Sleep is a precious commodity these days. If you’ve ever spent a night tossing and turning, you already know how you’ll feel the next day — tired, cranky, and out of sorts. The American Acadamy of Sleep medicine recommend adults have at least 7 hours of sleep, and a little more for teens. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 people don’t get enough sleep. Missing out on the recommended 7 hours of shut-eye nightly does more than make you feel groggy and grumpy. Your body needs sleep, just as it needs air and food to function at its best. During sleep, your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. The long-term effects of sleep deprivation are real. It drains your mental abilities and puts your physical health at real risk. Science has linked poor sleep with many health problems, including weight gain and obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and depression. Along with diet and exercise, sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.
So, what can we do to help? Well there is some evidence that certain behaviours promoting better sleep patterns (also known as sleep hygiene) and lifestyle changes will help enable you to get a good night’s sleep.
Keep your schedule consistent
Have a consistent bed time every night. Make sure you go to bed early enough, to get the recommended hours of sleep. If you need to be up at 7am, then you should be in bed no later than 12am to get your recommended 7 hours of shut-eye.
Your behaviour before bed can significantly influence how you sleep. Have a winding down, relaxing bedtime routine. Ensure your bedroom is a place for sleep, not for work, watching movies or reading news on your smart phone! It should be comfortable and have a low level of light.
There are many relaxation techniques people can use to help with sleep including muscle relaxation, breathing techniques and cognitive behaviour therapy. White noise can moderate intermittent noise levels and provide a consistent backdrop for more peaceful sleep. A good example of white noise is a fan. There are also a myriad of sleep apps that you can get for your smart phone that provide white noise and would be useful whilst travelling.
- Stick to a healthy diet high in fibre, with fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats, wholegrains and pulses. Don’t eat large meals before bed. If you are hungry, have a light snack. Avoid alcohol and other fluids close to bedtime.
- Herbal teas have traditionally been used for generations to promote relaxation, stress relief and a good night’s sleep. Although the research is not conclusive, you might find these teas provide some relief for you. A few examples of herbs that may have a mild sedative effect include Valerian Root, Camomile, Passionflower, Lemon Balm, Lavender and Kava.
- Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland at night time to regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Discuss this medication with your doctor, as it may help to readjust your sleep/ wake cycle. Interestingly, Tart cherry juice is a natural source of melatonin, which has been shown in a small study to improve sleep quality and duration. Other sources of natural melatonin include Gogi berries, raspberries, flaxseeds, tomatoes and almonds.
- A very small study showed that eating 2 kiwi-fruit, 1 hour before bedtime significantly improved sleep quality and duration. How this works we’re not quite sure, as it could be the high level of antioxidants, folate or natural melatonin. Larger studies are needed to confirm these results.
- Exercising at least 150 mins a week, improves sleep, and alertness during the day significantly. This equates to 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week. This meets the national guidelines for exercise in Australia.
Now you have the knowledge, it’s time to try them out! Record you sleep pattern, and hopefully you will find an improvement to your energy throughout the day with a few tweaks to your daily routine.
3. Howatson G. et al. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr 2012 51(8):909 – 916
4. Hsiao-Han Lin et al; Effect of kiwifruit consumption on sleep quality in adults with sleep problems. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2011;20(2):169-74.
5. Paul D.Loprinzi Bradley, J Cardinal; Association betwenn objectively-measured physical activity and sleep, NHANES 2005-2006. Mental Health and Physical Activity, Vol 4, Issue 2, December 2011, pages 65-69