New year it may be, but spring it is certainly not, not yet anyway! Although the darkness of winter does seem to linger for so long – and the desire to hibernate is intensely compelling – before we know it the clocks will go forward and there will be light once again. Therefore, now is the auspicious time to re-establish some healthy sleeping patterns and to ensure that you are getting enough shut eye for your body to perform at it’s most productive during your waking hours.
Although it sounds straightforward enough, if you commute to and from work in the dark and you spend most of the hours of the day indoors, you may be suffering from low levels of vitamin D due to lack of exposure to sunlight. As a consequence, it is possible for the body to misread the time of day and re-shift the body clock accordingly; this can result in sleepless nights and exhaustion.
However there are some very simple lifestyle changes that you can make to your routine, which can greatly improve sleeping patterns by night and optimise your potential by day.
- Establish a healthy sleeping pattern
The key is in the terminology, your body will respond well to a consistent routine. If you arise at 5am on a weekday and sleep in until 11am at the weekend, it is likely that you’re your sleep could be disrupted at the beginning of the week. Although it may not be possible to keep to the exact routine everyday, if you are able to keep sleeping hours as similar and as balanced as possible this will certainly help your system in the long run.
- Keep the winter sniffles at bay
To stay flu free during winter is certainly easier said than done, however staying generally on the good side of health is preferable. Studies have shown that sleeplessness can be caused by many health conditions from the common cold to arthritis, depression, anxiety, heart disease and cancer. Many health issues may also cause breathing problems and pain which can disrupt the body’s natural sleeping pattern. Additionally many medicines prescribed to treat such conditions – including some pain killers – also contain chemicals which can cause temporary insomnia. To minimise your chances of getting ill, carry a mini bottle of hand sanitizer in your handbag, load up on vitamin C (found in many citrus fruits and strawberries) and drink herbal teas with echinacea (which can be found at health food shops and most large supermarkets).
- Give your body a chance to wind down
A busy or distressing day can be difficult to let go of, especially if some issues are ongoing, however before you head to bed your body needs time to rest and wind down, so don’t be tempted to check emails last thing before bed. A bright computer screen will only stimulate your brain and if you are worrying, reading over emails will hardly help to soothe you. Instead, at the end of the day write a list of things that you know you need to consider going forward and work out a strategy or a resolution for anything that may be worrying you. Finally, clock off mentally so that you have a couple of hours to rest before you retire for bed.
- Practice a regular routine of exercise
Research has shown that exercising three times a week, early in the day can be extremely beneficial to many aspects of physical health including keeping regular sleeping patterns. The body must exhaust a large amount of physical energy in order to exercise vigorously, therefore when combined with usual daily pursuits the body is more likely to need additional rest to recuperate. Exercise is also known to naturally increase the body’s production of endorphins which provide feelings of wellbeing and happiness. However be sure not to exercise late in the evening as this may leave you feeling energised before bedtime and consequently disrupt your sleeping rhythm further.
- Turn your boudoir into a haven of tranquillity
Your surroundings will affect your ability to relax, so take a look at your bedroom and make sure that it becomes a place that you can escape to; think of a soothing sanctuary for yourself that will promote serenity and wellbeing. Keep your bedroom neat and clean in muted, neutral tones and be sure to change the bedding once a week. Add cosy and personal touches including scented candles and framed photographs to make you feel at home. If you struggle to sleep with bright street lights, try fitting a blackout blind or treat yourself to an eyemask, which will allow your eyes to completely relax and keep a snug blanket close by just in case you get chilly.
- Eat yourself to a good night’s sleep
Not to be taken literally of course, as eating large amounts of food immediately before bedtime can keep you awake feeling very full. Nonetheless the nutrition in certain foods has been proven to support and promote healthy sleeping patterns. Many foods that are low-protein and high-carbohydrate contain tryptophan, a natural sedative, which stimulates the production of serotonin in the body and creates feelings of relaxation and comfort.
Try to consume a small dinner no later than 6pm and include foods such as whole-grain breads, wild rice, whole-wheat pasta, with lean proteins such as turkey, salmon, chick-peas, hummus, lentils and almonds. Serve your supper with plenty of vegetables, for instance spinach, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, peas, broccoli, kale, asparagus and cauliflower. For a light dessert, consider fruits such as bananas, grapes, oranges, cherries and plums with caffeine-free tea, low fat milk or yoghurt. If you are in the mood for something a little more indulgent, dark chocolate contains serotonin which when eaten in moderation will help to promote a peaceful slumber.
- Be your own best friend…
Finally, if you truly adore being asleep and wish you had time for more, don’t dawdle or stop up watching mindless reality TV. If you are bored, cuddle up in your warm bed with a good book and get an early night; you will feel amazing in the morning.
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