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By Hannah Bullimore

Circadian Rhythm

The Circadian Rhythm is a system which uses the sun and other natural time signifiers to tell us when to do certain things – for example, rising with the sun, going to bed at dusk, eating our largest meal in the middle of the day.

This natural rhythm harnesses the light from the sun to ensure we sleep well and that we naturally rise at the right time. Imagine hundreds of years ago when there was no electricity but lots of work to be done. The body would naturally wake as the sun rose because there was no artificial light to disturb its brightness. Additionally, there was no blue light from computers and televisions to trick the brain into producing melatonin – the sleep hormone – at the wrong time.

Back in those days as the sun began to set and the light darkened, the brain would begin to produce melatonin, signalling to the body and mind it was time to sleep. As we spend time indoors with electric lights and televisions, this process no longer happens in the same way and has led to many of us struggling to sleep.

What happens when I don’t sleep properly?

Insomnia isn’t just inconvenient, long-term sleep problems can also have some shocking effects on our health.

There is an important relationship between your immune system and the amount of good quality sleep you get each night. This means that if you suffer from insomnia you are more likely to experience health problems.

A study by the European Heart Journal, also found that both too little and too much sleep can increase your chances of coronary heart disease. Anything over nine hours is considered too much and anything less than 5 is considered too little.

As well as these health problems, with too little sleep you might also find your memory and thinking power are diminished and you begin to gain weight as your metabolism becomes sluggish.

Routine

A great place to start to improve sleep is with a regular routine. This is both more important and more difficult during quarantine – when there’s no work to go to, waking up before eleven can feel like an impossible task!

Start by keeping an eye on what your routine is at the moment, say you go to sleep at 1:00 and wake at 11:00, then start by shifting those times back half an hour for one week. Then, continue by half an hour each week until you are sleeping and rising at times that work for you. Ideally going to bed at 23:00 and waking at 7:00.

Another important part of your routine to consider is diet. Eating at regular times will help to regulate your blood sugar and this is another key way the body knows when it is time to go to sleep. Some simple ways to ensure your diet isn’t stopping you from sleeping are:

  • Eating at regular times each day.
  • Avoiding sugary foods in the few hours before you go to sleep.
  • Keeping hydrated throughout the day.
  • Consider eating your largest meal at lunchtime, rather than on an evening.

Exercise

We all know it’s good for us and it’s pretty essential to a good night’s sleep. After all, if you’re not getting enough exercise your body isn’t going to feel tired enough to sleep properly.

Consider getting some gentle exercise into every day, this doesn’t have to be a work out in your (home) gym, it could be a walk, an online yoga class or going for a jog with the help of our beginner’s guide.

Exercise has been proven to improve aches and pains, lower levels of anxiety and even depression, meaning that it can also really help you to settle down for a great night’s sleep.

Herbal Remedies and Supplements

It’s always best to speak to your GP before trying any new health supplements if insomnia is causing you a real problem.

Once you’re sure that supplements are something you want to try, here are some of the ones we’ve tested and recommend.

Cherry Capsules

Cherries are naturally high in melatonin and so can help the body to prepare for sleep. They are a great alternative to melatonin tablets which are only available on prescription in the UK. We also tried cherry juice concentrate which did the job but wasn’t pleasant to drink. Instead, we prefer the Cherry Max 750mg Capsules which give a high dosage of cherry. You take these tablets an hour before bed and after a few nights, we did see a difference in our ability to fall asleep.

Kalms Night

This traditional herbal remedy is mainly made of Valerian Root which has been used for hundreds of years to promote good sleep. We found that after a few nights these did help me to sleep although, from reviews, the effects don’t last long term. There are a few buying options but we found the best value is the One A Night capsule, rather than taking up to five tablets in one night. 

Lighting

Blue light can be a huge problem for insomniacs, as can getting the lighting right when you sleep. For some, complete darkness is necessary to nod off and for others, a little light can ease anxiety. If you go from bright full lighting while you read or watch TV and then turn the light off, there can be an adjustment period that slows down our ability to sleep and leaves us staring into the darkness, wishing morning would arrive.

The Lumie light is promoted to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder as it mimics sunrise and sunset even in winter. The gentle movement from light to dark is very soothing and perfect for gradually going to sleep but it’s gentle waking up also means you don’t jolt awake, but instead wake slowly with a touch of light to remind your brain it is time to wake up.

Essential Oils and Pampering

You might be sceptical that the right bubble bath or essential oil can help you to sleep well, but these pampering products are part of a great sleep routine.

Lavender has been used for hundreds of years to promote restful sleep and I find it really helps me to relax before sleep. Drop a little lavender oil around your bed or try bathing in the L’Occitane Lavender Foaming Bath, applying the Lavender Body Lotion and spraying some of the Relaxing Pillow Mist before getting into bed. All of these things create a relaxing atmosphere that is perfect for sleeping.

Seeking medical advice

A noticeable change in sleep patterns can be a sign of health problems such as thyroid disorders and depression, so if your sleep has changed significantly you should seek advice from your GP.

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