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Sleep: Are you getting enough?

Without enough sleep, you create an uphill battle for your health. How much sleep you get, and the quality of it matters even more than you probably realise, and not getting enough shut eye is enough to sabotage your health and make any health goals you might have much harder – if not impossible. When we are young it may feel that we can burn the candle at both ends. As we push on into our Prime Years – where career or a young family take priority, our lack of quality sleep can become the norm. Move on into middle age, and our hormones can create even more disruption to our sleep patterns as we battle with hot flushes and wakefulness. So how much is our lack of sleep sabotaging our health?

Sleep and weight are intimately related. The hormone Ghrelin which makes you feel full after eating is suppressed so not only are you are likely to eat more, you are also likely to lose sight of what is a healthy choice. Lousy sleep makes your body crave a quick energy fix, so those high-carb, starchy foods suddenly look very appealing. Lack of sleep on a consistent basis will mean that you eventually weigh more and your attempts to lose weight become more difficult. Scientists now know that if you are consistently sleep deprived, that is surviving on less than seven and a half hours of good sleep per night, then you’re not going to be functioning at your best, focusing properly or thinking creatively.

Lack of sleep is one major stress to our body. It’s a vicious cycle whereby stress creates stress hormones which mess with your sleep, and lack of sleep creates more stress hormones! It’s a good reason to take the time to unwind before hitting the sack. Cortisol, one of your main stress hormones, should follow a specific pattern throughout the day, starting off with a peak in the morning to get you out of bed and gradually tailing off towards evening time so that you feel sleepy. However, stress creates more of this which may lead to cortisol levels being high come night-time. Typically, this would leave you feeling tired but absolutely exhausted, and then your head is buzzing when you hit the pillow. Not exactly the recipe for a good nights sleep.

​The more stressed your body is by lack of sleep, the more sensitive your body becomes to insulin (the fat-storage hormone), which contributes to weight gain. It is a double whammy, as and this in turn exacerbates hormonal symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats.

During the perimenopause, the run up to menopause, night sweats are also caused by caused by falling levels of oestrogen. Oestrogen also allows your body to better use the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin, which is the precursor to the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin. During menopause oestrogen levels fall steadily, and progesterone falls off a cliff. This is a problem for women because progesterone helps you fall asleep faster and experience fewer disruptions to your sleep.

So what can we do to improve our quality of sleep?

  • Try to go to bed at the same time every day. Your body thrives on routine.

  • Keep the temperature in your bedroom comfortable; not too hot, nor too cold.

  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex. This may help you completely switch off.

  • Keep the bedroom completely dark, so you’re not disturbed by light, which your brain detects even when your eyes are closed. Eye masks can be useful.

  • Spend time outdoors to soak up the sun.

  • There is evidence that regular exercise improves restful sleep. This includes stretching and aerobic exercise. Include some gentle exercise, like a brisk walk every day.

  • Relax for at least 5 minutes before going to bed – a warm bath, massage, meditation.

  • Keep your smart phone out of the bedroom.

  • Work out how much sleep you need by going to bed 15 minutes earlier until you find that you wake up naturally before your alarm. That’s your personal sleep requirement.

Things to avoid:

  • Don’t engage in stimulating activities, like an important conversation, a tense film or maybe even watching the news.

  • Avoid using smartphones and tablets which emit blue light and can interfere with sleep hormone production.

  • Make sure that you are not eating within 4 hours of bedtime.

  • Don’t drink caffeine after lunchtime. This includes coffee, ‘normal’ and green tea

  • Alcohol can make your sleep more disturbed.

  • Avoid going to bed too hungry.

  • Try to avoid daytime naps.

  • Try not to get frustrated if you can’t sleep. Go to bed in a positive mood – “I will sleep tonight”.

I invite you to put sleep at the top of your priority list this week and see what a difference it can make. Sleep and nutrition are of course intertwined, so for further help, book in for a free chat with Marianne Andrews. Just click here.

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