Weekend Feature: How To Get A Good Night’s Sleep During Summer
Cheryl Lythgoe, Matron at Benenden Health, shares tips for getting a good night’s sleep and how diet can support a healthy sleep pattern.
Warmer nights, mixed with ongoing stresses and anxieties associated with the return to the workplace and our social lives, can make it difficult for adults to get their recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
To help, Benenden Health has detailed key behavioural tips to help eradicate sleep deprivation as well as the best and worst foods to eat before bed:
Establish a relaxing sleeping routine
Take some time out to wind down before you go to bed. Activities like reading can help you separate your sleep-time from what’s been going on in your everyday life.
Though being active throughout the day promotes a better night’s sleep, you should avoid excess physical activity in the 1-2 hours leading to bedtime to allow the body to relax.
It may also be worth writing a “to do” list for the following day so you can organise your thoughts and clear your mind about any stress or anxiety you may be feeling about the next day.
Optimise your sleeping environment
Ensure your bedroom is the perfect place to get a good night’s kip. Firstly, be sure to avoid working in your bedroom if you are still working remotely. Associating your bedroom with a workplace may stop you from ‘winding down’ when you do want to go to sleep on an evening.
Remove digital equipment from your bedroom to avoid checking it if you wake up as they can make it more difficult to go back to sleep. You could try using an old-fashioned alarm clock instead of your phone to remove this temptation.
In these warmer months, make sure your room is at optimum temperature – you should aim for it to be between 18-21 degrees Celsius. Also make sure your bedroom has good blackout blinds, as lighter evenings and mornings may disrupt your sleep cycle.
No napping – only sleep!
If you are having trouble sleeping at night, you could be tempted to catch up with naps when you finish work on an evening. The more you do nap, the less likely your body will be ‘ready’ for sleep when the time arrives to.
If you feel like you are getting tired during the day, stand up and take a walk, get some fresh air or do something that will challenge your brain for a while, such as a crossword or word search.
Avoid stimulants before sleeping
The effects of stimulants can take hours to wear off and can have a big impact on how quickly you fall to sleep and the quality of it when you do.
Nicotine causes your heart rate and alertness to increase meaning that you feel more awake before you go to sleep. Nicotine enters the bloodstream within a few minutes but after a few hours it will begin to leave your body and due to its addictiveness, your brain will wake you up for more nicotine causing a more disruptive night.
Alcohol may make you feel drowsy, but it can disrupt you later in the night and won’t allow you to fall into the deep sleep that you need. Avoid caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee before bed, however some studies suggest that malty drinks or warm milk could aid sleep.
Worst foods for sleep
Chocolate – Chocolate has a high caffeine content, which during the latter stages of sleep can cause rapid eye movement to occur more frequently - leading to the grogginess you may feel in the morning.
Cheese - Aged cheese contains a high level of the amino acid, tyramine. This causes our bodies to release the "fight or flight" hormone which increases alertness for a number of hours.
Curry - Spicy foods like curries, hot sauces and mustard contain high levels of capsaicin which causes your body to elevate its normal temperature, interfering with the thermoregulation process which disrupts sleep.
Ice Cream - Foods with high sugar content such as ice-cream, fizzy drinks and sweets, lead to blood sugar levels spiking at first, then during sleep, they crash which makes your body believe there is an emergency and wakes you up from slumber.
Crisps - Crisps and salted nuts dehydrate the body and increase water retention causing tiredness and fatigue. Experts recommend staying away from salty foods two to three hours before bed to increase the chance of a good night’s sleep.
Best foods for sleep
Cherries – These berries are well known for being one of the best foods for sleep as they naturally contain melatonin, the chemical that controls the body’s internal clock to regulate sleep. Research suggests that eating cherries or drinking cherry juice an hour before bedtime results in a better night’s rest.
Honey – Raw honey stimulates melatonin and shuts off orexin in the body, the chemical that makes us feel sharp and alert. A mug of hot water, lemon and honey is a great evening drink for soothing the body and relaxation before bed.
Bananas – Bananas contain magnesium and potassium which are natural muscle relaxants and also contain carbohydrates, all of which help promote sleep.
Turkey – As well as being a great source of protein, turkey is great for encouraging sleepiness. It is high in tryptophan, an amino acid that calms the body and balances your hormones, which helps to induce sleep.
Almonds – Almonds contain a high amount of magnesium that helps to relax the body. Magnesium is also great for regulating our blood sugar as we sleep which means the body naturally switches from its adrenaline cycle to what is known as the “rest and digest” cycle.
Benenden Health has more than 800,000 members – including 30,000 who have membership as part of an employee benefits package – and provides a range of discretionary healthcare services open to all.