We recently spoke with the lovely Jenya Di Pierro, a professional herbalist and a naturopath with a qualification in herbal medicine from the College of Naturopathic Medicine. She also founded Cloud Twelve, London’s leading wellness and lifestyle club.
Jenya focuses on enabling body’s self-healing mechanism through the power of plants and herbs. Her mission is to give people the option to use plants and feel their huge regenerative power, and to see how much calmer, happier and more balanced they can be.
Below she shares with us her 10 tips for better quality sleep.
10 Rules of Successful Sleep Hygiene
Obtaining healthy sleep is important for both physical and mental health. Establishing healthy sleep hygiene can significantly improve our quality of life and even help with a variety of health disorders. Here are a few simple, but important tips.
1. Watch what you eat and drink, and when
It’s hard to get to sleep on an empty stomach, but dinner several hours before bedtime is usually enough to hold you over. Some people sleep better if they have a small snack before bed, but you want to avoid large meals late at night. Large meals, although they can make us sleepy, often result in disrupted sleep a few hours later. Plus, sleeping after a large meal can make acid reflux worse in people who suffer that condition.
A more nutritious diet supports higher-quality sleep. If you want to sleep better, eat better. But when deciding on dinner and your bedtime snack, it’s especially important to incorporate foods that are known to promote sleep, while avoiding ones that do the opposite.
Fortunately, the list of the best foods for sleep is a long one, including yogurt, oats, nuts, milk, rice, cherries, and bananas, and much more.
One of the best Ayurvedic recipes that promotes restful sleep is a Golden milk with Ashwagandha.
- 1 cup milk, or unsweetened non-dairy milk
- 1 tsp ashwagandha powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 (1/2-inch) piece of organic ginger unpeeled, thinly sliced
- pinch of black pepper (increases bioavailability or turmeric)
Whisk milk, or non-dairy milk, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, pepper, and ashwagandha in a small saucepan; bring to a low boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Alternatively use milk frother to whisk the milk and mix the powder into it. (Best non-dairy milk for frothing is Oatly Oat Drink Barrista Edition)
2. Avoid/limit any stimulants in the evening
Caffeine and alcohol both disrupt sleep. While alcohol may make you drowsy and induce sleep initially, it disrupts your sleep in the latter part of the night – preventing you from getting essential amounts of REM and deep sleep. On the flip side, caffeine is a stimulant.
3. Exercise during the day
What you do during the day, several hours before bedtime, can have a big impact on your sleep. Exercise improves your overall health, and it helps physically tire your body by the time bedtime comes.
However, strenuous exercise should be avoided at night, ideally 3 hours before bed. It energizes you, and the more awake you are, the harder it is to fall asleep.
4. Work with the cause of your stress
If you do not work with the cause of your stress through a mental wellbeing practice like Sophrology, doing cognitive therapy or manifestations, it will often come to hunt you in your dreams or wake you up in the middle of the night around 3-4am when negative emotions and fears tend to heighten.
To work with fears you can do one of the following:
- Accept rather than fight it. Imagine it happening 10 times stronger than your worst fear, accept the outcome. If you truly accept it, the fear will go away.
- Create a list of alternative options if your fear materializes. There is often a lot of things you can do to correct/improve/or even prevent the outcome. The longer your list the more in control you are going to feel and fear will stop chasing you.
5. Make sure your room is completely dark when you sleep
A key factor in human sleep is exposure to light or to darkness. Exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the retina in the eye to an area in the brain called the hypothalamus. There, a special center called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) initiates signals to other parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature and other functions that play a role in making us feel sleepy or wide awake. Once exposed to the first light each day, the clock in the SCN begins performing functions like raising body temperature and releasing stimulating hormones like cortisol. The SCN also delays the release of other hormones like melatonin, which is associated with sleep onset, until many hours later when darkness arrives.
6. Turn off your ipad or other electronic devices at least an hour before going to sleep
The blue light emitted from electronic devices suppresses our natural production of melatonin. So even if we know we are tired and need to go to sleep, our brain is getting the opposite message. Please continue to use applications that aid sleep but make sure the display is dimmed.
7. Start going to sleep around 10pm when melatonin production is at its peak
Melatonin is a natural sleep hormone made by your body’s pineal gland. During the day the pineal is inactive. When the sun goes down and darkness occurs, the pineal is “turned on” by the SCN and begins to actively produce melatonin, which is released into the blood. Usually, this occurs around 9 pm. If you fall asleep after 2am, you would have missed the peak in melatonin production, which would affect the quality of your sleep.
Factors inversely affecting melatonin production: age, shift work, alcohol consumption, evening exercise, caffeine, pharmacologic agents such as antidepressants, beta-blockers, non-steroidal anti- inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Additionally, melatonin is a naturally occurring anti-oxidant and protects against DNA damage acting as a scavenger of free radicals, so don’t miss out on its anti-aging effect amongst other benefits!
8. Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine
A regular nightly routine helps the body recognize that it is bedtime. This could include taking warm relaxing bath with essential oils or Epson salt, reading a book, or practicing some Sophrology.
9. Make sure that your sleep environment is pleasant
Mattress and pillows should be comfortable. The bedroom should be cool – between 16C and 19C degrees – for optimal sleep. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices that can make the bedroom more relaxing.
10. Improve your sleep with herbs
There are a lot of powerful herbs that can help you improve your sleep, such as:
Lavender: increases slow-wave sleep, slows heartbeat, relaxes muscles and calms nervous system to allow for deeper and more nourishing sleep
St John’s Wort: elevates serotonin levels in the brain, which facilitates the production of the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin in the body.
Valerian: interacts with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical messenger that helps regulate nerve impulses in your brain and nervous system. Valerian inhibits the breakdown of GABA in the brain, resulting in feelings of calmness and tranquility. Valerian also contains the antioxidants hesperidin and linarin — compounds that have been found to have sedative properties.
Chamomille: commonly regarded as a mild tranquilizer or sleep inducer, it has calming effects from an antioxidant called apigenin. Apigenin binds to GABA receptors in your brain that may decrease anxiety and help to initiate sleep.
Passion flower: blocks GABA receptors, which makes it an excellent relaxant for stress-related conditions; promotes restful sleep and nourishes nervous system