Tips to improve your sleep

by Natalie

Any other mums out there a little bit obsessed with sleep? It may well be because, as parents, we simply don’t get enough of it. For as long as I can remember, the amount of sleep I get has always, quite drastically, affected my mood and energy levels for the day. I always marvel at people who seem to be able to exist on four or five hours sleep and appear to function completely normally!

When I was pregnant, I was quite daunted by the fact that once the baby arrived, sleep would be in a very short supply. How would I be able to look after our baby if I was in a complete zombie-like state?

As you know, when that times comes, you just get through it. Yes, you’re the most tired you’ve ever been in your life.  Yes, daily life turns into one big blur. The important thing is, though, that you get through it the best you can, and it doesn’t last forever.

Our son has just turned four. Overall, he’s been a pretty good sleeper but we’re starting to have a few sleep issues. He doesn’t want to go to bed, and he has started waking in the night wanting to come in with us. It’s not every night (thank goodness) but it’s enough to be making me feel pretty tired again, and I’m definitely lacking in energy and motivation the day after an interrupted night.

Did you watch the BBC One documentary called ‘The Truth About Sleep’? Presenter Michael Mosley, examined issues around sleep and how lack of sleep can affect us both mentally and physically. His personal quest was to find out, as an insomniac, if it was actually possible for him to take measures to improve his sleep.

There were some really interesting insights in the programme and I thought I’d share some of them here, in the hope there may be things we can do as busy mums, to make sure we’re getting the best quality sleep we can. Of course, the documentary doesn’t take into account crying babies or super alert children that wake you in the middle of the night, but it does share helpful tips that you may be able to incorporate into your daily routine to help you sleep just a little bit better.

Why we need more, and better, sleep

  • There is a link between sleep deprivation and increased likelihood to develop Type 2 diabetes (your blood glucose is raised if you are sleep-deprived).
  • If you are sleep-deprived (less than five hours a night), you are at a higher risk of obesity. Tests have found that if you are not getting enough sleep, your gut bacteria actually extract more nutrients from your food, increasing the risk of obesity.
  • We need to reset our internal body clocks. Technology, work patterns and the pace of every day life have disrupted our master body clock; and in turn, each of our cells’ own clocks are also disrupted, leading to your body being completely out of sync, which can lead to health issues.

How can we improve our sleep?

The aim is to get 7-8 hours a night. As you get older, you’ll probably need a little less. According to the documentary, there are several things you can try to improve your sleep. These were tried and tested on the programme, and most did help to some degree. Give them a go and see!

  • Try learning some ‘mindfulness’ techniques to relax you and clear your head so you are ready to sleep.
  • Increase the amount of fibre in your diet, specifically ‘dietary prebiotics’ – these can be found in chickpeas and lentils, for example. Michael found this really helped with his insomnia.
  • Have a warm bath or shower before going to bed, and then cool your body down quite quickly afterwards. Cooling your body should help to prepare you for sleep.
  • Eat two kiwi fruits an hour before bedtime.

Rules for good sleep

Michael concludes with his advice for ‘sleep hygiene’, a set of rules for good sleep.

  1. Make sure your bedroom is cool, around 17 degrees.
  2. Remove technology and electronic equipment from your bedroom. Turn your clock away from you, so you don’t obsess about the time.
  3. Switch off all social media, and stop answering emails, an hour before bed.
  4. Get plenty of early morning light – go out for a walk if you can. This helps to reset your internal body clock.
  5. Eat an evening meal that is rich in fibre.
  6. Avoid alcohol.

Let me know if you try these out and how you get on. I hope you find some that help. Good sleep is so important for our mood, alertness and long-term health. Realistically, children do massively affect the amount and quality of sleep that we get, but please make sure you’re looking after yourself. Recognising how much sleep your mind and body needs is a good starting point.

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