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Bedtime reading: 15 ways to get a better night's sleep

September 21st 2016 / Ayesha Muttucumaru Google+ Ayesha Muttucumaru

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Lack of sleep can have serious repercussions on your health and wellbeing. We asked the experts about the small but mighty ways to boost the quality of your slumber

“The way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life is getting enough sleep. We women are going to lead the way in this new revolution, this new feminist issue and are literally going to sleep our way to the top.” Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, ‘How to succeed? Get more sleep’

We couldn’t agree more. With more and more people suffering from sleep deprivation, insomnia and day-to-day fatigue, we asked the experts for their insight on how lack of sleep may be affecting us and for their advice on how to sleep better to help us wake up feeling more refreshed, energised and ready to face the day.

What are the short and long-term effects of lack of sleep?

Our weight

According to Vicky Smith, Personal Trainer at Matt Roberts, when low on sleep, “your body will look to gain energy from other sources (food) to help make it through the day. It will tell your brain to be on the lookout for high sugar, high fat and therefore highly processed foods, as these are the quickest ways to release immediate (but short-term) energy into the bloodstream.

“Cortisol, the stress hormone, will also build in the body if you are not well rested. The body will hold onto fat stores when high levels of cortisol are in your system in an attempt to protect itself from the stress it thinks it is under, or is going to be put under.”

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Our skin

A study at Cleveland University found that sleep-starved skin aged more quickly and demonstrated more lines, pigmentation and slackening. Commenting on the research, Consultant Dermatologist Dr Nick Lowe notes, "I don’t think the pigmentation was because of this [lack of sleep], but the lines and reduced elastic tissue in the skin is real," he says.

“The study showed that those who slept more than seven hours per night had better quality skin and those who slept less than five hours a night had a poorer skin barrier, drier skin with increased moisture loss and recovered more slowly from sunburn. The poor sleepers were also judged as being four years older than they actually were, whereas the good sleepers were judged as being eight years younger.”

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Our health

Shabir Daya MRPharmS (co-founder of victoriahealth.com) notes that "excess cortisol levels have been linked to numerous concerns within our bodies through a variety of mechanisms, including being responsible for causing inflammation and affecting some major hormones. For example, insufficient sleep may increase the risk of diabetes. The link between sleep deprivation and immunity is well documented. In one study, participants who slept less than seven hours were three times more likely to catch a cold or an infection than those who slept eight hours or more.”

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Our hair

According to Keith Hobbs, Clinical Director of the Institute of Trichologists and Nioxin expert, sleep plays an important part in maintaining the long-term vitality of your hair. "Cells are regenerated during sleep and deprivation will affect the health of your hair. In many cases, a correct diagnosis from a qualified member of the Institute of Trichologists can be followed by treatment and a successful outcome.”

15 steps to a better night's sleep

1. Discover

“Sleep is a natural physiological process that can’t be controlled and having a reliance on unnatural night time rituals or props (for example, warm baths, pills or alcohol) can fuel sleep anxiety and further sleeplessness. Follow a normal and regular wind-down each night to retrain your brain to sleep,” says Dr Guy Meadow, Sleep Physiologist at The Sleep School.

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2. Work out

“If you haven’t been doing any exercise recently, exercising in the afternoon or early evening may help. However, be careful not to exercise too vigorously or too close to bedtime. Intense exercise can lead to the elevation of certain hormones (such as cortisol) that may prevent you drifting off to sleep. It is best to do your hardest workouts earlier in the day, making sure you allow for at least three to four hours before you go to bed,” recommends personal trainer Matt Roberts.

3. Meditate

“Meditation can really help maintain a healthy sleep rhythm and is a great way to relax the mind. Meditating for just half an hour provides more psychological rest than a full night’s sleep. As you begin to meditate on a regular basis, you will notice an increased sense of wellbeing as well as greater energy and creativity. The beauty of meditation is that you don’t need anything for it, no special clothes or equipment. You only need yourself and half an hour. Begin by just following your breath…as you inhale, follow the journey from nostril to belly and out again. Don't worry if you have some thoughts – that’s normal, just keep coming back to the breath,” suggests Anandi, The Sleep Guru.

