8 Steps to Better Sleep

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It’s the early hours of the morning, your alarm will be going off in just a few hours, but you’re wide awake. No matter what you do, you simply can’t fall asleep. Does this sound familiar? Over the years, as a Nutritional Therapist, I’ve supported many clients with Insomnia. Chronic sleep deprivation can have such a negative impact on our health. As well as disrupting the immune system, chronic lack of sleep can lower libido, induce feelings of anxiety and even encourage undesired weight gain.

Sleep issues are very common in modern-day life. Sleep is so incredibly important, yet is often overlooked. Restorative sleep is imperative. During hours of sleep, our cells carry out vital repair work. For some of you, however, quality sleep may not come easy.

My experience over the years has taught me some of the best ways to promote restorative sleep. Having incorporated these practices into my daily routine, I’d like to share with you my own experiences, including eight simple steps that I implement to help improve my quality of sleep.

  1. Take a magnesium bath before bedtime and increase your intake of magnesium rich foods

Stress and poor sleep go hand in hand. During periods of stress, the body releases stress hormones that are needed for a ‘fight or flight’ response. An increase in the output of these stress hormones often results in a depletion of magnesium. This is not so much of an issue during an acute stress response, but as humans we are constantly in a state of stress to some degree. Financial pressures, work deadlines, sitting in traffic, relationship issues, running a busy household and poor dietary habits are just some of the obvious stressors in the western world.

As someone who used to suffer with anxiety, during periods of increased stress, the first thing I noticed was diminished sleep. During these times, I struggled to fall asleep and often woke up during the night feeling anxious and consumed with worry.  There’s nothing worse than starting your day feeling fatigued. It significantly affected my mood and my ability to concentrate.

In order to enable my body to better manage stress and to support restorative sleep, I take regular magnesium baths. Half an hour before bedtime, I run a warm bath and add in two cups of magnesium flakes. This method encourages absorption of magnesium through the skin. I light a lavender soy candle and soak in candlelight for 20-30 minutes. During this time, I close my eyes and try to focus my mind on deep breathing exercises, focusing all my attention on my in-breath and out-breath. In doing so, I’m able to bring my mind back to the present moment, instead of thinking about what I’ve done during the day or what I’ll be doing the following day.  Magnesium is involved in the activation of the neurotransmitter GABA, which has a calming effect on the nervous system. By quieting the nervous system in this way, magnesium can help to prepare the body for sound sleep. It is therefore imperative to address low levels.

To further support magnesium levels, I incorporate magnesium rich foods into my daily diet. I have at least two portions of leafy green vegetables every day, primarily spinach and broccoli sprouts. I love to add these into my daily green smoothie. I have two portions of wild salmon weekly and I include avocados, almonds, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds into my weekly meal planner. You may decide to incorporate some of the following magnesium-rich foods into your own diet.

  • Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, broccoli, spring green cabbage and Brussel Sprouts)
  • Coriander
  • Wild salmon
  • Avocado
  • Chia seeds
  • Unsalted almonds and cashews
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Raw, dark chocolate
  • Banana
  1. Take a digital detox

When it comes to sound sleep, modern technology certainly comes with a hefty price tag and I’m not referring to the purchase price. Pre-bedtime use of mobile phones, televisions, tablets and laptops can significantly compromise quality sleep. Melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, regulates our sleep-wake cycle and is produced in response to darkness. Exposure to strong light before bedtime and during the night, therefore, could suppress production of melatonin.

After 9pm, whenever possible, I stop using any electronic devises that emit blue light one hour before bedtime. I refer to this time as my digital detox. I also have blackout blinds in my bedroom to block the glare from street lamps. If you don’t have blackout blinds, an eye mask could work well.

  1. Lavender essential oil

Wherever possible, I love to use lavender. Nothing relaxes me more than the smell of lavender essential oil, so I add a few drops into my magnesium baths before bedtime. When I’m particularly stressed, I also add a few droplets of lavender essential oil onto my pillow, to help promote sound sleep.

  1. Chamomile tea

When soaking in my magnesium bath, I love to have a cup of camomile tea. Chamomile is a natural relaxant and therefore helps to promote a state of calm pre-bedtime. My favourite pre-bedtime drink is the ‘night time’ tea by Pukka herbs. To avoid wake up during the night to urinate, I avoid having too much fluid before bedtime.

  1. Tryptophan rich foods

 As well as incorporating magnesium rich foods into my daily diet, I also include a variety of tryptophan rich foods. Tryptophan is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is a precursor to the sleep hormone melatonin. Foods rich in tryptophan are as follows:

  • Unsalted nuts (primarily almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and cashews)
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Legumes
  • Organic poultry
  • Organic grass-fed lamb
  • Bananas
  • Wild salmon and unsmoked mackerel
  • Sprouted Buckwheat
  • Whole organic free-range eggs
  1. Declutter your life

Clutter in and around the home can result in an inability to see things clearly, thus amounting to more stress. Seeing clutter is a constant reminder that things need to be done. It adds something extra to your mental to do list. It is this type of stress that can keep you awake at night and inhibit sound and restorative sleep. Even unopened/unanswered emails contribute to clutter. Decluttering your home has been shown to reduce stress levels. Think about it. Having a clean and organised home can promote a state of calm. After all, your home should be somewhere for relaxation and solitude. As we have already established, feeling calm and relaxed is key when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.

Every couple of months, I try to get rid of anything that I don’t use or need, any items that are taking up valuable space. I either sell these items or donate them to a charity shop. I find this to be extremely therapeutic, as it really does feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I also try to tidy up my inbox as much as I can. I answer any emails that need answering and I delete those that don’t. Having hundreds of unanswered emails in my inbox does nothing for my stress levels.

  1. Reduce caffeine consumption

Caffeine is a stimulant and is implicated in the activation of excitatory neurotransmitters. For anyone suffering with insomnia, my advice is to significantly reduce your intake of caffeine and to avoid consumption of caffeine after 2pm. Try to limit yourself to a maximum of two cups of coffee daily. I personally don’t drink any tea of coffee, but I do have a cup of matcha green tea once in a while. Green tea is full of antioxidants, so I find it to be a great alternative to tea and coffee.

  1. Choose your bedtime reading material wisely

I love to read in bed, it really relaxes me. I like to get lost in a good book or magazine and forget about the day. While reading before bedtime is a great alternative to using electronic devises and can certainly promote relaxation, reading a suspenseful book can stimulate brain activity and make it harder to fall asleep. Opt instead for something more light-hearted and save the juicy stuff for the train journey to work. I love to read ‘Breathe’ magazine. It’s a mindfulness magazine that offers a lot of advice in how to lead a more connected life.

As a Nutritional Therapist, Caroline is extremely passionate about health and wellbeing, a passion that she endeavours to reflect in her writing. As well as being a Journalist for Sentient Life, Caroline is the Retreat Director at The Nutrition Retreat Ltd, a 5-night residential nutrition retreat at Sheepdrove Organic Farm in Berkshire. She is also the nutrition columnist for the ‘Journal’ magazine. Caroline is thrilled to be writing for Sentient Life, to be able to share with you all her own knowledge and experiences.

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