How to get better sleep

We’re all pretty great at feeling sleepy, but actually sleeping well is a totally different matter! Do you struggle from time to time? Read this post to see just how important sleep is, as well as get some advice on how to do it better.

It’s no secret that you feel better when you’re not massively sleep deprived, but it’s also been proven that people don’t realise how much their lack of sleep is affecting them. On average in the UK, we get only 6.8h of sleep a night, rather than the recommended 8h for optimum health. The figures in the US and Australia are similar, reflecting a culture that shrugs off sleep as an irritating waste of time, rather than the necessity it actually is. The National Sleep Foundation found that for adults older than 18 years of age, between 7 and 9 hours of sleep on average is optimal for health.

When you think of risk factors for diseases, what do you think of? Poor diet? Smoking? Bad genes? I’m sure sleep pattern is not something that comes high up on the list, but poor sleep patterns have been linked to negative short term effects, such as depression, lost concentration and anxiety, as well as longer term impacts including increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. The reason is simple: sleep provides time for your body to repair damage. Without this time, damage accumulates, causes poor life decisions (such as over eating and lack of exercise) and eventually can lead to negative long-term outcomes.

Sleep also gives us time to consolidate memories, strengthen neural pathways and process information – it’s why our dreams often involve events from the day, mushed together into some sort of weird nonsensical mess. There’s a theory that freeing our brains from the constraints of reality allows us to make connections we might not have made before, and process information that would have taken too long when awake. So those times you stay up until 3am revising for a test? Don’t. You’re far better working up until you sleep, then picking it up again in the morning. In my mind, it’s all very cool.

So how do we sleep? As someone who used to suffer from insomnia, I know how frustrating it can be when you are just unable to stop your mind from whirring. Sleep experts call good sleep practices ‘sleep hygiene’ – getting into a good bedtime ritual to prime our bodies for deep, restful sleep. Here are some of my top tips for a good nights sleep.

 

Take a hot bath
Weirdly, it’s not the heating that actually makes you sleepy – it’s the rapid cooling that follows a hot bath that makes you tired. Our bodies naturally cool off about 2h before sleep until around 4-5am, meaning that artificially inducing the cooling before you sleep can help send signals to your body that it’s time to sleep.

Have a hot drink
For the same reasons as a hot bath, having a hot drink before bed can make you sleepy. Certain herbal drinks, such as camomile and lavender are thought to help sleep. This is thought to be because they contain compounds that reduces anxiety and promote relaxation, slowing the nervous system and promoting deep sleep. Try not to drink too much before bed though! Getting up through the night can disrupt your sleep patterns. I usually have a tea in the hour before bed and swear by it to help me sleep!

Avoid blue light
The blue light emitted from your phone and laptop signals to your brain that it’s still daytime. This delays your natural body clock making it harder to fall asleep. Stop using your phone, laptop and TV at least an hour before you want to sleep. If you need to, consider adding a filter using an app like f.lux that reduces blue light on your screen after sunset. 

Limit yourself to 9 hours max
Plenty of people struggle to even stay asleep for this long, but I would easily sleep for 10h a night if I let myself. However, staying in bed for over 9 hours can actually harm your sleep in the long run. Forcing yourself to get up in the morning means that your body clock stays in check – if you allow yourself to sleep until you’re not tired anymore, you will end up going to bed later and later, meaning that when you do have to get up early you’ve restricted your sleep even further. Try to wake up on your first alarm – snoozing it only leads to more sluggishness. Winter may be a time of hibernation, but sleeping for too long won’t do you any favours. If you need to nap during the day, limit it to 20 minutes. Longer can affect nighttime sleep.

Don’t expect to be able to catch up on lost sleep in a night
A lot of people think that a bad night’s sleep can be recovered by sleeping more the next night, and while the evidence is not conclusive, studies suggest that this isn’t the case. The damage done by one bad night cannot be undone by one good night, and it often takes a few days to get back to normal. In addition, going to bed later disrupts your circadian rhythm (your internal body clock that tells you when to sleep and wake up), so it’s best to avoid significant amounts of lost sleep.

Exercise!
As anyone who has stopped exercising for an injury will know, exercise and sleep go hand in hand. Cut out exercising and a good night’s sleep goes too. Exercising tires out the body enough that falling into bed after a hard workout earlier in the day is just one of the nicest things. It also promotes the same cooling effect as having a bath and drinking tea does, but has the added benefit of decreasing the anxiety and stress that often keep us awake. However, avoid working out late in the evening – placing stress on the body late in the day can delay your natural body clock, making it harder to sleep, so try to end exercising at least 3h before bed.

