We all know that sleep is important. Without it, or not enough of it, and we are sluggishly dragging ourselves through the day, longing for the moment our heads can touch our pillows at the end of the day. There are many reasons sleep is good for both our physical and mental health. It helps reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, helps to reduce feelings of depression, stress and anxiety, helps our bodies grow and recover after exercise, and helps greatly with concentration levels throughout the day. But how do we improve our sleep when we’re finding it harder and harder to drift off? Well we wanted to help you get a better nights sleep with a bit of science, so you know exactly how and why these tips can help.
It's All About the Hormones
We’re going to give a very quick overview of the hormones involved in sleep! Your body is a powerhouse, with tons of processes all going on at the same time. One of which is the synthesis of sleep hormones such as melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin regulates your sleep/wake cycle whereas serotonin helps to boost mood, feelings of happiness and is a precursor to the release of melatonin. Both of these are synthesised using the essential amino acid tryptophan, essential in that it can’t be made in the body, so we have to get it from our diets. Amino acids are the building blocks of our body, coming together to form proteins, the base of our cells.
Making Our Bodies Better at Making These
Alright. We've had our crash course in sleep physiology, so how do we get our bodies to make more of these hormones and amino acids so that when you say goodnight, you mean it.
1. Get Moving!
You’ve probably heard it many times before, but exercise is for more than just fitness. It stimulates your body to create more serotonin, relaxing you and getting your body ready for sleep. But try to refrain from exercising too late in the day, as this can actually prevent us from getting good quality of sleep.
2. Beware the Light
You’d be surprised on how much our body reacts to the world around us, and how much we have instinctively retained from our ancestral pasts. Our bodies produce much less melatonin throughout the daylight hours and more when it’s dark outside (probably the reason we have so much more energy in the summer!!). So naturally, the later it gets during the day, the more tired we should get. But in this day and age, we have light coming from all directions: bedroom light, phone, laptop, TV, tablet and sometimes even a kindle or e-reader. Although the light isn’t natural, this has been shown to reduce our melatonin production. So if you want to boost your melatonin at night, try to keep these to a minimum, dim your lights if you can, and get blackout blinds in the summer, when the sun rises much earlier.
3. Eat. Sleep. Repeat
Research has shown that certain foods have high concentrations of melatonin. Lentils, rice, cherries, oats, and pistachio nuts are a few examples of some plant-based foods with the highest concentrations of melatonin. Many protein rich foods such as meats, dairy, fruits, and seeds have hig concentrations of tryptophan to help with the production of melatonin and serotonin. Foods high in B-vitamins also help to improve quality of sleep, as they regulate the body’s synthesis of tryptophan, whereas increasing your intake of foods high in minerals such as magnesium and zinc are responsible for the synthesis of neurotransmitters like serotonin. If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to get all of these in your diet, check out our range of health shakes.
4. Make it comfortable for you
Sleep hygiene is one of the most important things to consider when trying to get a good night’s sleep. You need more pillows? Get them. Less pillows? Who needs them, right? Remember, if you’re not comfortable, you’ll have a tough time actually waking up feeling rested. Try to ensure that your environment is sleep-promoting. You can do this by:
- Ensuring you have a comfortable mattress
- Make sure your duvet isn’t too warm for you. Check out this guide on duvet togs.
- Relaxing music for the sound lovers/ear plugs for the silence cravers
- Ensure you have blackout blinds to keep any unwanted light out of your room
- Relax yourself with some mindfulness meditation and breathing techniques.
- Read a book or listen to a podcast
5. The Secret to your sleep lies in your ROUTINE
"Externally-triggered automatic responses to frequently encountered contexts". We wish we could take credit for this phrase, but the psychology is sound. Keep doing something in a specific way, at a specific time, and you'll realise that your body will automatically expect that thing to happen as it becomes more of a habit. So if you develop a night-time routine: drinking a herbal tea (got to avoid the caffeine!) > brushing your teeth > putting on your pjs > dimming the lights > setting your phone to DND > reading a book; then your body will start to release more of those hormones that help us to get a restful nights sleep.
At BOXD, we are made up of a team of Sports Scientists, Chartered Nutritionists. We want to make sure that we’re not just putting up the pseudo-science you’d see on other sites. If any of our staff put anything on our blog that relates to your health, you can bet that it is backed by evidence-based science! It always will be. That’s our commitment to you.