Laura Thompson is a local Nutritional Therapist, Bio Resonance Practitioner and founder of the Healthy Gut Plan, offering advice on a range of health issues
Everyone of us at some time or another has experienced the debilitating effects of a lack of sleep. Indeed sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture for many years!
Imagine then how it feels to suffer from insomnia on a regular basis. Statistics tell us that 15 percent of Irish people suffer from regular insomnia.
Sleep is as essential for a healthy body as good nutrition and exercise, so how can we make sure that we are getting enough and exactly how much is enough?
Firstly let me explain the benefits of a good night's sleep:
* Sleep helps reduce stress
* Lowers your blood pressure
* Improves your memory
* Boosts your immune system
* Reduces your chances of developing diabetes
* Improves your mood
* Keeps your heart healthy
* Helps control your weight
How many hours of sleep is recommended?
Experts tell us that between seven and eight hours is adequate sleep.
Remember too much sleep can be as bad as too little. More than eight hours can leave us feeling hungover and drowsy. So aim for eight hours maximum.
So what can we do to ensure a good night's sleep?
Firstly, increase your exposure to daylight. Your body has a natural time-keeping clock known as the circadian rhythm. It affects your brain, body and hormones helping to keep you awake and telling your body when it's time to sleep. Make sure you have daily exposure to plenty of sunlight or invest in a daylight therapy box .
Reduce your exposure to blue light in the evening. This has an impact on your circadian rhythm tricking your brain into thinking it is still daytime. This reduces the hormone melatonin which helps you to get a restful deep sleep.
Blue light from electrical devices like smart phones, computers and television screens are the worst offenders in this regard.
Stop watching television and turn off any bright lights at least two hours before bedtime. It is possible to buy special glasses designed to block blue light which might be beneficial if you can't do without your television. You can also download various apps on your laptops or smartphone which block blue light.
Long daytime naps are a bad idea; it is tempting to try and catch up on sleep if you had a bad night but this can impair the quality of sleep. If you must take a nap, take what’s known as a power nap for approximately 30 minutes.
Don't drink any caffeine based beverages at least four to six hours before bedtime. Caffeine is a strong stimulant and will make you more alert.
Be consistent with your bedtime routine. Get up at the same time and go to bed at the same time every day. Your body likes routine.
Avoid alcohol. Many people use alcohol as a way of improving sleep. According to findings, alcohol will initially have a stimulating effect and then make you feel drowsy. This is what is known as a biphasic affect (meaning two phases).
However the quality of sleep is very poor and often leads to more waking throughout the night and lessens the time spent in REM sleep which is the most restorative phase of sleep.
Make sure your bedroom is the right temperature - around 20 Celsius. Keep all electrical appliances out. Keep it as dark as possible (invest in blackout blinds).
Don’t eat too late at night but don’t go to bed hungry either. Avoid sugary and fatty snacks. A small bowl of sugar free cereal is fine. Personally I find a small glass of Kefir with 1tsp of cinnamon helps to keep me full and aid sleep. Cinnamon balances blood sugar stopping highs and lows which can cause wakefulness.
Don’t drink too much liquid, this will wake you up and cause frequent trips to the bathroom. If you must drink, ‘chew’ your water, swishing it round your mouth before swallowing. This will mean you need less.
Relax and wind down. Maybe take a warm bath or listen to soothing music. There are many mindfulness CDs which can be very helpful.
Make a list of any to do items at least an hour before bed so you have a clear, uncluttered mind.
A final word from an old Irish Proverb: “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything”.