Be comfy
Get a good mattress and a pillow that’s not too high. Nighttime discomfort can lead to light sleep. If you’re in a rented flat or a student where you didn’t choose the mattress, consider buying a good mattress topper (and take it with you when you leave!).

Fresh air
Linked to exercise, getting outside and some fresh air during the day can help get that ‘flop onto the bed’ feel at the end of the day (in a good way). I actually don’t know why this is, but it’s likely a mixture of getting exercise and getting natural light. Natural light inhibits melatonin (the hormone that sends us to sleep), meaning that when you go back inside, there is more of the hormone before bed to make you feel tired. This is especially useful in winter, when it is dark for a lot of the day.

Avoid caffeine
A little in the morning shouldn’t be an issue for most people, but avoid any caffeine past 3pm. The effects are long lasting – even if you don’t feel wired, the stimulant will keep on powering your body far past the point when you would like to sleep. Also bear in mind that caffeine can be hidden in lots of drinks that aren’t coffee, such as teas and fizzy drinks.

Limit alcohol
While alcohol may help you get to sleep, sleep quality is poorer and once it wears off you’re more likely to wake up. Dehydration can also be a cause of waking through the night, and alcohol makes this far worse.

 

Ironically, overthinking sleep can be one major cause for struggling to fall asleep and sleeping lightly. Try to get into a good routine early in life so that when you are under pressure, sleep is one thing that comes naturally to you. Sadly, for one of the most natural of behaviours, sleep is sometimes difficult to find, but hopefully with the information of how important it is, as well as some of the tips above, you’ll start prioritising it over another episode of Game of Thrones (other series available).

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post and tips for a good night’s sleep! Head to my instagram or comment below to let me know.

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It’s no secret to those that know me that sleep will always be a priority for me!

How to beat the winter blues

It’s inevitable that as the winter draws in and days get darker (thanks clock change) that lots of us will start to feel a little down and start to get the ‘winter blues’. A lot of people in the UK suffer from S.A.D, also known as seasonal affective disorder, a mood disorder that causes otherwise positive people to have symptoms of depression ranging from mild to severe in the winter. Symptoms include excessive sleep, tiredness, lack of motivation, hopelessness and low moods, although the severity can range widely between people and from day to day. Whilst the exact cause isn’t known, it’s though to be to do with low light levels reducing serotonin (the happy hormone) or increasing melatonin (the hormone that allows us to sleep at night). Whatever the cause, it’s an annoying fact of winter for a lot of people, but thankfully it can be managed and reduced. Even for those without SAD, doing some of these management techniques can help with general low mood found around winter.

In my past I suffered from depression, starting in my pre-teens and drawing out for almost 10 years. Over time it diminished, thanks to the support and help of family, friends and professionals. During my late teens and early twenties it manifested as SAD – thankfully sparing me summer months but returning as the weather got colder and days darker. My experience coping with it has allowed me to spend the last two winters in relative peace from the low moods associated with SAD. So here are some of my top tips to keep happy this winter! I hope you find them as useful as I have 🙂

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Autumn is a beautiful time of year – but for many it just means darker days and feeling blue

Get enough sleep – but don’t overdo it!

In winter all I want to do is sleep sleep sleep – biologically scientists think that’s because there used to be less food around in winter and sleeping more would mean using less energy so you didn’t have to eat as much. But nowadays with tesco just down the road and deliveroo at the other end of a phone, we don’t exactly have any food shortages to worry about! Having a good sleep schedule is important at any time of year, but especially when there is no natural light to wake you up. Set yourself a strict bedtime and wake time and try not to deviate from this. That way you’ll be getting enough sleep without getting too much and feeling lethargic from it. I aim to be in bed by 10pm, asleep by 10:15pm and up by 6:45am everyday. Sleeping more than 9h a night can leave you feeling more tired, and restricting sleep to 8-9h means that when you sleep, you sleep deeper – something we all want and need!

 

Exercise

I cannot stress enough that exercise – although it often feels like the last thing you want to do when you’re down – is some sort of miracle drug when it comes to SAD. Of course, as with everything, this is a balance of getting enough workouts without exhausting yourself. My gage is how much I can manage – I tend to do a similar amount, allowing for 2 rest days a week. I try to workout when it’s dark outside – the pumping music and energetic atmosphere allow me to forget how dark it is and get lost in the endorphins of the workout.

 

Fresh air and LIGHT

With a lack of natural light being one cause of SAD and low moods, it’s not surprising that getting natural light is on my list of ways to improve symptoms. If you work full time you’ll be familiar with the sad reality of arriving at work in the dark and leaving in the dark, leaving you no time for some sunshine or even any light! Artificial light doesn’t have the right wavelengths to suppress melatonin enough so broad spectrum lights and natural light are the only two that will help with moods. I would 100% recommend getting outside for at least 20 minutes at lunchtime to make the most of the natural light and get some fresh air to keep you awake. I also have a sun lamp – a broad spectrum light that helps me to wake up and produce vitamin D in the winter – I turn it on as soon as I wake up and eat breakfast with it shining on me. I swear by it to help keep my body-clock in check when it always seems dark outside. If you really struggle with SAD I would recommend getting one of these and using it for 30 minutes every morning.

