In my experience, lifestyle management of chronic health symptoms hinges on three key elements–sleep, diet and exercise. While all three of these elements impact on each other, I personally find sleep to be the most important. Without a good night’s sleep, I really struggle to function during the day, let alone achieve my nutrition and exercise goals.
Here are some tips that have helped me to greatly improve my sleep quality, and therefore my symptoms.
- Establish a good routine: Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, including weekends. This helps to set your internal clock and improve the quality of your sleep. Make adjustments to your routine until you can wake up naturally without an alarm. Avoid daytime naps by doing something stimulating to energise your body when you get sleepy. However, if you need to catch up on lost sleep, a short daytime nap is better than sleeping in, to avoid upsetting your routine.
- Set a bedtime ritual: Tell your body it’s wind-down time by following a bedtime routine that stimulates relaxation, such as a hot bath or shower, reading a book, meditation or journaling.
- Adjust your sleep environment: Your bedroom should be dark, cool, quiet and non-stimulating. Optimal room temperature for sleep is about 17-18 degrees Celsius.
- Use light and darkness to support circadian rhythms: The hormone melatonin, which helps to regulate our sleep cycle, is controlled by light. Expose yourself to sunlight in the morning and throughout the day, and avoid light at night, particularly bright screens, within 1-2 hours of bedtime.
- Don’t associate your bed with activities other than sleeping and intimacy: Read in a chair rather than in bed. If you are anxious or can’t sleep, do something relaxing in another space until you feel tired.
- Clear your mind: Before bed, write down stresses or ideas and set them aside for tomorrow. Keep a notepad and pen near your bed so you can make a note of any ideas or worries that wake you during the night. You will rest easier knowing that you won’t forget them.
- Get some exercise: But not too close to bedtime or you may have difficulty falling asleep. The best time is usually late afternoon, at least three hours before bedtime, to allow the body time to cool down. Gentle stretching exercise in the evening, such as yoga, can help with relaxation and improve sleep.
- Practice relaxation techniques: Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visualisation and alternate nostril breathing help to calm the mind and prepare for sleep. Essential oils such as lavender, Roman chamomile and clary sage are known for their sedative properties. Try adding a few drops to a tissue under your pillow, or a subtle linen spray to help you drift off to sleep.
- Nutrition: Eat no later than 4 hours before bedtime to allow for digestion. Avoid stimulants (caffeine, nicotine and alcohol), as these can keep you awake for up to 10 hours after exposure, while spicy or acidic foods can cause discomfort. Important nutrients for sleep include:
- Vitamin D – deficiency affects daytime energy levels and can cause sleep disorders.
- Vitamin B6 – used to make melatonin.
- Calcium – used in melatonin production, thought to assist deep sleep and help you to stay asleep.
- Potassium – deficiency can cause cramps and disrupted sleep.
- Magnesium – helps to relax muscles and nerves, promotes healthy circulation and digestion.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – assists melatonin release, helps stress and anxiety management.
- Proteins – building blocks for tryptophan, an amino acid that causes sleepiness, and also help to stabilise blood-sugar levels during sleep.
- Carbohydrates – allow tryptophan to be more-readily available.
- Try including bananas, oily fish, poultry, almonds, walnuts, tart cherry juice, oatmeal, yogurt, whole grains, sweet potato, green leafy vegetables, or fortified cereals in dinners and suppers. For best results combine protein and carbohydrates.
- Hydration is important for sleep quality, but too much liquid in the evening may lead to bathroom trips during the night. Ensure you hydrate well throughout the day, and try some calming herbal teas in the late afternoon as you start to wind down.
I highly recommend the use of a sleep tracking device or app to help you to identify the practices that impact your sleep quality, as well as to determine the best sleep patterns for you. There are plenty of options available and no shortage of online reviews to help you choose.