8 steps to a better night’s sleep

Enjoy sweet dreams with our natural sleep guide

This month, the Sleep Council (sleepcouncil.org.uk) launches its National Bed Month campaign which raises awareness of the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. Here is our step-by-step guide to helping you get some decent shut-eye.

1. Try some magnesium

Magnesium is known as nature’s tranquiliser. Nutritionist Alix Woods explains: “It can help your body to unwind as magnesium works on muscle relaxation and calcium works on muscle contraction. Magnesium blocks and binds up calcium after a muscle contraction and promotes muscle relaxation. It also relays signals from the brain to the body and nerves which helps our muscles relax and body unwind. You may take it as part of your morning supplement routine with breakfast as taking magnesium with food enhances bioavailability and assimilation into the cells. If you’re using magnesium as a sleep support, it’s best to take 30 minutes prior to bedtime to ensure a good night’s sleep. The effect of magnesium is almost immediate as magnesium is essential for cellular energy. When it is utilised for sleep support the effect is within an hour of taking it.”

2. Avoid exercise too close to bedtime

“Exercise is brilliant for sleep,” says James Wilson aka The Sleep Geek (www.thesleepgeek.co.uk). “It helps us feel physically tired and relieves the stresses and strains of the day. However, for some people, if we do it too close to bedtime the cortisol and adrenaline from the physical exertion impacts on our ability to fall asleep and particularly stay asleep. If you have exercised late, make sure you are winding down properly. Most people will need about three hours from exercise to sleep for the effects of the exercise to diminish.”

3. Give homeopathy a try

Homeopathy can offer a natural alternative to conventional sleep remedies. “The majority of homeopathic remedies are prepared from plants and minerals to very specific methods and, being natural, are without harmful side effects, non-addictive and safe to use on a regular basis,” explains Roz Crompton, a qualified homeopath and Trade and Marketing Manager at Helios Homeopathy (www.helios.co.uk). “The following remedies are some of the most frequently used for sleep disturbances. Avena Sativa, Coffea, Passiflora and Valarian 30c is a great combination remedy with a long history of traditional use to help all manner of sleeping problems, but in particular getting off to sleep or frequent waking during the night. Kali Phos 6x taken before bed for three to six weeks can help the body get back into a regular sleeping pattern, while Cocculus 30c can help with sleeplessness from physical or mental exhaustion.”

4. Dine like a pauper

“You will have heard the saying ‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper’ and there may be some truth in this,” says Chris Etheridge, medical herbalist, plant medicine expert and adviser to Puressentiel, makers of evidence-based essential oils. “A heavy evening meal may leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable and will make extra work for your digestive system as you go to bed. Try to have a light evening meal and, if possible, eat earlier rather than later in the evening. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and spicy food too near to bedtime, and if you have to go to the loo lots in the night, try not to drink anything at all after 8pm.”

5. Enjoy a herbal tea

Start your unwinding process with a comforting herbal tea. The warm snuggly feeling you get from herbal tea is great for encouraging relaxation. Alix Woods explains: “Herbal teas certainly help you unwind, especially cinnamon herbal tea. Studies show that cinnamon mimics insulin, the hormone that utilises sugars from the carbohydrates we eat. This process protects the body and prevents the mood-altering highs and lows of sugar on blood sugar. Blood sugar, mood and energy is thereby kept stable, which allows you to gently unwind and relax after a busy day.”

6. Say goodnight to anxious thoughts

“One of the things that can keep us awake at night and interrupts our quality of sleep is dealing with thoughts that are going through our mind,” says Chris Etheridge. “At least an hour before going to bed, jot down in a notebook any thoughts that are in your head. These may include things you need to do, things you need to remember or even your feelings. Doing this helps to free up your mind to let you slip into a restful sleep. Also try saying or writing down three things that you are grateful for that day – it’s surprising how this alters your state of mind and puts you in a positive place to go to sleep. Keep a notepad by your bed as well for those urgent middle-of-the-night thoughts that pop into your head.”

7. Monitor your screen time

“Many experts tell people not to use their phone before bed and most people ignore them and continue to tap away at their devices,” says James Wilson. “Rather than blaming the device, we need to look at what we are doing with it. Ask yourself: ‘Is this thing I am doing before bed helping me to drop my heart rate? Do I feel relaxed after doing it?’ If you look at work emails before bed, if you are surfing social media getting angry at what people write, if you are checking your bets, or watching a horror film then it may impact on your ability to go to sleep and stay asleep. There are great things on your phone to help you relax. Meditation apps, podcasts designed to be sleep-inducing, watching something funny rather than scary – all these things will help you feel relaxed, and ultimately feel sleepy.”

8. Try some helpful herbs

“Often chronic tiredness means we try to stimulate ourselves out of it with caffeine, but that can just make things worse in the longer term,” says herbalist Pamela Spence (pamelaspence.co.uk). “Adaptogens like astragalus are particularly good at helping break this cycle, supporting our bodies to cope better when under stress and also sustainably improve stamina. Ashwagandha is a helpful herb that can improve the quality of sleep, reduce anxiety and give our hard-working adrenal glands some support. Add the powder of either of these herbs to a daily smoothie or see your medical herbalist for a bespoke medicine to tackle the issue and address any underlying health concerns.”

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