How to get a better night's sleep naturally
A lack of sleep can leave the body and mind feeling exhausted, creating anxiety and stress. But even if you get to bed on time, it's not always as easy as simply closing your eyes and drifting off.
Fear not, our Herbal Education Specialist answers common questions about sleep and explores little changes we can all make to our daily routine and night time rituals to help get a much better night's rest.
Why is sleep so important?
It's important to remember that our bodies carry out a huge amount of vital tasks each day to keep us happy, healthy and ultimately alive. As we drift off each night, sleep is an opportunity for our body to be able to:
- Help repair damaged cells
- Give our immune systems a boost
- Recover from the day’s activities
- Recharge your heart and cardiovascular system
Why can’t I sleep?
There are many reasons why we may not be getting the sleep we need. Lifestyle, environmental and emotional factors have a role to play and medical conditions too.
Trying to sleep when worried is difficult, and sleep anxiety is often associated with too much of the wrong sort of stress during the day.
21st-century stressors are impacting our sleep and relaxation before bed. Stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, high-intensity training and electronic devices will impact the quality and quantity of your sleep.
We are also starting to understand the effects of blue light from screens on melatonin levels. Melatonin plays a central role in telling your body when it’s time to go to sleep.
Top tip: Minimise mental activity in the evening. Try to avoid working, doing life admin or sending those long text messages/emails just before bed. Give your brain a break and time to prepare for sleep. Those messages can wait and they’ll be a lot better when you’re less tired too!
How much sleep do I need?
This depends on a few things, the kind of person you are, how old you are and what is a normal sleep time for your family. We need an average of 7-8 hours of sleep each night but some people need 4 whilst others need 10. You will know what is enough for you by how refreshed you feel.
What is deep sleep?
Research suggests that we sleep in cycles and there are two main types of sleep.
- NREM - (non-rapid eye movement) also referred to as deep sleep which governs most of the first half of the night. It is thought this is the most critical part of the sleep cycle for physical repair when the body repairs and regenerates tissues, builds bone and muscle and strengthens the immune system.
- REM - (rapid eye movement) also known as dream sleep. Most of the second half of the night is dominated by REM sleep. Essential for a variety of functions including emotional and mental health.
Do I need a strict regime to get a good night’s sleep?
Not really, a nighttime ritual is something that should be really savoured. Think of little habits that can help calm the body and mind before bed. Try running a warm bath infused with Epsom salts and soothing herbs, or snuggle up with a cup of Night Time tea. Keep noise and electronic stimulation to a minimum and dim the lights for an hour or so before bed to help your body and mind relax ahead of sleep.
Should I completely avoid caffeine?
That’s not necessary but its probably best to not have more than two caffeinated drinks a day and none after lunchtime if you want to get a good night’s sleep. Matcha tea is also a great, healthy alternative for your daily coffee fix.
What should I eat and drink to help me sleep better?
Foods rich in a natural chemical known as tryptophan can help support the body’s circadian rhythms and help you sleep better. These include foods such as oats and oat flowers, dates, pumpkin and sunflower seeds but also natural proteins.
Herbs that help to relax the nervous system or influence a slight sedative action can also help smooth out any residual tension leftover from the day.
What sleeping remedies could I take?
Many conventional sleeping tablets for insomnia such as benzodiazepines and tricyclic anti-depressants actually inhibit REM [Rapid eye movement] sleep and should only ever be used short-term.
Natural relaxants such as plant-based supplements like Pukka Herbs’ Night Time capsules will help to relax a restless body and mind as well as encourage undisturbed and refreshing sleep. The key ingredient in Pukka’s Night Time capsules and Night Time tea is valerian.
Valerian is a strong nervine and sedative to the central nervous system relaxing tense muscles whilst also encouraging an undisturbed sleep, healthy sleeping pattern and relieve stress.
Valerian is known to help support the following:
- Promotes relaxation through enhancement of GABA neurotransmission [the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the adult brain]
- Relaxes the heart treating palpitations, tightness and high blood pressure
- Reduces the time to sleep onset [the time it takes you to get to sleep] and improves the quality of sleep
- It can also help with withdrawal from conventional medications used to treat insomnia.