Need better sleep? Here are our expert's top tips for how to fall asleep easily, and wake feeling refreshed.
At some time or another, many of us will have suffered from bouts of mild insomnia or had times of sleep deprivation. Anyone familiar with this will vouch for the fact that it can feel like torture; sometimes triggering our anxieties, stresses and possibly even migraines and hormonal ups and downs. Now more than ever, a lot of us are feeling the effects.
You’d think a lockdown and forced quarantine would mean more time for sleep, but sadly, for many this has not been the case. Whether it’s because you now have even less time (blame homeschooling, entertaining children, whilst working and cooking meals for everyone) or because you can’t sleep because you’re anxious and stressed, many of us are finding we are more tired than ever.
Sleep is something you have asked us about a lot over the last 8 weeks, so we wanted to shed some light on what you can do to help encourage restful sleep cycles, which in turn is essential for everything including energy, immunity, hormones and gut health. Good sleep is habitual and needs to be built over time, but these tips outline the key things that you can try right now.
The Truth About Caffeine and Sleep
We aren’t advocates for restrictive diets, and we definitely aren’t saying you have to give up coffee or tea for good, but it’s never a good idea to replace these with meals as often you end up paying for it later in the day. Why? Because caffeine causes the release of cortisol, our stress hormone, into the bloodstream. This helps us feel alert and gives us a hit of energy (as well as getting the gut moving) but can it can also suppress appetite and disrupt our natural circadian rhythm, otherwise known as our daily sleep/wake cycle.
The best way to manage this is to make sure you eat three meals per day and limit consumption to one coffee and/or one tea per day. Replace with green tea (which contains caffeine, but not as much, and has other compounds that have also been shown to boost concentration and mood, alongside many other health benefits) caffeine-free herbal teas, and infused water. If you already drink a lot of coffee, cut down slowly (cut back by one for week 1, then reduce by two on week 2, etc.) to prevent withdrawal. Replace with a nutrient and protein-dense snack if feeling low in energy to help nourish the body and give it a leg up, or try this recipe for a nourishing saffron chai tea (use decaff tea bags or rooibos) which may help reduce anxiety by triggering the olfactory system.
Stick To Mealtimes
The body likes routine, and this also goes also for sleep cycles. As well as having your bedtime rituals, which should incorporate good sleep hygiene, consider also the time of day that you eat. Three regular meals help to regulate our daily cortisol pattern, our metabolism and also discourages energy dips. This is especially relevant to those who like to eat late at night because every single one of our bodies cells has a circadian rhythm. Certain cells are wired to work at night, helping to recharge the body and restore critical systems. The digestive system should not be taxed with having to digest food at night and doing this can, over time, begin to impact your sleep cycles. Eating 3-4 hours before bedtime is a good idea and something to work towards on a few nights per week. This also helps you to do a 12 hours overnight fast, which is a good thing to work towards for general wellbeing.
Take An Epsom Salt Bath
This is probably not one for anyone really struggling for time, but if stress and anxiety are causing your poor sleep and you have access to a bathtub then this is a great solution. An old school pastime in Britain, Epsom salts have been added to baths as a restorative, healing tonic for hundreds of years. It may not seem like much, but bathing in these salts is a brilliant way to support the whole body.
Magnesium plays a number of important roles within our brain chemistry, helping to enhance the production of feel-good hormones, serotonin, and dopamine. It can help normalise your adrenal output (again balancing cortisol) relieving stress and quietening a busy, tense mind. All perfect before you hit the hay, to help you drop off and stay asleep. As magnesium is a muscle relaxant, bathing in Epsom salts before bed also relaxes muscles and calms the nervous system; ideal if you have worked out or have aching muscles to speed up recovery and reduce injury.
Start by adding 200g (2-3 large handfuls) of the salt to hot water and soaking in the bath for 20-30 minutes, scrubbing the skin to promote circulation. Take care when stepping out of the bath in case you feel lightheaded. Over the course of around a month this can be built up to around 400-500g, or more depending on your size. Stay in for a minimum of 20 minutes (not suitable for pregnant Mums in their first trimester, especially if you haven’t done them before).
Adaptogenic Herbs For Sleep and Stress
Hectic, stressful modern lifestyles that can put a strain on our bodies if we don’t look after them properly. A poor diet, hectic work-life schedule, lack of sleep, travel, rigorous exercise regimes and general stress can leave us feeling tired-but-wired, with reduced concentration and a tendency to gain weight around the middle. Adaptogenic herbs have been used around the world, especially in Indian and Chinese medicine, for thousands of years. Evidence shows that they work by helping the body to adapt to stress better so that you’re able to cope and have fewer side effects. Ashwagandha, Siberian ginseng, Schisandra, cordyceps and reishi are all backed up with robust evidence, and we include one or two adaptogens in pretty all Equi formulas because we love them so much.
Magnesium – The Calming Mineral
This essential mineral is indispensable for hundreds of bodily reactions, including helping our sleep cycles. Unfortunately, we get through it at an increased rate when we’re really busy, stressed, or not getting good sleep. Working out also burns up magnesium, and you’re at risk of deficiency if you don’t eat plenty of green leafy veggies, whole grains, beans, pulses and seeds.
Magnesium is great for relaxing muscles and tension, which can really help you switch off and calm. Ideal after a stressful day at work, or if you are just a bit wound up (which for us, feels like every day at the moment!).
The best magnesium-rich foods are green leafy veggies like kale, chard, spinach and cabbage, as well as oats, banana and raw cacao. When it comes to magnesium supplements, it is a big and bulky nutrient, so most multivitamins fall far short of what you need because of a lack of space. Find a supplement that contains 200-300mg magnesium glycinate or chelate, or try an Epsom salt bath or a magnesium spray/moisturizer, such as Neom's new Body Butter, which also contains calming essential oils.
Calming Massage Points
Acupressure points such as those between the thumb and forefinger, between the eyes (massage in a vertical line up and down, 2 cms above this point) and on the top of your feet (massage in a line 2cm-4cm just below where your big toe meets your second big toe) have been shown to help with anxiety and may help calm before bed. Use balms, oils or creams that contain calming essential oils. We love Neals Yard Ready to Roll remedies for this, or Neom's Magnesium Body Butter.
We really hope these help! If you have any sleep tips that really work for you, we'd love to hear them.
Disclaimer: Certain supplements are used for different reasons and a one-size-fits-all approach shouldn’t be adopted. In addition, pregnant women and anyone on medication should always consult a doctor before embarking on a supplements programme. As with all articles on www.equilondon.com, this is no substitution for individual medical or nutritional advice.