How do you get better sleep?

Sleep problems are extremely common these days and once one looks at the things that one can do to help, it becomes clear that the average lifestyle is not at all conducive to a good night’s sleep.  That said, there are many different reasons why we don’t sleep and it is a case of trail and error until you find what works for you.

We often take sleeping for granted but quality sleep is essential for maintaining health of the body and in particular of the immune system.

Cats don’t seem to have any problems sleeping

One could view the immune system as a housekeeper, keeping everything clean and organised and in working order, and noticing when parts need repairing too. It does a great deal more than fighting bugs. Most of the bodily repair processes are part of the immune processes and take place at night, during sleep. They are affected by the thyroid hormone, which controls metabolism, and by cortisol, which is produced by stress.  The body produces more cortisol during the day to deal with stresses and then thyroid hormone at night to drive the repair processes. When these hormones are out of balance and there is too much cortisol around at night we may not sleep well, the repair processes are compromised, and detoxification of cells does not take place. Over a long period of poor sleep our tissue toxins levels can rise giving rise to inflammation processes and our immune function is depressed. Sleep is essential for immunity. This is why we need to sleep or at least to rest when we are ill. If we continue working when we are ill, the body never has the chance to completely recover from a virus infection, like a cold, and we may ‘catch’ one cold after another throughout the winter. If stress levels remain high then we won’t sleep well, repair cells, and our immune functions become compromised resulting in  ill health and disease.

For good sleep we need to find ways of relaxing and de-stressing.

Ensure you have a regular bedtime routine that prepares you for sleep.
Spend some time during the day, in quiet relaxation and meditation
Take saunas and steam baths before bed
Have baths with Epsom salts or lavender oil before bed
Try a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow or use a lavender herb pillow
Exercise reguarly
Try stress busting techniques
Take Hot and Cold showers for waking up in the morning to help set your body clock
Use Lavender pillows or put lavender oil drops on your pillow.
Correct your breathing so it is deep belly breathing. (Breathing in the upper part of the chest stimulates the stress response and the release of cortisol)
Avoid stimulants such as tea, coffee and chocolate in the evening.
It may help instead to have a small bowl of porridge as this is calming. Lettuce has soporific qualities and so could be incorporated into the evening meal.
Avoid TV but especially news, thrillers, violence and stressful content. Wildlife programmes and other items that are uplifting are ok.

Avoid all TV, computer, tablet and phone screens in the last hour or two before bed (except ones like kindle paperweight that do not omit much light at you).
Keep light levels low – use side lights and lamps. Avoid looking at bright lights at night.
Listen to relaxing music or relaxation tapes.

If you wake during the night and have difficulty getting back to sleep try:
to count your breathes up to 21 and back to 1, and while counting concentrate on slowing the breath and breathing deeply. Sometimes if one wakes in the night it is because the thyroid or adrenals have woken up and increased the heart rate. By slowing it down again, it gives a message to go back to sleep mode.

Herbal supplements such as Hops, Passiflora, and Valarian can help.  Also Calms, available from your health food shop are good.
Try Avea Sativa from Weleda
Try Pukka Herbs Nighttime tea, or other brands of night-time tea.

Some people find that even the tiniest amount of spicy food will make them feel wired at night and stop them getting to sleep for hours, despite feeling tired. Alcohol can also cause this despite it being a relaxant. Avoid all spicy food for a week, including chilli, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, zartar, black pepper, curry powder, 5 spice mixture etc. Sometimes the ‘wired’ buzz can extend to a buzzing or tinnitus in the ears.

If these suggestions do not work for you then the problem needs addressing at its root. Hormone imbalances and inflammatory processes may need to be addresses before good sleep patterns can be established.  If you can’t find a solution to your sleep problem then consult a nutritional therapist for more help.

Let me know what has worked for you!


About Helen Cranston

Helen works as a Nutritonal Therapist at Cotswold Health Centre and occasionally at Penny Brohn Cancer Care. She also works as Coordinator of Green and Away and as Educational Development Manager for the Makhad Trust.
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