Do you wake each day feeling unrefreshed from your nightʼs sleep?
Lack of sleep goes beyond just affecting your energy and stress levels.
It impacts how you think, the choices you make, the emotional responses you have, what foods you crave, how much you eat and even how much insulin your body produces – leading to a cycle of chronic stress and fatigue and even poorer sleep (and most often, weight gain)!
If you want to vivaciously kick goals each and every day, it goes without saying that a restful sleep is absolutely critical.
My top 5 tips for a rejuvenating sleep follow. These tips will help you prepare for and enjoy a deeper state of sleep, so youʼll wake up feeling more refreshed in the morning (great for performing your morning routine, right?)!
1. Eat for sleep
What you eat for dinner has a direct effect on the quality of your sleep.
Hereʼs why: The amount of carbohydrate and protein consumed influences whether cortisol or insulin will be produced in the body, which determines whether the sleep hormone melatonin is produced in adequate amounts to induce a deep restful sleep.
Having a large portion of protein with an inadequate amount of carbohydrate for dinner will spike the hormone cortisol to raise blood sugar levels to make up for the lack of glucose in the meal.
High levels of cortisol make you feel more energised and inhibit the production of melatonin.
Low melatonin will cause you to have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep and having a deep restorative sleep.
What we need in the evening is enough carbohydrate to signal the body to release insulin, to keep our blood sugar levels stable while we sleep, so cortisol doesn’t need to be released if our blood sugar levels drop at night (which will reduce melatonin, thereby disrupting sleep – typically around 3am. If you tend to wake at this time every night, it may be due to your blood sugar levels dropping).
When insulin production is high, cortisol is low, allowing melatonin to be produced to induce a state of sleep.
The macronutrient make-up of your dinner plate should look like this:
You may be saying ʻWhoa, Melissa! But I heard carbohydrates make me fat?ʼ. It’s important to know that the quality of carbohydrates and the amount and time they are consumed have a direct influence on how the body utilises them.
The type of carbohydrates I refer to are high quality ʻwhole foodsʼ: vegetables, gluten-free grains (i.e. quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat), legumes, beans and fruit.
In the evening, your muscles are more sensitive to insulin and so will take up the carbohydrates before your fat cells do, which means you will be feeding your muscles and not your fat!
2. Get into theta
Meditation creates a deep state of relaxation through inducing alpha brainwaves – and if you’re in a deep enough meditation – theta brainwaves. Both waves allow our minds and bodies to rest, with theta waves bringing about a more powerfully calm state.
The deep breathing involved in meditation activates our parasympathetic nervous system, signalling to the body it’s time to rest and digest, thus further enhancing our relaxation in body, mind and spirit.
Here’s a simple Mindful Meditation to get started:
The intent of this practice is to bring awareness to the moment to relax and calm the mind and body. This technique simply involves you being mindful and focused on your breath.
Set a timer for 10 minutes to begin with, then work up to 20 minutes, increasing by a few minutes every few days.
- Sit in a comfortable position in a quiet space where you wonʼt be disturbed.
- Relax your eyes and body, whilst bringing your attention to your breath.
- Breathe as you naturally do – simply observe the feeling of your breath filling your lungs and expanding your abdomen, then leaving your body.
- When thoughts come to you (and they will!), release them by imagining them as clouds floating by you, then gently return your focus to your breath.
After your meditation, you may want to write down any thoughts or ideas you had, as often flashes of creativity and inspiration arise from being in a theta state. This process will also clear your mind ready for sleep.
Meditation is a practice that must be cultivated over time. It takes practice to get into the alpha state and you’ll achieve the theta state the longer and deeper your meditations go.
Transcendental Meditation is also a wonderful for getting into theta quickly, and has been shown to increase creativity and brain function.
3. Soak to snooze
This tip has to be my favourite of all night-time routine tips!
You may have heard of Epsom salts before – perhaps your grandmother used them in the evening to relieve muscle aches.
