The optimum amount of sleep is around 7 hours for adults but for many of us that seems like an impossible goal. But with sleep being vital for our physical and mental health, what can we do to get a better night’s sleep?
1. Eat right to sleep tight
Poor sleep can arise due to a dysfunction of the gut and its microbiome. The microbiome is all the microbes living on your body at one point in time and is often referred to as the second brain. This is due to its extensive effects on a large proportion of the rest of your body from the immune system to digestion and even mental health – those microbes are pretty clever if you ask me! If you want to find out more about this check out ‘Think you’re human. Your microbiome disagrees?’.
Your sleep-regulating circadian rhythms are constantly chatting to your gut microbiome via the gut-brain axis and through this communication, one is able to affect the other. As a result, maintaining a functioning, diverse, and healthy gut microbiome could be the key to better sleep. The RYH course provides an excellent plan of recipes specifically designed for a healthy gut and so help improve poor sleep.
Specific foods recommended for better sleep include:
- Contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps make serotonin and melatonin – important chemicals for a better night’s sleep
- Good source of magnesium which is thought to reduce the stress hormone cortisol that disrupts sleep. Magnesium also reduces gut inflammation.
- Contain melatonin, an important sleep hormone
- Contains serotonin which helps regulate your sleep cycle
- Contains antioxidants that reduce gut inflammation
Tart whole cherries/juice
- Have a high melatonin content
- High in magnesium and calcium
- Rich in melatonin
- They are most beneficial in porridge, combining them with milk provides a good source of tryptophan.
2. Exercise to help fall asleep faster
I’m sure we can all think of a time where we’ve felt exhausted after a long day of physical activity, perhaps after gardening or a day of putting up the Christmas decorations (and the bickering that comes with it!), and then had an amazing night’s sleep. Various studies reveal regular exercise is a great way to help adults sleep better1. This is particularly useful for those suffering from sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea and insomnia.
It’s best to stick to morning or afternoon workouts as exercising late in the evening can mean you take longer to fall asleep. According to research published in the journal Current Biology2, the specific time at which exercise is best for us is dependent on our specific circadian rhythms. This means we all peak at different times of the day. It is therefore important to check in with your internal body clock if you want to feel fully rested. Making the effort to stick to a routine with your sleep schedule will do wonders for your sleep quality, so try to get up, exercise, and go to bed at similar times each day.
3. Power off: Blue light = poor sleep
It can be hard to resist a quick Instagram or Facebook scroll before bed, but that late night movie could be ruining your attempts at getting a better night’s sleep. The blue lights from screens and devices inhibits the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep, tricking your body into thinking it’s still daytime. So, it’s recommended to get as much natural light during the day3 and avoid looking at screens for two to three hours before bed.
4. Kick the caffeine if you want a better night’s sleep
Despite some of its other health benefits, we all already know that a coffee before bed isn’t the best way to get a great night’s sleep, so forgo the beautiful bean at least six hours before bedtime (sorry coffee lovers!). Not only this but chronic coffee consumption can alter your microbiome which has further negative effects on your sleep quality. Also remember that chocolate and fizzy drinks can also contain caffeine, so giving these a miss will help too.
If it’s the flavour you like, or the comfort of a warm drink in the morning and during a break, switching out caffeinated coffee for alternatives is a great option. This can be easy to do by swapping your normal coffee for the decaffeinated kind or even getting a little adventurous with some herbal teas – ginger for example is an oldie but a goodie, but if you’re feeling brave try something like liquorice and peppermint or even turmeric!
If you are using coffee to get over the mid-afternoon slump, it may be worth considering changes to your diet and other lifestyle factors, so you feel energised throughout the day without the need for stimulants that affect your sleep. Consider the RYH plan: people who have done so feel energised, sleep much better and have found they no longer crave coffee.
5. Take a nap to reduce tiredness
Still struggling to get a better night’s sleep, even after trying all these tips? Well then, a nap could be the key to increasing your alertness and helping you get through the day. Now, napping may be dismissed as the pastime of babies and household pets, but it can actually be hugely beneficial. A study by NASA found that a 40 minute nap improved the alertness of both military pilots and astronauts by 100%4. So now’s your chance to revert back to the habits of your childhood and boost your energy levels!
So, try a few or all of these different tips to start getting better sleep and don’t forget to take a look at the RYH plan as well – a great way to help improve poor sleep simply by eating foods that keep your gut healthy.
1. Kline CE. The Bidirectional Relationship Between Exercise and Sleep: Implications for Exercise Adherence and Sleep Improvement. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2014;
2. Wright KP, McHill AW, Birks BR, Griffin BR, Rusterholz T, Chinoy ED. Entrainment of the human circadian clock to the natural light-dark cycle. Curr Biol. 2013;
3. Cajochen C, Frey S, Anders D, et al. Evening exposure to a light-emitting diodes (LED)-backlit computer screen affects circadian physiology and cognitive performance. J Appl Physiol. 2011;
4. Graeber R, Rosekind M, Connell L, Dinges D. Cockpit napping. ICAO Journal. 1990;