We spend between 25-30 years of our live sleeping. There is not a single biological function that wouldn’t benefit from a good night sleep. In fact, sleep is more important than healthy diet and exercise. Whether you want to lose weight, become more resilient to stress, achieve better sport performance or to improve your gut health – optimising your sleep would be one of the top priorities on your health journey.
Both quantity and quality of sleep count.
- Quantity – Aim to sleep between 7-9h per night. Some people with certain genetical predisposition can get away with less sleep, but they are a minority.
- Quality – Every night we are cycling through 5 phases of sleep and how much time we spend in each of them underlies the sleep quality.
1. Wakefulness – 2-5% of sleep
- On average lasts up to 7 min.
- Transition between being awake and the light sleep.
- Brain produces alpha and theta waves.
2. Light sleep – c.50% of sleep
- The longest phase preparing us to enter the deep sleep.
- Increase in brain wave frequency – “sleep spindles”
3 & 4. Deep sleep – 13-23% of sleep
- Occurs in longer periods during the first half of the night.
- The most rejuvenating and restorative phase.
- The brain produces slow delta waves.
- Promotes tissues repairs and waste removal in the brain.
- Hormones that aid appetite control are released.
5. Rapid Eye Movement (“REM”) – 20-25% of sleep
- The most re-energising for your mind. The brain is bursting with activity.
- Associated with dreaming, memory consolidation, learning, and problem solving.
- First occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep.
- The time spent in REM phase usually decreases with age.
SCINCE-BASED TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP
If you think that your sleep is good, but in the morning you aren’t feeling restful, then likely your sleep phases aren’t optimal.
If you struggle to fall or stay asleep, or if you aren’t spending enough time in the most restorative sleep phase, then there are certain techniques you could try:
In the morning
- Sunlight exposure upon waking for melatonin regulation
- Try going outside shortly after waking up
- In a winter invest in a light box and expose to the light for 30 min
During the day
- Avoid coffee 8h before bed (after 2pm)
- Avoid alcohol 3h before bed
- Avoid exercising 4h before bed
In the evening
- Limit bright & blue light – dimming the light, wearing blue light blocking glasses if working late on a computer, putting the night filter on a phone.
- Regular bed time
- A warm relaxing bath with lavender oil
- At least 10 minutes meditation or deep breathing practice to stimulate your vagus nerve
- Avoid electronic devices 2h before bed
- Avoid eating 2h before bed
During the night
- Ensure your bedroom is pitch-black (invest in good blinds, no lights during the night, wearing a sleep mask, if necessary)
- Keep the room temperature at 18-19°C
Optimising your circadian rhythms and stress management are two crucial points to address if you are looking to achieve better sleep. The stress and the sleep have bidirectional connection: the worse your sleep is, the higher stress load you have and, vice versa, a high physical and emotional stress could trigger sleep issues.
There are a number of different supplements (herbs, mushrooms, amino acids, minerals, vitamins) that could be considered for sleep issues. They include:
1. Sedative herbs
These would help you fall asleep. They are usually taken before bed as may cause drowsiness:
- Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) – could be taken as tea
- Hops (Humulus lupulus)
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – try a bath with a high quality lavender oil
- Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
- Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata)
Adaptogens are herbs & mushrooms which help to “adapt” to stress (hence the name). They work through affecting brain chemistry and alleviating physical and mental stress. There are many types of adaptogens and often they work in synergy. Professional supplementation formulas usually include multiple adaptogens, sometimes with some minerals or amino-acids.
Some of the herbal adaptogens:
- Panax ginseng
- Rhodiola rosea
- Gingko biloba
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
- Holy Basil (Tulsi) – could be taken as tea
- Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
- Rehmannia glutinosa
- Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) – balances cortisol effect, but may also raise blood pressure
- Medicinal mushrooms, such as cordyceps, reishi, lion’s mane – I use a lot of them in practice as they have multiple benefits.
3. Minerals & amino acids
Other nutrients, such as amino acids, minerals and vitamins could help with sleep are:
- Magnesium glycinate
- GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) – a neurotransmitter which have calming effects
- Taurine – an activator of GABA receptors in the brain
- Glutamine – a precursor amino-acid of GABA
- Glycine – an amino-acid found helpful for sleep disorders
- L-theanine – an amino acid found in tea leaves
Please note that while adaptogens are relatively safe, they still may cause side effects in sensitive individuals. An optimal supplementation and doses should be advised by an experienced practitioner.
If you have some issues with sleep you can book a 15 min complimentary discovery call to discuss how I can help.
In good health,