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Sleep (& how to get a good night of it)

Bedside table with books and lamp, next to chrome bed frame with white sheets

A good night’s sleep: it reduces stress, boosts your productivity, nurtures your health and wellbeing and simply makes you feel your all-round best. Plus, nothing feels quite as amazing as a night of deep sleep in a comfy bed!

But while we all enjoy sleep and know that it’s essential for good health, many of us aren’t actually catching enough of those zzz’s. In fact, 1 in every 3 people in Britain suffers from poor sleep.

When an occasional night of poor sleep turns into weeks, months and even years of insomnia, the impact on your mental and physical wellbeing can be huge.

So if like many of us, the stress of life during Covid-19 has affected your sleep, it’s time to get back on track. Today we chat all things sleep—and how to get a good night of it!

Why is sleep so important, anyway?

Quality sleep is an absolutely essential part of a healthy lifestyle.

While you’re asleep, your body gets the chance to recover from mental, as well as physical, exertion. Inflammation is reduced, cells are repaired and energy is restored. Sleep also strengthens your immune system, which helps to stave off illness and chronic disease.

All these processes are essential for optimal health. Cutting sleep short by even just two to three hours a night, over the long term, has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

When it comes to your mental wellbeing, sleep seriously counts. Sleep gives your brain a chance to process information, consolidate memories and, generally, rest and recover. That’s why you’ll generally feel brighter and more clear-headed after a full 7–9 hours of rest.

Sleep also helps to regulate the balance of hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). After a bad night’s sleep, your level of ghrelin goes up, while your level of leptin goes down. This can make it harder to maintain a healthy weight.

Research even suggests that adults who regularly sleep for less than 7  hours per night are more likely to develop obesity than those who sleep more.

7 tips for better sleep

Thankfully, it’s never too late to take control of your sleeping habits. A few simple tweaks to your lifestyle can help to set you up for a night of deep, blissful sleep! Dreamy.

1. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule

Better sleep starts with going to bed, and waking up, at roughly the same time every day.

Your body has an internal clock, which thrives on routine. If you consistently head to bed at a similar time, it’ll learn exactly when to start winding down and when to begin releasing calming hormones that help you drift off.

You’re also likely to find that you wake up naturally, feeling alert and refreshed, without an alarm.

2. Get some sunshine before 12 pm

The circadian rhythm is a natural process that your body uses to control your daily schedule for sleep and wakefulness.

Your circadian rhythm is controlled by environmental cues, with the single biggest factor being light.

It’s like nature’s way of telling your body the time. If you spend too little time outside in the daylight (or too much time in bright light at night) your body simply can’t tell when it should be awake or asleep.

So if you’re struggling with sleep, one of the best things you can do is to get out of the house (or office) and into daylight for 15–20 minutes, before 12 pm. Getting a dose of morning sunshine helps your body to produce melatonin, the hormone that will make you feel sleepy come bedtime.

3. Ditch caffeine after 2 pm

Caffeine and sleep just don’t mix. Caffeine promotes alertness and blocks your adenosine receptor, a substance in your body that promotes sleepiness.

While you might enjoy the wide-eyed feeling coffee gives you during the day, it’s important to consider that caffeine takes up to 10 hours to clear from your bloodstream. Too much caffeine over the course of the day, or drinking caffeinated drinks too late in the day, will make it much harder to fall asleep and reach deep sleep (the stage of sleep you need to feel refreshed).

“As a coffee lover, I’ve done my research and have landed on having one dose of caffeine a day, but never first thing in the morning (steals away your natural cortisol high) and never after 2 pm (disrupts sleep).”
Amanda Hamilton, Nutritionist

The silver lining? If you consistently get a better night’s sleep, you won’t even feel the need for caffeine in the first place!

4. Eat no later than 2–3 hours before bed

Eating too late at night can have a negative impact on your sleep quality.

When you sleep, your body is supposed to rest and repair. But if you eat a heavy meal late at night, your body is kept busy, as it needs to digest and metabolize the food you’ve just consumed. This can prevent your body from reaching deep sleep, leaving you feeling groggy and tired come morning.

Thankfully, eating no later than 2–3 hours before you go to sleep can really help to lighten the load on your system and, in turn, improve your sleep quality.

Really need a nighttime snack? Try to keep it light and nutritious if you can. One or two tablespoons of Purition mixed into some yoghurt, a small bowl of porridge or a handful of nuts should do the trick!

5. Be mindful of those nightcaps

If you feel like alcohol makes you feel sleepy, you’d be right. Alcohol has a sedative effect, which can help you feel relaxed and ready to turn in for the night.

But while a nightcap before bed might help you fall asleep, it can actually prevent you from reaching those all-important stages of deep sleep.

This is partly because alcohol disrupts the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy. A study in 2007 showed that even one drink before bedtime can decrease melatonin by a whopping 15 to 19%.

But it’s also because your liver is hard at work metabolizing the alcohol you’ve consumed, which keeps your body awake and causes sleep disruptions.

So while we all like a glass or two over the weekend, a good night’s sleep means being mindful of your alcohol intake—especially if you’ve got a busy day ahead!

6. Dim the lights in the evening

The lights in your house, or from your phone or computer, can confuse your circadian rhythm and make it harder for you to drift off to sleep.

Dimming the lights (or using minimal light, if you can’t dim yours) in the evening—especially in the hour before your planned bedtime—will help your body recognise that it’s time to wind down.

Decreasing screen brightness across your devices (think phones, laptops and tablets) and/or using a blue light filter (if your device has one) can also help.

And if you can, unplug completely from all screens at least 30 minutes before you head to bed. It’s good for your sleep, but it’s also great for your well-being.

7. Factor in transition time

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to sleep. Most people need between 7–9 hours of sleep, but it varies for everyone. Just try to figure out what amount of sleep makes you feel your most productive, healthy and happy and make it your baseline.

But when planning your new bedtime routine, factor in some transition time. Not many of us can get into bed at 10:29 and be sound asleep by 10:30, even if we do follow all the tips for better sleep above.

Factoring in half an hour or so transition time (when you can) allows you to truly bank the amount of sleep that you need to feel your best. For example, if you’re aiming for 8 hours of sleep and need to be up at 7 am, get into bed by 10:30 pm, rather than 11 pm. This gives you half an hour to relax, wind down and actually fall asleep.

This blog is part 11 of 11 of our healthy eating & lifestyle for weight loss series.

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