Epsom salts are comprised mostly of Magnesium and Sulphur – minerals that have critical roles in the body. An epsom salt bath prepares you for a deeply relaxing sleep by calming the nervous system, however there are many other benefits to including this regularly into your night-time routine.
Magnesium, often referred to as ‘nature’s valium’, helps relax the nervous system and muscles, reduce stress and inflammation, flush out toxins, improve sleep and concentration, make insulin more effective (great for helping muscles take up glucose from that high carb dinner you had!) among many other roles.
Sulphur is vital for detoxification of toxins which can build up in the body. It also helps to regulate inflammation and keeps skin, hair and nails healthy as it’s a component of keratin and collagen.
One of the most effective ways of absorbing these two nutrients is through the skin, where a higher amount can be absorbed versus when these minerals are taken orally.
Epsom Salt Deep Relaxation Recipe
500g-1kg Epsom Salts (start with 500g)
1-2 drops Lavendar essential oil
- Prepare a warm bath and add the salts and Lavendar oil and mix into the water until the salts dissolve.
- Soak for 20-30 minutes. Instead of using the bathroom light, use candles to create a more relaxing environment.
Aim to have one of these baths 3 times per week for pure relaxation and a deep, dreamy sleep.
4. Donʼt be so blue
Did you know all digital screens (including your phone) emit blue light that mimics sunlight? This blue light signals to our body that its still daytime, which causes melatonin production to be delayed – keeping us feeling awake when we really should be feeling sleepy.
Also, if youʼre watching an action or drama on the tele, this can stimulate our stress response, leading to a surge in cortisol, which as you now know, means melatonin wonʼt be activated to get you feeling sleepy.
Avoid screens from 8pm onwards to allow enough time for your melatonin to be produced.
If you absolutely need to do some work, install the programme f.lux that will change the colour of your screen to block out blue light in the evenings. You can also purchase blue blocker glasses to block out blue light when looking at television or smartphone screens.
Bonus tip: avoid harsh bathroom light when preparing for bedtime by using blue blocker glasses or performing your bathroom routine an hour before sleep.
5. Find the Goldilocks Zone
The temperature of your sleeping environment, and the time and duration that you sleep needs to be right in the Goldilocks zone: not too hot or long, not too cold or short, but juuust right.
You may think you need to sleep in a warm bedroom, yet this can reduce the duration and quality of your sleep.
As the temperature outside becomes cooler at night, our circadian rhythm naturally helps us prepare for this colder climate, using it as a signal that sleep is due. The ideal sleeping temperature is around 18°C – give or take a degree or two, depending on your individual needs.
Timing is super important when it comes to sleep, as your body has a process it needs to go through every night to repair and rejuvenate each of the many hard-working systems and organs in the body.
Each part of the body is repaired at different times of the night. Your adrenal glands, which are critical for the stress response, energy production and hormonal health (among many other roles), repair between 10pm – midnight, so it’s important to sleep during those times.
If you’re going to bed at midnight each night, these glandsʼ functions can become compromised, leading to a host of hormonal imbalances in the body.
In fact, sleep deprivation at this time can bring about adrenal dysfunction long term – leaving you feeling chronically tired and stressed.
Typically, between 10pm and midnight is the time when we sleep most deeply, and it is often said that each hour before midnight that you sleep equates to 2 hours after midnight!
So plan to get to bed at 10pm and aim for at least 7.5 hours sleep. Try this for a few weeks and see how great you feel, and how much more you accomplish in your days!
Extra tip on temperature: A great way to induce sleepiness is to have a warm shower or bath before bed. The drop in temperature signifies to the body that its sleep time. The flowing water also releases negative ions, creating a calm feeling (negative ions are found in nature – hence why nature can be so calming). This effect also happens with an epsom salt bath.
I hope these tips give you many deeply satisfying, refreshing sleeps, happier mornings and energised, productive days!
Melissa is a naturopathic nutritionist and coach who helps exhausted women get their energy back. She consults with people worldwide via the web from her home in Melbourne, Australia.