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Silent night

Your guide to a good night’s sleep, the natural way, with advice from Rude Health experts

Sleep is essential to life, and if you don’t get enough of it you may suffer from memory loss, loss of motivation, a reduced ability to make decisions as well as weight gain, reduced immunity, mood swings, headaches and loss of libido. Unfortunately, stress and anxiety can lead to worsening sleep patterns, and 2020 has not exactly been a ‘normal’ year.

“Lots of things can affect sleep,” says Liz O’Byrne, a nutritional therapist who works with the Aloe Tree in Ennistymon, Co Clare and holds clinics in Ennistymon and Lahinch. “Physical or emotional stress, having young children, hormonal imbalances such as thyroid or adrenal issues, lack of exercise, too much screen time too late in the evening and stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and sugar can all affect sleep.”

“In my experience, most sleep problems come from some form of stress,” says Meaghan Esser, RHN (registered holistic nutritionist) at ITL Health. “Whether it’s physical stress on our body or stress in our mind. When we have too much stress, our body cannot properly relax - this causes us to have difficultly falling asleep or causes us to wake frequently because our body is not able to get into a deep state of sleep.”

“Our sleep can be affected by many different things,” says Sian Eustace, Healing Harvest, Kinvara, Co Galway, “from the amount of light in the room to what, and when, we ate, from caffeine consumption to stress to use of screens. This can mean that it is sometimes tricky to find out what is causing a problem with sleep.”

Age-related sleep issues

“Sleep problems can really happen at any age,” says Sian Eustace. “However, sleep problems can become more marked as people age, with increased difficulty both in falling asleep and in staying asleep.”

“Anybody can experience sleep problems, especially during a world pandemic because our stress is so much higher,” says Meaghan Esser. “However we are more likely to experience sleep problems as we age as melatonin begins to decline. Menopausal women are also more likely to experience sleep disturbances as their hormone levels are changing.”

“Clients I see that have sleep problems tend to be of all ages,” says Liz O’Byrne, “but I feel that sleep issues can start when people are getting a bit older.”

Health store help

“Magnesium, also known as nature’s sedative, taken in the evening at least an hour before bedtime has been proven to encourage healthy sleep,” says Liz O’Byrne. “There are specific herbal blends available to aid sleep that contain herbs such as valerian root, chamomile and lemon balm.”

“Magnesium is always my first go-to when it comes to sleep issues as it is a very common deficiency,” says Meaghan Esser. “It is responsible for approximately 1,000 biochemical reactions in our body, some of the main ones being proper functioning of the nervous system and the muscular system – both of which play a large role in relaxation and sleep. It is also extremely beneficial for hormone regulation and melatonin production. If magnesium doesn’t help with sleep, I first look at the quality, amount and form they are taking as this is usually why it isn’t working.”

“There are a number of herbs which can be helpful with sleep and also with stress if this is the cause of the sleeplessness. Examples are valerian, hops, passiflora, melissa and avena sativa,” says Sian Eustace. “There are also other food supplements such as l-theanine and B vitamins which can help with sleeplessness caused by stress. Flower remedies can be helpful with anxiety and white chestnut flower remedy is particularly indicated where the cause of sleeplessness is unresolved circling thoughts in the mind.”

Foods for sleep

“It’s extremely important for our body to stop processing food at least three hours before we eat in order to get into a proper relaxed state,” says Meaghan Esser. “If we eat too close to bedtime, our body has to focus on digesting that food and therefore takes longer to get into a deep sleep.”

“Foods rich in B vitamins such as oats can be helpful to support the nervous system,” says Sian Eustace, “and foods containing the amino acid tryptophan can also be helpful, think fish, chicken, cheese, eggs, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and turkey.”

“Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants can help sleep,” says Liz O’Byrne. “If you drink coffee or tea, try to have your last cup earlier in the day or switch to decaffeinated versions. Eat lighter meals in the evening.”

Lifestyle advice

“Reducing use of blue light screens in the evening can be beneficial, making sure that they are turned off at least an hour before going to bed,” says Sian Eustace. “A warm bath before bed using relaxing essential oils such as lavender, roman camomile or clary sage can help you to wind down. Make sure that the room is as dark as possible as light suppresses the neurotransmitter melatonin which aids sleep.”

“Anything that helps you manage your stress, such as talking about it with somebody, doing meditations, going for a walk etc will ultimately help your sleep,” Meaghan Esser. “Exercise during the day has been proven to help better sleep at night, but vigorous exercise should not happen too late in the day for proper circadian rhythm. No caffeine after noon, no screens within an hour of going to bed.”

“Having a good routine around sleep - going to bed at the same time each night and rising at the same time each morning can help,” says Liz O’Byrne. “Try to avoid screen time (computer, TV and phone) for at least one hour prior to bedtime. Keep a notebook beside your bed and if you wake up and think of something that needs to be done the following day, write it down. Meditation and yoga can be helpful to calm the mind and aid sleep.”

Other sleep-inducing natural help includes:

Valerian tinctures – can help some bad sleepers and won’t make you feel groggy in the morning.

Avena sativa – (oat) drops or hop based tinctures taken as drops 20 minutes before retiring can help you get off to sleep.

Herbal teas – such as chamomile and lemon balm are relaxing and caffeine-free.

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