 

Food

Whilst the winter can leave you reaching for the quickest pick-me-up, it’s important to remember that relying on unhealthy foods for energy can leave you feeling even more down after you eat them, often caused by a sugar crash. High carb meals, whilst delicious, should be saved for days of heavy exercise, as they cause the release of melatonin, which is often what makes you feel sleepy after a big meal. Avoid carb-heavy meals at your desk to avoid this, and try not to increase refined sugar intake, as the crash after your blood-sugar spikes can also cause low moods, not helping the situation. I try to avoid coffee in the winter because I know that if I start I will end up relying on it to feel normal, but on tired days I have some just after lunch to get through the afternoon. Research has shown that if you’re not a morning person, having coffee in the morning can mess up your body clock, making you feel weird and anxious, rather than alert.

 

Talk!

If you’re struggling don’t be afraid to talk to family and friends – the chances are that they’ve probably felt the same way too. Research suggests that up to 40% of depression is genetic and that SAD affects 1 in 15 of the UK population. Talking through how you’re feeling (or even just talking about anything) can help alleviate symptoms. Having supportive friends and family around can make the difference between letting SAD ruin your whole winter and managing your low moods and coming out the other side with an even stronger support system. Make the most of them – they’re there because they love you and want to support you. Use that!

 

Self-care

Make time for yourself and don’t ignore your feelings. Run a nice hot bath, light some candles and just sit, enjoying your ‘me’ time. I’m definitely guilty of pretending that I don’t need time alone, and will sometimes go for a week without spending an evening by myself. For many people, all they want is to be alone when down, but for others it’s only too easy to ignore thoughts by keeping too busy. There’s a fine line between keeping busy and ignoring your personal needs. Set aside at least one day/evening a week to pamper yourself to show your body (and mind) some love. Do a little yoga, mediation or just read a good book – it’ll do wonders for your inner energy.

 

I really hope these tips help you manage any winter blues you may be feeling – they’re common, everyone has their days but there are lots of things you can do to help minimise the bad days. For me, rather than being 3 months of feeling horrible, winter now comes with only a few bad days here and there, meaning I am left to enjoy the festive season with family and friends as it is meant to be enjoyed.

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Make sure to eat well and get enough vitamins and minerals to keep you healthy in winter

Rest days – why and how ?

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Put your feet up and relax – you’ve earned it!

For those of us who train hard, it’s often difficult to force ourselves to rest, especially if we’re not feeling overly tired or stiff. However, going without a rest day can cause injuries, exhaustion and other symptoms of over-training. A lot of us have the mind-set of all or nothing – it’s so hard to push ourselves to go to the gym everyday, that once we’re in a routine we don’t want to break it, and therefore taking a day off can feel like you’re falling behind. However, first hand experience has shown me that rest days are PART of an exercise routine, not just a day off. Here’s why:

Rest prevents injury

Our bodies are only built for a certain amount of strenuous activity. This level can be built up over time, but try to build it up too quickly and you’ll likely injure yourself. This is for a number of reasons, from the increase of tiny muscle tears that aren’t given time to recover, to the loss of form of a tired body. After intense exercise, our main muscle groups become tired and lazy, meaning poor form in further exercises. Poor form can lead to injury. On a side note, this is how I managed to get IT band syndrome on BOTH my legs only 4 months apart, putting me out for around a year off and on. Whilst I wasn’t training as much as others, the intensity of training was too much too soon, and caused my form to get worse, causing long term injuries. You really, REALLY don’t want this.

Allows the build-up of muscle

When we workout, we cause tiny muscle-fibre tears, that can thankfully be repaired by our immune system and adequate amounts of protein in our diet. However, this takes time and rest, and as above, without this tears can accumulate, leading to bigger muscle tears and injury. Rest days are needed to build back up muscles, nerves, bones and connective tissues. This is why it’s important to stagger muscle-group workout days, not working out the same muscle group for around three days after you last worked it out.

Better sleep

Interestingly, middle amounts of exercise help sleep a huge amount, but too much exercise can actually negatively affect sleep. Over-training increases the hormone, which is not only the stress hormone, but also the hormone that wakes you up in the morning. Having too much of it will wake you up in the night and keep you awake when you’re trying to sleep. You can find out if this is happening to you by measuring your resting heart rate (RHR) on a day you’re well rested and again when you think you might be over training. A raised RHR is a telltale sign that your body is on high alert, which could be due to over-training.

