When you become a parent your relationship with sleep changes for ever. Add to the mix the added stress of running a business around a family, and it can be all too easy to end up burning the candle at both ends, and sacrificing sleep in favour of ticking off a neverending To Do list. In this article Registered Nurse Sue Bedford explains why sleep is so important and offers some tips for a good night’s sleep.
Why we need sleep
Without sleep our body would be unable to function and most of us know how awful we feel when we have gone without sleep for long periods. Sleep is the time when our body repairs itself, detoxifies and rejuvenates. Ideally, we should get about eight hours of sleep each night but some will need more and others will need less, depending on age and health status.
Tips for a good night’s sleep
1. Take 20 to 30 minutes of exercise during the day, rather than the evening, such as a brisk walk, housework, or an activity which will increase your heart rate! Yoga and stretching exercises may also help, particularly if you feel stressed.
2. Eat your main meal before 7pm. This allows your digestive system to settle down after working hard to process the food through your stomach.
3. Avoid smoking or smoky atmospheres as nicotine is a stimulant. Alcohol is also a stimulant so is best avoided if you want a restful night’s sleep.
4. Avoid caffeinated products in the evening, such as coffee, tea and chocolate (sorry!). Caffeine is a stimulant and can affect some people for up to 12 hours.
5. Plan the following day’s activities in your diary, prepare packed lunches and the clothes you will be wearing so you have less on your mind when you go to bed.
6. Avoid falling asleep in the early evening in front of the TV. Get up and do something if you feel sleepy.
7. Have a regular bedtime routine to prepare your body for sleep. For example, read or listen to soft music. Avoid watching stimulating programmes or films containing violence, loud noises or horror.
8. Avoid bedtime snacks that contain sugar. If you cannot sleep because you are hungry, choose a snack containing a nutrient called tryptophan which helps your body release the sleep hormones, serotonin and melatonin. This can be found in hazel nuts or peanuts, sesame or sunflower seeds, and bananas and should be consumed no later than an hour before bedtime. Milk also contains tryptophan so a milky drink may also aid sleep. Some people find chamomile tea has a relaxing effect at bedtime.
9. If you feel stressed and find it hard to relax, try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or progressively squeezing and relaxing your muscles from your feet to your shoulders. Listening to a relaxation CD may also help.
10. Make sure your room is totally dark, quiet and has adequate ventilation. If your bed is uncomfortable or over 10 years old, replace your mattress. Pillows should be soft and not bulky to avoid neck strain and choose bedding appropriate for the time of year to avoid being too hot or too cold. Electrical devices such as a radio alarm or TV should be moved as far away from your bed as possible because their electromagnetic waves interfere with sleep.
11. Sleeping tablets prescribed by your doctor should be a last resort and should only be used for a short period as they can be addictive and make matters worse. Natural ingredients that have been found to aid sleep include Valerian, Passionflower, Lemon Balm, or Hops. A few drops of Lavender and Chamomile essential oils sprinkled on a pillow may also be helpful. If you find you toss and turn frequently during the night, you may be low in magnesium so a supplement containing magnesium citrate may help.
Sue Bedford is a mum of 4, and runs 2 businesses from home. Pulse Health Screening offers health assessments and a wide range of tests and services in the Beds, Bucks and Herts area, most of which are unavailable in the NHS. Sue also has a diploma course in nutrition and runs a website called Healthy Choices offering nutrition & lifestyle advice along with a range of toxin-free, personal care and household products.