Sleep problems not only make you tired and irritable; they may increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, as well as cancer. They may also create problems with depression or anxiety. With so many of us living very busy lives, where does sleep fit in? Between long working hours, variable shift work patterns, social commitments, 24-hour television programmes and our ongoing access to everything on the web, our inability to switch off is becoming increasingly problematic.
In a recent study, researchers showed for the first time that sleep resets the brain, in a process which appears to be crucial for our brains to remember and learn. Scientists found that the loss of a single night’s sleep was enough to block the brain’s natural reset mechanism. Deprived of rest, the brain is unable to properly lay down new memories. It explains why our brains need to rest after a day spent absorbing all manner of information, from the morning news and the state of the weather, to a chat over lunch and what we must buy for tea.
Scientists have also found that sleep-deprived people crave crisps, sweets and biscuits far more than healthier foods. This is because sleep deprivation may cause overeating by boosting chemicals for appetite, as well as those that increase the pleasure of eating sweet or salty high-fat foods.
If you are resorting to using sleeping pills, it’s important to note the side effects which may occur, such as: change to your appetite, headaches, constipation, drowsiness, dizziness, confusion and forgetfulness. Natural alternatives can include magnesium, vitamin D and herbs such as ashwaganda, lemon balm and L-Theanine. Herbal teas such as chamomile and rooibos in the evening and night time can also aid sleep. Beware of drinking too much liquids too late.
When poor sleep is a constant problem it’s very stressful, placing big demands on your adrenals, resulting in the adrenals becoming tired and unable to respond at healthy levels. Tired adrenals result in low energy and many people find themselves reaching for stimulants like caffeine and sugar to get them through the day. The trouble is that the stimulation is short-lasting and can leave you feeling more tired than when you started.
Here are some small changes that you can make today to aid a deeper and longer sleep:
- Set a regular bedtime and wake up at the same time each day – try not to break the routine.
- Fight after-dinner drowsiness, otherwise you can wake during the night. Consider an earlier meal or an after dinner walk.
- Get outside every day, to get natural daylight.
- Spend time before bed, away from bright lights of the TV and computer.
- Sleep in darkness and quiet.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine.
- Avoid caffeine after midday.
- Avoid too much liquid, which could wake you up to go to the bathroom