Better resistance to illness

Your immune system takes a hit when you’re tired, as it has to work extra hard to repair muscles and joints, alongside its usual job of fighting off millions of pathogens everyday. More rest gives your immune system a break too, meaning it’s better able to fight off any lurgies that are around.

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Nutrition is as important (if not more) on rest days as workout days. Pack in the protein! 

The reasons why you should rest vary a little depending on why type of exercise you do – lifting weights causes different issues to running long distance, but the essential point remains: rest is essential to progress. Rest days don’t have to involve hours of inactivity – getting up and walking around is important to keep muscles warm and your heart healthy. However, if your workouts are usually light to moderate intensity, rest days can involve a little more physical activity, for example yoga, pilates, a (very) slow and short jog or a longer walk. Food wise, you’ll need a little less food on your rest day but don’t be fooled: you may not be working out that day, but our bodies still burn more calories the day after a heavy session, meaning that you’ll require more food than if you had taken the whole day off.

 

Prescription for rest day:

  • Lots of protein
  • Slightly less carbs than usual
  • No intense exercise – a light jog at most, but don’t overdo it!
  • This is NOT a cheat day: using your rest day as a cheat day won’t do your body or mind any favours. Plan it like a training day and nourish yourself accordingly.
  • Stretch and foam roll

 

Finding out what works for you may take a bit of time and fiddling, but making sure you keep a track of how you feel will mean you can ace your rest day like any other day of training.

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Sleep is life

Motion Nutrition guest post – how to avoid SAD in winter

This post was originally written by Joe and Charlie, the boys at Motion Nutrition, my favourite supplement brand. And they know a think or two about health. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is something that I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember, and from talking to lots of you, I know that I am not alone in this fact! By taking certain steps in your everyday routine, you can minimise the amount that SAD affects you this winter. Finding out what works for you means you can be a lot happier and get along with your everyday life as you would otherwise.

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Staying in bed all day certainly SEEMS like a good idea when it’s colder than you’re ex’s heart outside, but can actually be counterproductive  (photo by @ajanistry)

“It’s getting cold and it’s getting dark. We’ve had it pretty easy so far with a mild autumn. But the clocks are now set: we must brace for winter. You may be lucky enough to still catch a few sun rays in the morning on your way to work, but that glimpse of morning daylight won’t last long. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is an easy trap to fall into as we enter winter months. But it certainly is not inevitable.

Here are 4 dangerous habits you must avoid this winter to ditch SAD

  1. Staying indoors all day

Unless you work outdoors, the likelihood is that you spend almost your entire work days inside the confines of your office, gym, studio, workshop or classroom. As the days get shorter, this will mean very, very little sunlight, if any at all. So make a point of getting outside during your lunch break. The sunlight will energise you, the fresh air will oxygenate your brain and muscles. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a little vitamin D (although this is unlikely at this time of year, so you may wish to consider a high quality vitamin D supplement).

  1. Skipping your workouts

We all know the feeling. It’s warm inside; cold, dark (and wet?) outside. Who would want to ditch the blanket and step outside for a jog? It’s oh-so-easy to get lazy in the winter. But physical activity will not only ward off anxiety and feelings of winter-depression, it will also boost your self-esteem, reduce stress and improve your sleep. So get out (or to the gym) and bag yourself an endorphin high!

  1. Eating too much comfort food

There’s nothing wrong with a bubbling tray of crispy-cheese-topped mac’n’cheese every once and a while. But make sure you are not foregoing micronutrients in the winter months. Remember to pack in the fresh fruit and veg. Think seasonal, too: beetroots are great for juicing, and we’ll soon be hit with brilliant oranges and tangerines.

  1. Not getting enough sleep

What would happen to our sleep if we went back a couple hundred years to when we didn’t have electricity and certainly didn’t have digital screens? We would sleep less during summer, and more during winter. Lack of sunlight, high levels of stress, and you guessed it, too much comfort food will make you crave more sleep during the winter. There is a balance to be found here: get some sunlight in during the day so you’re not going in full hibernation mode. But don’t overdo it on computer, phone, and TV screens at night (the blue light from the screen keeps you awake just like sunlight) so that you can give your mind and body enough rest to brave the colder days.

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Koalas are cute but they sleep 18 hours a day. Don’t be a koala.

Need an energy kick to untangle yourself from that warm blanket? Try our Award Winning Organic Pre Workout Energiser now.”

 

Many thanks to Charlie and Joe for this one! Don’t forget to check out their range of products. They really are the most effective I’ve tried, and without the crap so many other companies put in! And no, I’m not sponsored by them 😉