Sleep rebuilds us and keeps us young. High-quality sleep fortifies our immune system, balances hormones, boosts metabolism, increases physical energy and improves brain function. But, like everything else in life, sleep patterns change as you age.
“Sleep is an emotional issue,” says The Sleep Geek, James Wilson, “and, while you often get more sensitive to the effects of caffeine and alcohol as you age, you’ve also weathered the worst of the yo-yo hormonal issues around chaotic sleep, life is stable and you have a consistent bedtime routine, so your sleep may actually improve.”
And even if you are one of the 50 per cent of Britons with insomnia, you can learn to sleep better.
“Even poor sleepers can improve by getting into the right routine, eating well, exercising mildly and having a relaxing pre-bed routine,” says James.
And that means one that is tailored for you. “I find that couples are often attracted to their opposite sleep type, so my advice is not to fight your owl or lark tendencies, but to find a rhythm that works for you.”
He also advises not getting anxious on nights when sleep isn’t forthcoming.
“Get out of bed and start your relax routine again – you’ll eventually get drowsy.”
The science of sleep
In his book Why We Sleep, neuroscientist Matthew Walker says we should aim for eight hours’ quality sleep each night.
We sleep in cycles of roughly 90 minutes, during which the brain flushes out metabolic by-products including a protein called beta amyloid – thought to be a major factor in Alzheimer’s.
Why do so many of us have sleep disorders?
Walker believes the West is experiencing an “epidemic of sleeplessness”,caused by work patterns, drinking too much caffeine and alcohol, and our fondness for gadgets – known to interfere with the production of sleep hormone melatonin.
There’s no doubt that a balanced diet helps us fight stress, helping our bodies relax. Omega-3 fatty acids, tryptophan and some carbohydrates reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), thus helping our bodies prepare for a good night’s sleep.
The most common sleep disorders
- Sleep apnea
- Sleep paralysis
- Night sweats
Natural sleep remedies
Mario Rauter of Simba Mattresses advises the following
- Make your bedroom a haven and remove any clutter.
- Think before you make that last cuppa – caffeine sipped at 5pm will still be in your system at 10pm.
- Try four early nights a week – pre-midnight sleep is deeply restorative.
- Check your tog rating – your body cools down by 1-2°C during the night while you sleep, so it’s important that your mattress and bedding don’t keep you hot.
Cure insomnia by changing your diet
- Oily fish for vital omega-3 fatty acids
- Lean meat a source of b12 and b6
- Dairy rich in calcium and b12
- Eggs provide a great source of tryptophan and b12
- Nuts, seeds and legumes provide tryptophan, b6, and magnesium
- Green leafy vegetables contain magnesium and folate
- Wholegrains full of complex carbohydrates and magnesium
- Fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi and komboucha promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria
Written by Jane Druker