As much as your teenage self resented the advice, your parents were right – getting a good night’s sleep IS essential. During the sleeping hours, the body performs critical processes that are essential for both mind and body, and lack of sleep, or poor quality sleep, is very detrimental to health over Sleeping at workthe long term. The absolute details of how this happens are still being researched, but a recent review in the esteemed journal Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences noted that internal biological clocks control most of the body’s daily metabolic processes; and that disruption to these clocks (through sleep deprivation, different work shift patterns, and even jet-lag) is associated with and increase in disorders such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease (Davies et al., 2014). Another recent review in the journal Cell noted that even the bacteria that naturally live in our intestines, and which are now known to play a big role in our own health and metabolism, have their own set of biological clocks which are influenced by our own eating patterns; and disruption to these eating patterns (for example, by eating at irregular times of the day or at night-time) will again have a negative impact on our health (Thaiss et al., 2014).

Even as a Nutritional Therapist, I will look at a new client’s daily routine and sleep pattern before I go into detail about what they eat. I find the Ayurvedic approach really useful in this regard, as it also stresses the importance of good daily routine, including sleep, plus it can be tailored to suit one’s individual constitution or tridosha. So, using Ayurvedic science as a basis, I have listed below my top 3 tips to promote a good night’s sleep that should suit most people. You shouldn’t be surprised to find a lot of ‘parental wisdom’ in there; after all, Ayurveda has been around for about 5000 years and has influenced a lot of medical science!

1. “Early to bed, early to rise…”

Ayurveda suggests that most people should wake at 6 am and go to sleep by 10pm for good health (although there is no guarantee of wealth and wisdom). That’s your often-quoted 8 hours sleep; but importantly, it’s the timing of the sleep that also matters. In Ayurveda, the time between 10pm and 2am is when the body regenerates pitta (the fire element). So, burn the midnight oil and stay awake into the small hours, and you’ll be tired the next day (actually between 10am and 2pm, which is when pitta is most active), even if you sleep in. My Nan once told me “One hour’s sleep before midnight is better than two after”, and this now that makes sense to me.

2. Actively relax body and mind

Ayurveda says to be asleep by 10pm, but that doesn’t mean just switching off the computer or TV at 9.59pm and… Zzzzzzz. It’s also seen as important to have a period of 30 to 60 minutes to relax before you sleep, which will help body and mind to refresh even more. Most people are now awareTired woman with insomnia yawning in the morning that looking at TV or computer/tablet/smartphone screens is no help for sleep at all (the blue light in particular destroys melatonin, the sleep-inducing chemical produced in your brain, and tells you to wake up), so these should be turned off at 9pm. Instead, have a relaxing bath or shower, do some gentle stretching or breathing exercises, or undertake some meditation, guided relaxation, or self-hypnosis (see Paul Barratt’s blog on sleep and hypnotherapy). Another very traditional Ayurvedic remedy for promoting a good night’s sleep, especially for vata types who may be feeling anxious or worried, is to gently massage sesame seed oil into the soles of the feet (although please use the untoasted oil, else you will smell like a take-away).

3. Have a light and happy stomach

Of course, food and diet are also important. Ayurvada counsels that lunchtime is the best time for your largest meal of the day. This is when the fire element is highest (remember?) and so your digestion is strongest. Evenings should be a lighter meal, which should be taken before 7pm or sunset, so that most of your digestion is complete before bed (which would tie-in with the research published in Cell that I mentioned previously). Interestingly, this pattern is very similar to the working class norm of years ago (dinner at lunch, tea in the evening), but modern practices have meant that our evening meal has got later and later, plus tends to be the largest of the day. Now, it’s not always easy to change your eating patterns because of your own family routine, so I would suggest that if you do eat later at night, don’t eat too much animal protein or raw foods (which can be harder to digest), don’t drink caffeinated or alcoholic drinks (as they are stimulants) and, weather permitting, take a gentle 15 minute stroll after eating (which aids digestion). However, if you can change your eating pattern and eat earlier (and less) in the evenings, then I’m sure you will notice the quality of your sleep improve. And if you do find yourself a little hungry before bedtime, Ayurveda also suggests a cup of boiled milk sweetened with cane sugar and flavoured with a pinch of ground nutmeg (a relaxant), is easy to digest and will promote a peaceful night’s sleep. Just like my Nan used to make for me when I was a kid.

References

Davies, SK et al (2014) PNAS: 111 (29), 10761-10766
Thaiss, CA et al (2014) Cell: 158, 514-529

For more Tips and Advice on Sleep read our July 2016 Newsletter – I cant sleep.

To know if Hypnotherapy could help you sleep read Paul Barratt’s Blog.

Read more about meditation and if it could help you sleep here.