The benefits of sleep are more than just avoiding feeling tired. Sleep:
• Maximises melatonin which has antioxidant and protective effects in your body
• Increases the amount of nutrients taken up from digestion• Allows time for healing and regeneration of your cells.
• Helps your emotional balance and allows consolidation of factual memories
• Helps with appetite control and blood sugar balance
• Helps balance the micro flora (bacteria) in your digestive system which are crucial for immunity
However, with the current uncertainty you might find sleeping harder than normal. Don’t worry if you don’t sleep through completely. Several stretches of 1½ hours allow you time to get into the deep sleep which is the most restorative.
There are many causes of poor sleep. These include high levels of stress which can stop you from switching off, poor blood sugar control, too many stimulants and/or alcohol, poor sleep routine/habits, or an expectation that you will not be able to sleep. An excess of blue light from screens (especially late at night) has been shown to suppress melatonin (the sleep hormone).
Many people find a sleep hygiene routine helpful. This can include going to bed and waking at the same time each day, relaxation techniques, such as simple breathing exercises, meditation or calming tapes, lavender oil either on their pillow or in a warm bath, massage and aromatherapy. Regular exercise is a great way to improve your sleep. Just be careful not to do it close to bedtime as exercise produces stimulants that stop the brain from relaxing quickly. Create a calm bedroom environment. Avoid televisions, computers, and overstimulating music.
What and how you eat can have a big impact on how well you sleep. Eat to balance your blood sugar. This means eating little and often on foods that release their energy slowly. Eat whole grains rather than simple, processed sugars and combine these with protein at each meal or snack. Also include good levels of beneficial oils in oily fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and tuna), nuts, seeds, and avocados. Avoid too much alcohol and caffeine. If you regularly wake in the night have a small snack before bedtime to keep your blood sugar stable. This might be an oatcake with some nut butter and banana, or some hummus made from chickpeas and basil. Basil is a mild sedative.
Include foods in your diet that are rich in tryptophan (the precursor to the sleep hormone melatonin). These include poultry especially turkey, cottage cheese, chickpeas and bananas. Zinc rich foods such as fish, nuts and seeds are also helpful. Try to have some nuts and seeds every day. These can be eaten as part of a healthy snack or sprinkled onto cereals or salads. Magnesium is regarded as nature’s relaxant as it is very calming. We use up a lot of magnesium when processing simple sugar and when we are stressed. Good food sources are green leafy vegetables, brown rice, and Brazil nuts. If you have real problems sleeping it may be worth adding in a magnesium supplement – you just need to be careful with some medications so check before taking it. There are teas that can help with sleeping. These contain Valerian, passion flower, hops and/or chamomile. If you are on medication check any interactions before taking any supplements.