The Sleep Series- Part 1
Updated: Jan 29, 2021
“I just need more sleep”.
I don’t know how many times I’ve said this over the past 4 or so years. Due to two small children, I have been chronically under slept for a long time now. I have full sympathy for anyone not getting enough sleep for any reason outside of their control. Perhaps you suffer from insomnia, anxiety, restless leg syndrome or sleep apnoea or perhaps you’re a shift worker, or maybe, like me you have been blessed with children who need a lot of attention during the night. All of these things can add up to you not getting enough sleep and feeling the effects and WOW it certainly has some big impacts on your life.
Chronic sleep deprivation is the absolute pits and ironically it ends up leading you into dietary and lifestyle choices that only put fuel on the fire (coffee, lack of exercise, poor nutrition etc). That said, even if your diet is great and you’re able to get some exercise in, your health will still suffer if you’re not getting enough sleep. I know, stop screaming at the screen, I feel your frustration.
So, what to do?
I guess first and foremost it’s important that you address any sleep related health conditions like sleep apnoea, restless legs syndrome, thyroid conditions, iron levels etc. Your GP is probably the best place to start here to ensure you can get some adequate testing done. Then you can use your results to build a plan with your GP and alternative health practitioner.
If your lack of sleep is out of your control then I guess the next thing to do is accept it. Sometimes I find this helps a lot. Just accepting that I am tired and knowing that one day it will be better and when it is, I will be so very grateful for the rest that I’m getting! I have also found it helpful to think of sleep over the course of a week rather than just reflecting on one night. If you can’t get great sleep every night that’s ok, because you can do your best to make up for it another night or by napping in the day.
Here are some tips and tricks that might help you to at least get better quality sleep, even if the quantity isn’t quite there:
Get some morning light and preferably morning exercise whenever you can. Sunshine directly into your eyes (without sunglasses) helps to set the bodies circadian rhythm which basically signals to your brain that it’s day time and it’s time to be awake. Exercising in the morning will wake you up and support your nervous system for the rest of the day. Also aim to get as much natural light as you can during the day.
Try to avoid overstimulating yourself on caffeine or other stimulants. It can be so tempting to get through the day on coffee, but trust me you’re only going to pay for it later and it can lead to huge adrenal issues that can take a long time to correct. Try to limit yourself to one shot of espresso coffee per day and make sure you are consuming it after breakfast and before lunch.
Speaking of breakfast and lunch- eat them! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve got to about 3pm in the afternoon in a total slump only to realise that I forget to have a proper lunch (protein + fat + carb). I’ve been so busy feeding the kids and getting them to sleep (again!) that I forget to fuel myself and then wonder why I have no energy.
Avoid artificial light at night. Once the sun starts to go down, so should your lights in the house. Dimmers or lamps are great as you can lower the light as the evening approaches. I’m also a fan of blue blocking glasses- especially if you’re going to look at a screen. Just like the sunshine helps you to wake up in the morning, darkness helps you to feel sleepy at night.
Utilise herbal medicines and supplements that promote good health and quality sleep. Correcting nutrient deficiencies can really help here. A well absorbed magnesium is a life saver when it comes to anxiety, muscle spasms and digestive health. Herbal medicines can also be extremely effective to promote both sleep onset (falling asleep at the beginning of the night), sleep maintenance (staying asleep during the night) and aiding a more restorative sleep.
Ok I get it, you're eyes are getting heavy and your brain is turning mushy....Stay tuned for part two of this “Sleep Series” where I will delve into the herbs and how they can help you get to sleep, stay asleep and wake refreshed.