And so to bed...

» Find out how to beat those sleep­less nights

Gloucestershire Echo - - NEWS -

SLEEP. Get­ting enough of it is one of the sin­gle best things we can do for our well­be­ing – but how many of us ac­tu­ally pri­ori­tise it with the same ur­gency as eat­ing a healthy diet, drink­ing enough water and ex­er­cis­ing?

Re­search from the Na­tional Sleep Coun­cil sug­gests that more than a quar­ter (27%) of us are strug­gling to drift off on a reg­u­lar ba­sis – which is no sur­prise con­sid­er­ing we’re work­ing longer and feel­ing in­creas­ingly con­nected to our de­vices.

Hav­ing one bad night’s sleep can af­fect your mood, con­cen­tra­tion and alert­ness but reg­u­larly miss­ing out on sleep can have far big­ger con­se­quences.

“Apart from af­fect­ing your drive, cre­ativ­ity and mo­ti­va­tion, chronic in­som­nia can cause in­flam­ma­tion in the body, and con­trib­ute to heart dis­ease and type 2 di­a­betes,” says lead­ing nu­tri­tion­ist Rob Hob­son.

“There’s even some re­search to say that lack of sleep might be linked to weight gain, as ex­perts think it may have an ef­fect on the dif­fer­ent hor­mones that dic­tate ap­petite.”

Rob has just writ­ten a prac­ti­cal hand­book – The Art of Sleep­ing – an easy-to-di­gest primer on what might be dis­rupt­ing your sleep, plus how you can im­prove it, grounded in sci­en­tific re­search and Rob’s own knowl­edge of nu­tri­tion.

“The whole rea­son I de­cided to write the book is be­cause I have strug­gled in the past with my sleep,” says Rob, who ad­mits he has bat­tled in­som­nia for years. “I’m talk­ing not just as a health ex­pert, but some­body that knows what it’s like to sleep for four hours per night for a pro­longed pe­riod of time.”

BUILD­ING A SLEEP SCHED­ULE

ROB ex­plains: “When I was writ­ing the book, one of the things I soon re­alised is that a lot of peo­ple talk about lack of sleep, but they don’t re­ally do any­thing about it. Sleep some­times has this way of just creep­ing up on you, and you don’t have a lot of con­trol when it does.

“The other prob­lem is that there’s a lot of in­for­ma­tion out there around sleep and it can be quite con­fus­ing to di­gest it all. I wanted to make it eas­ier to un­der­stand by de­sign­ing a con­cept that al­lows peo­ple to cre­ate their own per­sonal sleep rit­ual that they can stick to.”

He starts out by ask­ing peo­ple to fill out a sleep di­ary, so they can un­der­stand their ‘sleep land­scape’ bet­ter. “There’s in­for­ma­tion on how to fill out a sleep di­ary in the book, and like a nu­tri­tion di­ary, it helps you to see where the prob­lems re­ally lie,” he says.

THINK ABOUT YOUR FOOD

THE book delves into all man­ner of handy sleep tips, but there are a few that Rob be­lieves are key.

He sug­gests: “Think about eat­ing foods that are rich in mag­ne­sium or B vi­ta­mins, which will help to pro­duce the sleep hor­mone mela­tonin.” Rob adds that any­thing con­tain­ing sugar, caf­feine, al­co­hol can hin­der sleep. If you re­quire a lit­tle ex­tra as­sis­tance to drift off, a sleep-pro­mot­ing supplement may be able to help too. “I’ve tried lots of dif­fer­ent sup­ple­ments and I think the first thing you need to re­alise is that they’re not sleep­ing pills – so don’t ex­pect to take a supplement and get knocked out by it,” says Rob.

“Mag­ne­sium works for a lot of peo­ple, but I think that’s mostly to do with the fact they don’t get enough mag­ne­sium in their diet,” he adds, not­ing that this can con­trib­ute to poor sleep.

“I’m a big fan of Va­le­rian,” says Rob, re­fer­ring to the herb na­tive to Asia and Europe. “I take a tinc­ture, which I find re­ally helps with my own sleep. Al­though it’s ac­tu­ally de­signed for anx­i­ety, but I find that it helps me to re­lax and I seem to get a bet­ter qual­ity sleep.”

SET YOUR­SELF UP FOR A GOOD NIGHT

THIS is about set­ting habits too – so con­sis­tency is the goal.

“Like every­thing to do with health, one size doesn’t fit all, but the thing that works best is get­ting some con­sis­tency,” says Rob.

He says you should treat your bed­room as an oa­sis of sleep and try to hit the hay at the same time ev­ery night. “I re­ally think that one of the best ways to get to sleep is just [to have] a com­pletely zen space that you can to­tally re­lax in.

“Think about the type of bed­ding you use, the type of light­ing you use, and whether you keep your room clut­ter-free, be­cause often that can be a trig­ger for some­body that doesn’t sleep. You re­ally don’t need much to set off weird thoughts that can stop you from sleep­ing, es­pe­cially if you’ve been ly­ing there for hours,” he adds.

When it comes to lap­tops and dig­i­tal de­vices, it’s best to power down an hour be­fore bed­time too.

“It’s not just the blue light that can dis­rupt sleep,” says Rob, “but it’s the stuff you start think­ing about when you log on. If you go through emails, it sets your mind buzzing and that’s not go­ing to aid sleep.”

STOP SLEEP SABOTAGING

GET­TING a de­cent night’s kip re­quires a strat­egy and very often it’s the things you think are go­ing to help that con­trib­ute to the prob­lem.

“A lot of peo­ple think that if they drink be­fore bed, it’s go­ing to re­lax them,” says Rob. “But [al­co­hol] can dis­rupt your REM sleep, leave you de­hy­drated, and make you get up through the night to use the toi­let.”

An­other big is­sue he often sees is peo­ple eat­ing too close to bed­time. “If you’re prone to indi­ges­tion or heart­burn, it’s im­por­tant to not eat too late at night – the tim­ing of meals is re­ally im­por­tant,” he says.

“Peo­ple still un­der­es­ti­mate the ef­fects of sugar too,” Rob adds. “If you eat lots of it in the day, it will still im­pact on your sleep at night.

“If you’ve got that mid-af­ter­noon slump and you’ve loaded your­self with sugar, it can make you quite sleepy too. If you then start nap­ping in the day when you don’t need to, that’s also go­ing to dis­rupt your sleep pat­tern.”

BREAK­ING THE CY­CLE

CATCH­ING up on sleep at the week­end feels nor­mal to many of us, but Rob says liv­ing in ‘sleep debt’ can take its toll over time.

“The best thing you can do is es­tab­lish a set time to sleep and wake and stick to that,” he stresses.

“Nap­ping in the day is fine, if you have short naps of no more than 25 min­utes. But I don’t think there’s any ben­e­fit to ly­ing in bed all day long. It’s work­ing against what your body re­ally wants to do,” says Rob. “You’re bet­ter off stick­ing to your set cy­cle, rather than think­ing you need to lie in bed all week­end to catch up... You won’t feel good.”

■ THE Art Of Sleep­ing by Rob Hob­son (Harper Collins) is out on Novem­ber 14, priced £9.99.

Rob Hob­son

Drink­ing al­co­hol can dis­rupt REM sleep

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