4. Accept

According to Dr Guy Meadows, “Worrying about poor quality past sleep or imagining how bad things will be in the future if you don’t sleep only helps to increase night time arousal levels. In contrast, noticing things objectively and without judgment in the present moment like the touch of your duvet on your toes or the gentle movement of air in and out your nose can actually promote sleep.”

5. Meet magnesium

“I normally recommend adding a small amount of Magnesium Gel, £20.50, into a bath since magnesium is an excellent muscle relaxant. Magnesium in this specific form also gets absorbed transdermally through the skin into the bloodstream where it facilitates sleep through chemical pathways in the brain,” advises Shabir Daya.

6. Eat smartly

“Certain foods will aid your sleep. Cottage cheese and turkey both contain tryptophan that help induce sleep, as do green leafy vegetables (think kale, spinach, watercress, savoy cabbage) and other greens, due to their high magnesium content that induces relaxation,” says nutritional therapist Vicki Edgson.

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7. Welcome

“Fearful thoughts or strong emotional reactions such as anxiety at night can keep you more awake. Learn to change your relationship with them by getting to know them and even welcoming them when they arrive. This will reduce arousal levels and lessen your sleep struggle,” says Dr Guy Meadows.

8. Stretch

“Yoga is another excellent practice to help counteract stress and treat insomnia. On those days when you feel absolutely exhausted, a great way to rejuvenate yourself is to just pop your legs up the wall! This is a restorative yoga pose that anyone can do and is an excellent natural sleep remedy. This pose will revive the legs, feet, spine and nervous system. It stretches and relieves tiredness in the back of the legs and feet, it’s marvellous for sleeping problems or insomnia and stress just melts away. Stay there for at least five minutes,” suggests Anandi.

9. Mood lighting

“The introduction of artificial lighting has definitely eroded our sleep. This is because many of us still relax in the evenings with bright lights which prevents the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Dim the lights in your bedroom and in your living room in the evenings or use candles to enable the production of melatonin,” recommends Shabir Daya.

10. Be consistent

Dr Guy Meadows suggests going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time each day. “This will help to keep your body clock on time and promote your natural drive to sleep. If you are awake at night, choose to stay in bed and conserve your energy by lying still and being calm and mindful.”

11. Go cherry picking

“Cherries contain melatonin that helps induce sleep. However cherry juice is far too high in sugars, and will do the opposite!” advises Vicki Edgson.

12. Cool down

According to Shabir Daya, a consistent temperature is crucial to a good night’s sleep. “Ensure that the temperature in your bedroom is cool and no higher than 20 degrees. The reason for this is when you sleep, your body temperature drops. Keeping the room cooler or hotter than this temperature can lead to an erratic sleep pattern.”

13. Avoid stimulants

Know what not to eat. Vicki Edgson advises avoiding “spicy food and chillies, caffeine in any form, alcohol, (which is a stimulant as well as a depressant) and dairy/milk chocolate which is high in sugars, (while dark chocolate is better as it contains plenty of magnesium!)”.

14. Hum

“Another fantastic technique to try is to spend at least ten minutes humming like a bumble bee before you go to bed,” says Anandi. “This technique is called ‘brahmaree’. Practising this creates a deeply healing vibration. It relaxes the mind and the nervous system, gets rid of negative emotions and stimulates serotonin, the sleep hormone. It will also draw you inwards away from the constant train of thoughts in the mind. All you need to do is close your mouth, inhale through your nose and exhale by humming like a bumble bee.”.

15. Live

“The fear of not sleeping drives us to stop living our lives such as avoiding going out at night with friends or sleeping in the spare room,” says Dr Guy Meadows. “Commit to making small actions every day that take you closer to what is important to you in your life. A happy and content brain is a sleepy brain.”

For further tips from Dr Guy Meadows, check out his new book, ‘The Sleep Book – How to Sleep Well Every Night,’ £9.99

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