Sleep On It: A night-time routine for better sleep
Filling up on a big bowl of pasta at 8:30pm, then binge-watching a few episodes of your latest box set and spending your last waking minutes having a cheeky scroll through Instagram. Does this sound like you?
We’re all guilty of having some less-than-perfect routines, but what we do and when we do it in the evenings can seriously mess up our sleep. And poor sleep means a rubbish morning.
‘Modern man is a knackered ape,’ says nutritional therapist Patrick Holford, author of The Stress Cure (Piatkus, £14.99). ‘The key to having a good day is seven to eight undisturbed hours, and the quality of the sleep makes a big difference.’
If we’re talking women specifically – we rank far lower on the sleepy stakes, with over half blaming stress or worry. Which is bad news for our bodies, minds – even waistlines, with loads of research linking poor sleep to conditions like anxiety, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Read more: Why sleep is a feminist issue
The good news is a few tweaks in your day-to-day routine can massively improve the quality of your slumber time. Give our expert-backed night-time routine for better sleep a go.
7pm – Eat to sleep
‘Your biggest meal should be lunch, followed by a smaller dinner in the early evening,’ explains Sebastian Pole, co-founder and master herbsmith at Pukka, ‘So you have time to digest it before bed.’
But what you eat is just as important as when. ‘If you go to bed with low blood sugar, it may dip, which can cause an adrenaline surge to wake you up in the early hours,’ explains Holford. ‘Beans, pulses, all those veggie proteins, are great for stabilising your blood sugar, and helping you have a more restful sleep,’ he suggests. Try this broad bean tortilla recipe.
8pm – All systems: gone
‘Avoid using phones, laptops and TVs just before bed as too much stimulation at night can make your body tense and stressed,’ says Pole. ‘This reaction will produce hormones in the body that are not conducive to a good night’s sleep.’
And we mean OFF off, not blinking in the corner of your bedroom. ‘The standby lights on computers, chargers and other electronic devices will delay the release of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin,’ Pole explains.
8.30pm – Create your sleepy environment
Great sleep doesn’t just happen. It needs proper planning, and a calming, sedative environment. ‘Have your bedroom just for sleeping,’ says Holford. ‘Don’t watch the news or anything that will ramp up your adrenaline, read a book in reduced light, listen to some soothing music – whatever helps you.’
And be wise about your cuppa: swap any caffeinated – it’s called English Breakfast for a reason – for blends that help you unwind. ‘Look for teas with lavender, lime, oat and camomile such as Pukka Night Time tea which will prepare you for a deeper, restful sleep and refreshed awakening,’ adds Pole.
9.30pm – Regress
For baby-like sleep, treat yourself as such. ‘Make a cup of hot spiced almond milk immediately before you go to bed to help nourish your whole body,’ says Pole. For top marks, he suggests supplementing with the ancient ayurvedic herb ashwagandha.
Makes one cup
1 small cup almond milk
1 pinch nutmeg
5 strands cardamom pods
Slowly heat all of the ingredients in a pan, adding a teaspoon of honey to taste, if you’re after something sweet.
9.45pm – Don’t procrastinate from sleep
‘Aim to be in bed by 9.45pm at the latest so you are well on your way to a deep sleep by 10pm,’ says Pole. ‘While your sleep will be relatively light in the early hours of the night, as it gets closer to the morning light you will enter a deeper and more restorative sleep cycle.’
Late nights disrupt these REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycles, during which your body makes new neurotransmitters including feel-good serotonin and dopamine. ‘It’s worth forcing yourself to get to bed at 10 to wake up at 6:30 full of energy,’ says Holford. Lacking the self discipline to get under the covers? Set a gentle alarm to remind you to stop re-organizing your wardrobe and get in the sleepy zone.
Got any more sleepy-time tips to rival our experts? Tweet and tell us @healthymag using #SleepOnIt