10 hours please

I’ve got involved with Boden’s employee wellbeing program, and recently we had a workshop on sleep - getting back to basics as well as sharing some quick fixes for difficult nights. Since nearly everyone I meet has at least occasional issues with sleep, here’s what we discussed.

Why you need more good quality sleep - and why it's challenging in modern life

Life’s busy! Fitting in work/home life/socialising is difficult. When you need to cram a few extra hours into the day, most likely you lose out on sleep. Everyone struggles to concentrate after too few hours of sleep, but if it happens regularly there are worrying implications for health.

Our bodies are getting up to all kinds of busy-work when we’re asleep - such as tissue repair and liver regeneration, as well as removing free radicals that accumulated in the brain during the day. I can see obvious physical effects on my face if I’ve not slept well, but we don’t give much thought to the internal extension of those effects - if your face looks all puffy and red, what about your insides?? Another thing happening while we’re asleep is maintenance of the body’s regulation of appetite hormones and blood sugar levels. So, no wonder insomnia is linked to difficulties with appetite & weight management (plus don’t we all crave sugary snacks for quick energy when overtired?).

I bet you’ve experienced this horribly common problem of modern life: even when you go to bed early with the aim of 8 (or my ideal, 10) hours before work, you just can’t drop off. Or, you wake up after a few hours and struggle to get back to sleep, too busy clock watching and worrying about how crappy the next day will be. So, for our health and sanity, here are some ideas to improve sleep routine and quality.

How we can get better sleep naturally, with simple nutrition & lifestyle habits

Firstly, sort out your lights. Our Circadian rhythm (the 24 hour cycle of the body) is partly regulated by light; melatonin (a sleepy hormone, at its highest during the night) builds in the evening and dissipates with bright morning light. That’s why people use melatonin as a medication to deal with jetlag (only available on prescription in the UK though). That means lots of artificial light in the evening can impact our sleep! I think it’s essential to have blue light filters* active on your mobile and computer in the evenings, and to set screens to their dimmest light. Also, ideally don’t turn the lights on if you get up to use the loo. That’s simple where I live because of light pollution - even in the middle of the night there’s slight visibility. But if you have blackout blinds (or live somewhere there are visible stars) you could get a little night light for the bathroom. I always put my phone on flight mode at night so I never get disturbed by flashing lights but the alarm clock still works.

*My phone came with one built in, but you can get apps if not.

Another good practice - turn off screens for a calming period before bed. We were never allowed TVs in the bedroom when I was growing up, which of course I thought was monstrously unfair at the time, but I’ve always stuck to it. It’s hard if you’re a Netflix binger or have a lot of work on, but at least try to switch off screens 30 minutes before bed - perhaps have a relaxing shower using products with calming lavender essential oil (synthetic fragrances don’t count). I’m an advocate of taking magnesium supplements before bed, but did you know you can also benefit from magnesium topically in the form of Epsom bath salts or oils/lotions applied to the skin after showering?

Standard advice is that intense exercise in the evening is too stimulating so can negatively impact your sleep (unless you do something hideous like bootcamp and fall unconscious from exhaustion, I suppose). But daily exercise is essential - without movement during the day I’ll get fidgity at night. It’s pretty easy getting exercise in London though - walking to work and living on the 5th floor is a good start!

Food and drinks: some people can apparently drink coffee before bed but I’m definitely not one of them. Even tea after about 3pm will mess me up. So if you’re having any sleep trouble, try cutting caffeine after early afternoon, it might solve the problem. One cause of maintenance insomnia (waking during the night) is low blood sugar, so while common wisdom is ‘dine like a pauper’, make sure you have a rounded evening meal that includes protein for satiety. Poultry, fish, beans, dairy, and lentils are protein sources that have tryptophan, which is an amino acid needed for calming serotonin and sleepy melatonin (hence all adults fall asleep on the sofa after a roast dinner).

Quick fixes when stress impacts your sleep

Busy brain, whirring thoughts, difficulty shutting off…..what to do if a sensible routine is not enough? These are my simple solutions for when life and work are making me crazy.

  • 30 minutes before you want to sleep, take 2 capsules of Night Support as part of your winding down routine.

  • If you wake in the night, and worries about the next day stop you quickly dropping back off, keep a notepad by your bed. Jotting down something you need to remember removes it from your immediate thoughts so you can regain calm and sleep.

  • There are lots of useful apps now with meditations, calming music, even calming bedtime stories! Personally though, I find a simple counting technique helpful - pick a really high number and count backwards, visualising the numbers. I’ve used a meditation app but find that wearing headphones causes me to wake up again later - a bit counterproductive!

    Do you have any sleep aid recommendations to offer? Share them below please!