Sleep. We all want it, but most of us aren't getting enough rest.
So what do we do? Walk around like zombie, dose ourselves up on sleeping pills before bed or just find some sort of normal as we surivive on no sleep or broken sleep?
Since it's a problem plaguing as us a nation, we asked medical nutritionist Naomi Beinart why we're struggling to get a good night's rest - and what we can do about it.
Problem 1: You’re too stressed to sleep
A common scenario. You lie awake going over a problem at work or worrying about your home life or relationship. Your mind is buzzing, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t calm it down.
Try not using your phone in bed - To sleep well, you need your mind and body to associate your bed with sleep, not with work. In fact, unless it’s unavoidable, don’t work in your bedroom at all.
Try taking up meditation - Try one of the popular meditation apps or if the mindfulness approach (focusing on your breath, clearing your mind) doesn’t work for you, look up Vedic or Transcendental Meditation, which can be a better solution for people with busy minds.
Try eating to balance your blood sugar - Eat regular meals, avoid refined carbohydrates and sugary foods, and include a good source of protein and complex carbohydrates with every meal (without overdoing protein in the evening). Balancing your blood sugar can help to regulate your stress hormones and keep you calm.
Try eating plenty of magnesium-rich foods - Magnesium is known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ as it’s associated with calming and relaxation. Green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds, buckwheat pasta, beans and pulses and rye bread are all good sources. Eat them throughout the day rather than just in the evening – they won’t make you feel drowsy.
Try sipping on a herbal tea like chamomile, valerian or lavender, or take a herbal supplement like Pukka’s Night Time capsules.
Problem 2: You’re tired in the morning, but not at night
You struggle to get out of bed, wishing you had another hour or two to snooze, and need a cup or two of strong coffee to get you going. But come 10pm, when you should be winding down for bed, you feel wide awake.
“The problem is,” says Naomi, “is that your circadian rhythm – the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle – is out of sync.”
Try cutting out bright light in the evening - Your worst enemy before bed is the blue light from phones, computers and TV, as it suppresses melatonin – a hormone that regulates sleep. Stay away from your devices for at least two hours before bed or dim the screen and use a blue light filter app or setting. Dim the lights in your house in the evening or use ambient lighting.
But get as much bright light as you can early in the day - Not only does it make you feel more awake in the morning, it also helps to regulate your circadian rhythm so you’ll feel sleepier in the evening. Get outside for at least 20 minutes in the morning, even on a grey day. You could also try using a light therapy box in the morning.
Try exercising in the morning - Exercise can really improve your sleep, simply by tiring you out. But the last thing you want is to feel ‘wired’ after a late evening exercise session. Keep it to the morning or afternoon to help keep your circadian rhythm on track.
Try eating more protein in the morning, and more carbs in the evening – “Carbs help tryptophan to get into the brain so it can be converted to melatonin – the ‘sleep hormone’,” explains Naomi. “Eating lots of protein, on the other hand, suppresses this process and can make us feel more awake. So, try eating a protein-rich breakfast, such as an omelette or sardines on toast. And with your evening meal, have a good serving of slow-releasing carbohydrates such as brown rice or a sweet potato; or eat a small bowl of oat porridge before bed.”
Try to avoid caffeine after midday - It can take hours for your body to completely get rid of the stimulating effects of caffeine from your blood.
Try bergamot essential oil - Add a few drops to a bath (with your magnesium flakes, if you want), use it in a diffuser, or dilute a few drops in a carrier oil and give yourself a foot massage.
Problem 3: You wake up too early
Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t all need eight or nine hours’ sleep every night.
“If you’re waking up at 6 or 7am even though you didn’t set an alarm, this isn’t necessarily a problem, provided your energy levels are good during the day. But if you’re waking several times during the night, or waking after just four or five hours’ sleep and being unable to doze off again, then it’s worth addressing.”
Naomi says this type of insomnia can also be stress or anxiety-related, especially if you’re waking up with thoughts and worries buzzing around your head. “For this reason, some of the same tips and tricks recommended for “too stressed to sleep” can also be helpful.”
Try giving your mind the chance to process your thoughts before bed - Take your wind-down hour in peace and quiet to think through your day and write down worries or to-dos. If your mind only gets a chance to do this when you’re in bed, it’s not surprising you can’t stop the buzzing thoughts when you wake up.
Try laying quietly - Don’t reach for your phone as soon as you wake up. Give yourself half an hour – or even an hour – to lie quietly in the dark, just appreciating the rest. You might find that you fall asleep again, even if you weren’t expecting to. Some people find listening to a sleep meditation or a mindfulness recording helpful at this time to calm their mind.
Try ashwagandha - Taking ashwagandha alone could be especially beneficial if you’re an early waker. According to Pukka’s herbalist Sebastian Pole, it’s the go-to herb for those who wake in the night with worries on their mind, helping to reduce hyperactive symptoms and calm the body and mind. Try Wholistic Ashwagandha capsules, taking one or two capsules in the evening or before bed.
Problem 4: Night sweats
Night sweats are a common reason for sleep problems in women in the years before and after menopause. Important to note, however: if you’re plagued by night sweats, see your GP first, as there can be various causes.
Try to cut back on caffeine and alcohol - They encourage hot flushes and sweats by widening blood vessels, bringing more blood to the skin’s surface and making you sweat more. “Alcohol in particular is also tough on the liver, which has lots of work to do at this time to detoxify and regulate hormones," Naomi explains. "Of course, both substances can interfere with your sleep in other ways, too.” Keep them to a minimum or gradually cut down then stop.
Try to exercise regularly - Research has found that aerobic exercise in particular can help reduce menopausal symptoms including hot flushes and night sweats; and gentle exercise such as yoga may help too.
Try eating beans, lentils, chickpeas and ground flaxseeds - and plenty of vegetables. All are good sources of phytoestrogens – plant compounds that act like a weak oestrogen in the body and can help balance hormones. They’re also great sources of fibre, which can help to bind and get rid of excess hormones from the body.
Try taking shatavari - A specialised herbal supplement used in Ayurveda (the traditional Indian herbal medicine and healing system) to help balance women’s hormones and ease the menopause transition. Sage is also included to help manage hot flushes and sweats.