• Beccy Holland

Sleep - an essential pillar of health

The weather has been so warm recently that it’s almost impossible to sleep without opening the window. I’m a light sleeper and apart from a few very stressful times in my life, I have always slept well providing there isn’t too much noise. This all changed a few years ago when I met someone who fell asleep instantly and then snored their way through the night. My world almost fell apart as I became more and more sleep-deprived. The next day I often felt like a zombie and was really not operating on all cylinders. I felt so tired I couldn’t do my study, my caffeine consumption increased and after a period of time I felt quite depressed and unable to cope with my daily routine.

This apparently, is not unusual. According to the British Sleep Council over a quarter of people in the UK get poor quality sleep on a regular basis. Research has shown that poor sleep is associated with mood disturbance, poor concentration, fatigue, and even an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease.

Between 2010 and 2012 the Great British Sleep Survey was conducted found that women sleep 10% worse than men, sleep quality decreases as you get older and that an incredible 42% of people surveyed had been taking sleeping tablets for more than a decade. Compared to people who don’t take sleeping tablets, those that do are…

85% more likely to feel helpless.

74% more likely to feel alone.

49% more likely to feel that their sleep is out of control.

As the survey suggests this really highlights the need for evidence-based non-drug sleep solutions to be made available to the general public.

So what can we do?

First we need to look at the physical factors that may be keeping us awake. These could be bodily discomfort; aches and pains, noise, partner, room temperature and light levels. Some of these may be quite easy to address once you are aware of the causative factors.

Then we need to look at the persistent thoughts that frequently affect our sleep. Respondents from the survey found that:

82% were thinking about what happened today & what might happen tomorrow.

79% were simply thinking how long they’d been lying awake.

76% were thinking of trivial things of no importance.

71% were thinking what the future might hold.

71% were thinking about what had happened in the past, which, clearly we can do absolutely nothing about!

If sleep is a problem for you then become aware of why you are not sleeping; if you are falling asleep and then waking up, or if you are finding it difficult to fall asleep in the first place. Essentially we need the body to feel tired and relaxed in order to sleep.

Magnesium is known as the relaxing mineral because it does just that. It relaxes the body and is best taken at bedtime when it is not competing for absorption with any other supplements. Magnesium plays a part in regulating more than 300 enzymes in our bodies, including blood glucose control, muscle and nerve functions, blood pressure, energy production, and more. However, if you take it in pill form, be careful with dosage and consult your Doctor or Nutritional Therapist first as it may interfere with medication prescribed for some conditions such as thyroid problems and/or cause diarrhoea if there are any pre-existing digestive issues. Trials have shown that within 8 weeks of taking magnesium supplements, the respondents sleep improved. You could try putting Epsom’s salts which is Magnesium Sulphate in your evening bath or soak your feet in a footbath for 20 minutes as your body absorbs the magnesium topically (through the skin), much better than if you take supplements because it bypasses the kidneys.

Natural ways of ingesting magnesium are through diet in the form of whole grains, dark leafy greens, bananas, fish, nuts and dark chocolate. Try not to eat after 7pm in the evening to give your body a good rest from digestion as a full stomach is very likely to keep you awake.

Try also, to develop a bedtime routine. Turn screens off an hour before trying to sleep. Don’t watch the news or any other thought provoking programmes. Maybe read a book, drink a little water, have that bath, meditate or sit quietly for a while. Our body naturally goes through cycles in the day called circadium rhythms regulated by the body’s internal master clock which is located in the brain, therefore your body is ready for sleep and for wakefulness at relatively specific times of the day. So naturally as the light begins to fall we start to feel tired. These rhythms are easily disrupted by drugs, alcohol, shift work and air travel, hence the feeling of jet lag, when your body literally feels out of sync with it’s natural cycle.

There are many things that can be tried to improve your sleep quality. A good review of your current lifestyle is a good place to start. If you would like some help and support developing a self-care routine that helps to improve your sleep then be sure to get in touch.

Wishing you the best night’s sleep ever and the sweetest dreams.


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