, reduce the severity of insomnia and increase overall sleep efficiency. Try having a snack of a handful of cherries in the evening, or drinking a glass of cherry juice.
Careful with caffeine
A morning latte, a cappucino with friends, a post lunch refreshing cup of green tea and perhaps a mid-afternoon cuppa – without thinking too much about it, it is all too easy to let our caffeine intake creep up with a negative impact on our sleep. If you lie in bed feeling ‘tired but wired’ and experience moments of feeling jittery during the day, it may be worth trying to cut back your caffeine intake to 1-2 cups a day.
As well as making additions to your diet, there are, of course, some lifestyle habits that make a difference to both your quality and quality of sleep
Limit screen time
Many of us are frequently searching online on our phones or tablets, and think nothing of scrolling through our social media feeds as we lie in bed at night. This screen time can negatively impact our sleep quality. The blue light emitted from televisions, iphones, ipads and laptops affects our melatonin production. Melatonin, as mentioned above, is our sleep & repair hormone. Even if you feel that use isn’t affecting your quantity of sleep, it is highly likely that all the online time will impact the quality. There are apps you can download which alters the orange light to have less of an impact however try to enjoy at least 2-3 nights a week screen-free, with no screen use after 8pm. Why not run yourself a delicious Epsom Salt bath and enjoy reading a book (see more below)?
Of the handful of studies that have been performed, it is suggested that exercise significantly improves the sleep of people battling with chronic insomnia. This can only mean one thing – exercise is helpful for sleep! One study looked at the effects of a single exercise session found that a bout of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (e.g., walking) reduced the time it took to fall asleep and increased the length of sleep of people with chronic insomnia compared to a night in which they did not exercise.
This may be due to the effect of exercise, its ability to reduce stress and tension and the positive impact on our body’s natural circadian rhythm (your body clock). Whatever the reason, it is good news, so try to make exercise a priority and squeeze it into your day and you are likely to reap the benefits.
Meditation and mindfulness have become trendy buzzwords of late, but with good reason. The evidence for their benefits to your health is backed by impressive science. Even if you simply practice taking some slow, deep breaths, allowing your mind to focus on your breathing and how your body feels, it will help calm you and prepare you for sleep. Stress itself significantly affects our circadian rhythm (our natural body clock) and if you are affected by daily stress, or are experiencing a particularly stressful period, try 5-10 minutes a day has been shown in studies to reduce cortisol (our stress hormone).
In addition to the above nutritional and lifestyle recommendations, if you feel in need of some extra help, my pick of sleepy supplements are sure to help encourage a deep and restful sleep.
Wild Nutrition True Food Magnesium
Magnesium is often described by naturopaths and nutritionists as Nature’s Tranquiliser, and it is a great supplement for helping to encourage good sleep. Wild Nutrition focus on quality whole food supplements, which are easily absorbed by the body. In their own words, True Food magnesium is their “dreamiest supplement yet”. I find myself recommending this time and time again, with great results. Take 2 capsules at bedtime, particularly recommended for those who suffer from muscle cramps, restless leg syndrome and can also be helpful for constipation.
Herbs can be wonderfully effective and this combination of Valerian and Hops, 20-30 drops taken half an hour before bedtime really can help send you into the land of nod. Dormeasan is not a sleep aid and won’t leave you feeling groggy the following morning. It can also be helpful to relieve mild anxiety, and certainly lessens the worry that you can’t sleep. Valerian has been shown in multiple studies that it may reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and help you sleep better. Hops is well known for its calming properties which can help us to fall asleep.
Pukka Ashwagandha & Valerian
The brilliant people at Pukka have created this lovely combination supplement which I often recommend to my clients. Ashawagandha (also known as ‘Winter Cherry’, or Withania Somnifera) is an Indian herb, known as an adaptogen. Adaptogens help the body adapt to stress and Ashwagandha is the perfect herb for the 21st century as it both calms and energises, helping us to adapt to the stresses of everyday living. It’s helpful for assisting deep sleep and calming nervous tension. Pukka also make a delicious calming NightTime tea with a combination of calming herbs which I thoroughly enjoy (you can sip it whilst you enjoy that Epsom Salt bath).
As I mentioned above, magnesium works as a muscle relaxant. Bath salts may seem like an old fashioned remedy, but there really is clout behind the theory. Epsom Salts are rich in Magnesium Sulphate and adding 1-2 generous scoops to a bath and allowing yourself a generous soak can really help to relax both your muscles and yourself, as well as aid detoxification. An Epsom Salt bath works brilliantly for children too, and after an energetic gym workout (or enthusiastic gardening session!). You can find Epsom Salts at your local health food shop or online.
* If you are taking any prescription medications or existing supplements, please always consult your doctor or qualified natural therapy practitioner if you are considering taking any supplements.
Image: Irving Penn