Elisabeth Clare, Founder & Director of MBST UK, a pioneering therapy for musculoskeletal issues, shares her insight on how to achieve the perfect night's sleep this summer
Sleeping in the recent heatwave has been near impossible, and despite fans, ice water and trying our best to stay cool, many of us have been left feeling unrested.
A lack of sleep won’t just leave us grumpy and struggling to focus, it can also have an effect on our health too. However, whilst the odd night of poor sleep is something our bodies can soldier through, multiple nights of little rest can start to take its toll on our minds, our mental health and also our physical bodies too. In fact, less than seven hours of sleep regularly can lead to health consequences that can affect your entire body, ranging from increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Sleep has a number of benefits, it helps us to recharge, restore chemical imbalances and allow our brain to forge new thought connections. It’s also the perfect chance for our muscles to relax, and without adequate sleep, our bodies can suffer from inflammation whilst exacerbating aches and pains.
But if you’re finding switching off and sleeping difficult this summer, these tips and small changes can help send you on your way to rest and relaxation.
Check in on your diet
What we put in our bodies can have a huge effect on our sleep and the cliché ‘you are what you eat' is certainly true when it comes to catching Zzzs at night.
Whilst feeling tired during the day can have many of us reaching for caffeine, if we limit our intake and switch to decaf after 3pm then there’s a stronger chance that the adrenaline boost will be out of our system, allowing us to switch off and sleep at bedtime.
A poor quality diet can also affect our digestive system and cause issues with rest. If you’re guilty of not eating well, then it might be time to reconsider what you eat. Foods rich in L tryptophan are great for helping the body to sleep as they convert to melatonin in the presence of vitamin b6 and this can make falling asleep easier. You’ll find this sleep-inducing nutrient in oats, bananas, tofu and pumpkin seeds.
Reducing your alcohol intake might sound like a no-brainer, but lowering your units or cutting it out completely can mean you sleep better and for longer. Drunken sleep is often not restful enough, and you can wake up feeling tired as well as battling a potential hangover!
Consider your bedroom set up
From the pillows to the mattress to the bedding and even to the layout of your bedroom, where you sleep is a huge factor in getting good quality rest.
A room that’s too light can mean you’ll be waking up at sunrise, and whilst this is fine in winter it’s not so great in peak summertime when the sun can rise before 5am.
Consider blackout blinds or curtains to keep your room as dark for as long as possible.
Natural aromatherapy can also help you to unwind and fall asleep. Lavender in particular stimulates GABA receptors, which can aid sleep by assisting in the production of melatonin and have you falling asleep quickly and easily.
Your bed is crucial to getting a good night of shut-eye too. Your mattress should be good quality and supportive, and ideally no older than eight years old. A poor mattress can result in back problems and aches, which can cause ongoing musculoskeletal problems, and trouble falling asleep in the first place.
Pillows are another vital part of our sleep quality. They can support a variety of sleeping positions, but ideally lying flat on your back with one supportive pillow is best for maintaining the spine’s natural curves and supporting the neck. If you suffer from lower back pain, a small pillow under your knees can relieve any pressure in the lumbar region at bedtime. However, it’s important not to rely on this indefinitely as it may result in tightening of the hip flexors, especially if you sit a lot throughout the day. Protecting your body while sleeping is vital for long-term wellbeing.
Revise your evening routine for optimum shut-eye
How you wind down for bed should be a carefully considered process and subliminally instruct your body that it’s time for sleep. Reducing our use of devices such as phones and TV can be helpful for an hour before we switch out the lights as it decreases the amount of blue light stimulus. This blue light suppresses the body's release of melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel drowsy. While this may be helpful during the day, it becomes unhelpful at night when we're trying to sleep.
Gentle exercise in the evening such as pilates, yoga or even an easy walk can also help our minds to switch off from our busy schedules, putting us into a deeper and more restful slumber, as well as being good for our physical wellbeing too. Provided any exercise stops at least 90 minutes before bedtime, our bodies will still have time for endorphin levels to return to normal and our core body temperature to drop to an optimum level for sleep.
Setting a bedtime might feel like a throwback to being a child but heading to bed at the same time every night has been proven to help sleep. A study in the UK of over 88,000 people found that 10pm was the optimum bedtime, but consistency with the same time for going to bed and getting up was the key to feeling rested and recharged.
Focus on your breathing
When you’re tucked up in bed and wondering how exactly to fall asleep, there are a few breathing techniques that can help signal the body to wind down, relax and nod off.
One method that has gone viral is the ‘Military technique’, which promises sleep in under two minutes. The method involves calming the body and systematically focusing on relaxing and shutting down each part of your body from head to toe. The method is designed to be ‘practised’ nightly and then sleep should come easier each time, thanks to the meditation style breathing and mindfulness.
Remove the pressure of falling asleep
It might sound counterintuitive to advise on falling asleep, but if you’re struggling then the best idea is to stop tossing and turning.
Instead, get up and distract yourself for a short period with a book or get a warm drink that can help you to settle down for sleep, your mind and body will thank you for it.
Whilst sleep and the lack of it can seem like such a simple thing, there’s no denying how revitalised and ready for the day we all feel when we’ve had a good night of rest. Getting to sleep needs a collaborative approach and that can start from as soon as you wake up in the morning! A good routine, relaxing sleep space and the right physical setup can make it easier for your body to take in the signals that it's time to switch off and rest.
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