Sleep is essential for our overall health and wellbeing. Here are the best natural remedies to help you get enough quality shut eye…
We have all experienced difficulty falling asleep, and many people struggle to stay asleep too – but not getting enough shut eye each night can be detrimental to our health and wellbeing. Even a short period of sleep deprivation can cause irritability, memory lapses, cognitive impairment, impaired judgement and inability to focus.
“Poor sleep can have a dramatic effect on our health, with sleep deprivation linked to increased risk of serious medical conditions such as heart disease,” explains Keeley Berry, nutritional expert and NPD executive at BetterYou. “A lack of sleep can also lead to weight gain and prevention of the immune system functioning efficiently, leaving you susceptible to illness. Sleep quality can also have a significant impact on mental wellbeing, affecting our memory, ability to problem-solve and make decisions.”
Sleep is vital for many of the body’s processes, it supports healthy brain function and helps maintain our physical health too. In children and teenagers, it also helps support their growth and development.
“Sleep is important to protect our immune system, rejuvenate cells, allow organs to rest and eliminate toxins from the body and let our brains process the day’s information. Studies have shown that sleeplessness or poor quality sleep can result in frequent colds, aches and pains, irritability, fatigue, anxiety, weight gain, high cholesterol levels and in severe or prolonged cases, heart disease and diabetes,” comments Roz Crompton from Helios Homeopathy.
“During sleep the body performs essential cleansing functions, including in the brain,” explains nutritional therapist Rose Holmes, education and training manager at Rio Health. “Melatonin, the hormone produced and released by the pineal gland (primarily in darkness) plays a very important role in sleep and health. As we age we may produce less melatonin and this may account for sleep problems in older people.
“Disfunction of the circadian clock (body sleep-wake cycle) may contribute to the progression of ageing and age-associated diseases and links are seen between sleep disturbances and the severity of neurodegenerative disorders.
“Melatonin is one of the body’s most important antioxidants and has particular ability to protect the nerves and brain. Sleep deprivation impacts melatonin production. And since melatonin can negatively impact various aspects of metabolism and brain microenvironment, sleep deprivation (via its impact on melatonin production), has a role in neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis, and may be involved in disease progression.
“It is important to get sufficient sleep every night. Ensuring adequate and good quality sleep is a good disease preventative, can beneficially affect the way we look and feel. And it is especially important for cognitive health and healthy ageing.”
Quantity and Quality are Key
Both quantity and quality of sleep are important for health.
“Best practice is to sleep seven to eight hours at night in a dark environment,” advises Holmes. “No lights, remove sources of blue lights from clocks/phones, use blackout curtains and wear eye-shades. Night-shift workers should try to re-create a dark environment.
“Other ways to ensure good sleep hygiene are: keeping the room at slightly cooler temperature, keeping a regular sleep cycle, avoid reading in bed, exercise early in the day rather than in the late afternoon/evening, avoid alcohol before bed, cut down on caffeine and avoid from mid-afternoon, and avoid eating three hours before bedtime.”
Keeley also recommends creating a regular bedtime routine: “Aim to establish a bedtime routine that begins 40 minutes to an hour before you hope to be asleep, to give yourself the best chance of a restful slumber. This time should be used to wind down after the day and should include as little use of technology as possible – that means switching off your smart phone!”
If you do struggle to fall asleep, Hans Vriens from Snoooze suggests trying breathing exercises – he also says it’s important to wake up at the same time every day: “Do a breathing or relaxation exercise when you get into bed and if you cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and return to another space in the house to do a relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music.
“Wake up at the same time every day. Even if you have a hard time falling asleep and feel tired in the morning, try to get up at the same time (weekends included). This can help adjust your body’s clock and aid in falling asleep at night.”
There are a number of natural remedies that can help. Holmes recommends trying lavender oil, plus tinctures of chamomile and valerian root: “Lavender oil can be used in the bedroom, either in a diffuser or sprayed onto bedding. Tinctures of chamomile flowers or valerian root may help. These herbs are well known for their ability to support sleep and to reduce anxiety – which can sometimes be the initiating cause of sleep problems and is almost always a factor when sleep problems become an issue.”
Magnesium deficiency has also been known to impact sleep cycles. Keeley explains: “A key nutrient, magnesium relaxes the muscles by stimulating the GABA receptors in the brain. When GABA levels are low, your brain can get stuck in the ‘on’ position and it becomes difficult to relax and fall asleep.
“Taking a relaxing warm bath with magnesium flakes or applying a magnesium lotion, gel or oil spray directly to the skin is a simple step that can be added to your daily routine in a bid to improve sleep quality. Supplementing through the skin is an effective way to increase your body’s magnesium levels without the need for tablets or capsules.”
Karen Davis, Westlab pharmacist and salt specialist, also recommends a magnesium bath: “Whilst an evening bath time ritual can help you to relax and reflect on the day, a magnesium-rich bath has further health benefits to help you emerge feeling exceptionally calm, clear-headed and sleepy. Magnesium is an important mineral that is used in an amazing 300 reactions in the body, such as regulating blood pressure, aiding digestion, relaxing muscles which may help conditions where muscle tension is an issue; for example preventing a migraine.
“Magnesium flakes help to bring magnesium into body through the skin by a process called transdermal absorption. Magnesium is required by body for a number of processes including helping with relaxation and sleep.”
Crompton suggests regular exercise, plus time to relax: “Studies have shown that regular exercise releases endorphins that help combat stress and aid relaxation. Daily regular exercise promotes sleep. Also, wind down and make time for yourself – it is essential to be in a relaxed state before bed and not over-stimulated. Have a warm bath with essential oils of lavender, Roman chamomile and sweet marjoram, plus read a book or listen to the radio to relax/distract the mind.”