Top Tips for Better Sleep for optimal health, mood and energy
How did you sleep last night? Did you wake up feeling rested and refreshed this morning? Do you struggle to fall asleep at night? Do you wake multiples time in the night?
Sleep glorious sleep! We all need it and we all want more of it and so many of us want it to be better.
Being able to achieve restful, restorative sleep is absolutely vital for good health, both physical and mental health. However, both the modern concept of living in a 24-hour world where it’s hard to switch off, and the stress associated with modern life, many of us do not get the amount, or quality, of sleep we need for optimum health and wellbeing.
According to research obtained from The Great British Sleep Survey in 2020- healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night and new research has shown that only 11% of people in the UK are able to achieve restful, uninterrupted sleep. The survey also found that the ‘racing mind’ is the main cause of sleeplessness - a common result of today’s fast paced 24/7 modern world.
In this blog we will help you understand why good sleep is so important and what’s actually happening while you sleep plus the impact of NOT sleeping well. We will provide you with actionable steps you can start taking straight away to help you start getting better sleep, once and for all.
Why good sleep is vital for your physical and mental health.
The human body is designed to spend around one third of its life asleep, which suggests sleep must serve a very important function for our health, and that it does!
We all know we feel better after a good night’s sleep, but did you know that sleep goes far deeper than simply providing rest? Sleep plays a huge role in the health of your metabolism, memory and learning abilities, mood and emotional wellbeing, healing, repair and tissue renewal and regeneration of all body systems especially your brain, immune system, liver and muscles.
There’s A LOT going on while you sleep, it’s a very active process where your energy stores are replenished and tissue is regenerated.
Lack of sleep (quality and quantity both matter) can leave us at increased risk for conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis as well as reduce immune function, detoxification abilities, cognition and overall physical and mental wellbeing and performance.
Sleep is a RESTORATIVE process. It can be thought of as one big ‘clean up’ and repair of all body systems - needed each night to keep them all running well!
Key factors that impact sleep.
The brain chemical serotonin is well known as the ‘happy’ or ‘good mood’ chemical, but did you know it also plays a significant role in sleep and sleep quality? You need healthy levels of serotonin in order to make melatonin, your sleep hormone.
80-90% of our serotonin is made in the gut, therefore a healthy gut is really important for serotonin production, plus we can support the production of serotonin by ensuring we are eating enough tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid, found in protein foods, that gets converted into serotonin once inside the body.
As darkness draws closer during the evening your serotonin starts being converted into melatonin, which induces sleep. The more optimal your serotonin levels are the more melatonin you make and the best sleep you have.
Optimal serotonin levels are important for melatonin production however it’s also important to know that melatonin is secreted by a tiny gland in your brain called the pineal gland. The pineal gland responds to darkness cues and tells the body that it’s now night time and time to start making melatonin. Melatonin works in the opposite way to cortisol in that cortisol is highest first thing in the morning in response to dawn, and melatonin is highest at night in response to dark, and vice vera.
The power of light and dark cues for better sleep
Sleep issues start to occur when these light and dark cues are skewed resulting in low cortisol in the morning when it should be high, and low melatonin at night when it should be high. This can leave us feeling tired but wired at night, lying in bed with racing thoughts and trouble getting to sleep.
This 24-hour rhythm of cortisol and melatonin is known as the Circadian Rhythm or body clock and it’s controlled by a ‘master clock’ in the hypothalamus in the brain, which is a group of nerve cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN is located just above your optic nerves, which is why and how it’s able to respond to light and dark cues.
So, for better sleep each night it’s crucial that you honour light and dark cues in line with your body’s natural circadian rhythm. Here are our top tips for doing just that:
Expose your eyes to full spectrum daylight within 20 minutes of waking up watch day. You can do this by going for a walk, in natural day light, during the brighter months and or sitting in a garden or balcony for at least 10 minutes, preferably more, and in darker months you can use a 10,000 LUX light box in your home for around 30 minutes.
Aim to get outside again around lunchtime to expose your eyes to more daylight in the first half of the day. Start to keep your lights dim all around the home from about 7pm and minimize any exposure to ‘blue light’ as you get closer towards bed time. Blue wavelength light comes from all artificial lighting in the home and all screens such as TVs, laptops, phones, tablets and computers.
Wear blue light-blocking glasses for the 2-3 hours before you plan to head to bed for any screen time you may have. Have a full hour of no screen time at all in the hour before you plan to go to bed.
Reduce and manage your stress! Stress has a huge impact on sleep because it increased cortisol levels, which is the key player in your circadian rhythm and high or chronic stress results in a circadian rhythm that’s out of balance and chronic sleep issues.
Key nutrients for better sleep.
The ZEN pillar is designed to support and calm the nervous system and improve your resilience to stress, which in turn supports better sleep. One of the hero nutrients in the ZEN shot is L-theanine. L-theanine is a compound that occurs naturally in green tea and is also available in supplement form. Studies looking at the impact of L-theanine on sleep have, collectively, found that 200mg of L-theanine before bed may support deeper, more restful sleep. Because L-theanine does not induce drowsiness, it may be useful at any time of the day.
Turmeric root is another hero nutrient in the ZEN range that’s been shown to be stress and sleep supportive. Turmeric is a great all-rounder and may be a nutrient to watch in 2022! It’s been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body, provide antioxidants and even aid quality sleep in the world of Ayurvedic medicine. It’s role in better sleep may be due to its ability to increase serotonin levels in the body - The health properties of turmeric root are all down to the active ingredient curcumin, responsible also for turmeric’s vibrant orange colour.
Magnesium is well known as the ‘relaxing, calming mineral’ as it helps with muscle relaxation and can support the nervous system by calming the stress response, helping the body to cope with stress better. One study found that in patients with insomnia, supplementation with magnesium significantly reduced blood levels of stress-induced cortisol.
Magnesium can support better sleep through its ability to improve the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin. If we don’t get enough magnesium, which is depleted in times of high or chronic stress, it’s harder for your brain to switch off and rest at night, causing trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep.
Food sources of magnesium include almonds, cashew nuts, pecan nuts, quinoa, buckwheat, oats, beans and pulses and dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and chard and dark chocolate!
A lovely relaxing way to absorb magnesium in through your skin is in the form of a warm bath or foot bath containing a couple of cups of Epsom salts, or by using magnesium sprays and gels from brands like Better You or Ancient Minerals.
Now that you understand the importance of encouraging the production of melatonin at night you can start to incorporate the light and dark cue tips outlined for you above. You can further support melatonin production by increasing foods shown to increase melatonin levels. Montmorency cherries, a sour or tart cherry, have been shown to improve sleep duration in a 2011 study that looked at the effect of tart cherry juice on melatonin levels.
Other foods that contain melatonin include walnuts, flaxseeds, tomatoes, raspberries, almonds and goji berries.
The importance of sleep is becoming more and more recognised amongst society and it’s no longer seen as a badge of honour to sleep less and do more. The many health issues linked with sleep deprivation cannot be underestimated or ignored and if we want to function at an optimal level, physically, emotionally and mentally, we MUST support better sleep every day.
Healthy wishes and better sleep, the Junius Team.