Sweet dreams!

Natural tips for a better night’s sleep

According to research by The Sleep Council, worry and anxiety about the Covid-19 pandemic has led to sleep problems for three quarters of people.

“Understandably there are lots of reasons for us to be anxious right now,” says Dr Nicola Barclay, Departmental Lecturer in Sleep Medicine at the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, University of Oxford. “Sleep disruption is a normal response to everyday stresses and our new stresses. But there are many useful things we can do to quieten a worried mind.”

Stick to a routine

Dr Barclay, who is working with sleep, health and wellbeing brand, The Mammoth Company, (mammothcomfort.com) recommends that we “stick to a routine and prioritise sleep. Have a daily schedule and keep consistent bedtimes and rise times.” Putting boundaries in place could help too. “Try and make the bedroom only for sleep,” she says. “Make sure that the working day is out of the bedroom, keep it clutter-free and make it your sanctuary – have fresh sheets that you look forward to getting into at the end of the day.”

Keep worry out of the bedroom

Another tip to try, if you are finding that worry is affecting your sleep, is to set aside a dedicated “worry time”. “Don’t take your worries to bed with you,” says Dr Barclay. “Schedule in time in your day for worrying.” She also suggests having a “15-minute rule”. “If you’re worrying and can’t get to sleep, if around 15 minutes has passed, get up and get out of the bedroom and do something to help you wind down, so that you don’t create negative associations with the bedroom.”

Ready the room

“Outside noise and light need to be blocked as much as possible,” says Suzy Reading, a sleep expert and chartered psychologist working with TEMPUR® (uk.tempur.com). “Wear earplugs at night, invest in blackout blinds or curtains and ensure any chinks of light are covered, or wear an eye mask. Keep the windows closed to prevent traffic noise and turn off electronics before bed to prevent blue light emittance which can be disruptive to sleep. Carpets, floor coverings and curtains can help muffle noise too. Use breathable cotton bedding and linen and keep the room temperature between 16 and 18°C ideally. Think of the bedroom environment like a cave: cool, dark, and quiet.”

Watch your food and drink

“We may not always realise it, but food and drink have an enormous impact on our sleeping patterns,” says medical herbalist Pamela Spence (www.pamelaspence.co.uk). “Drinks containing caffeine should definitely be avoided late in the day because the energising effects can last for several hours. Remember that there is caffeine in some fizzy drinks as well as chocolate so be careful not to take too much of those either. There is evidence that the chemical tryptophan, found in foods like eggs, peanuts, milk and pumpkin and sesame seeds can help to improve sleep and reduce anxiety. Tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP in your body and this chemical is needed to produce both serotonin (that improves mood) and melatonin (that is required for you to sleep). So the old tales of a milky drink before bed really can help.”

Support your digestion

“Stress and poor digestion are two key reasons for sleep issues so it is important to address both,” says Pamela Spence. “Drinking chamomile tea before bed can help because it not only supports the digestion and makes you feel calmer, but it also contains a chemical called apigenin that interacts with the receptors in the brain that promote sleep. Passionflower is most herbalists’ choice in prescriptions for people with mild insomnia. It is calming and gently helps restore beneficial sleep patterns. Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb that is very good at reducing anxiety. Its Latin name Withania somnifera gives a clue that it is traditionally used to deepen the quality of sleep. Ashwagandha powder can be added to hot milk and sweetened with a little honey for a comforting night-time drink and the tryptophan in the milk adds to the effect. All these herbs can be found in herbal tea blends in the supermarket or health food stores, making them easy and inexpensive to try.”

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