Sleep is instrumental when cultivating a balanced, healthy lifestyle. In this article Sleep Organic caught up with Jo Webber — Herbal Education Lead at Pukka Herbs — for her five top tips to naturally improve your sleep pattern so you can start every morning feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
16 million adults in the UK are suffering from sleepless nights
As most of us know all too well, a poor night’s sleep can leave us feeling exhausted and distracted for the day ahead. And if this starts to become a regular occurrence, it can have a real impact on our physical and mental health. Sadly, as many as 16 million adults in the UK are suffering from sleepless nights, with over two thirds (68%) reporting having disturbed sleep on a weekly basis (Source: Aviva). To help combat this, here are five ways we can all naturally boost our quality of sleep.
Top 5 ways to sleep better naturally
1. A strong bedtime routine
Establishing a solid sleep routine is incredibly important. As well as setting yourself a regular bedtime, try to unwind from the day by properly disconnecting from work and other responsibilities at a set time. Focus on calming activities, such as having a warm bath or shower with your favourite skincare products or making your bedroom a calming environment with low lighting and scents from soothing essential oils like lavender. Keeping a sleep diary can also help you to identify what habits work for you or are impeding your night's sleep.
Within your night-time routine, one key element should always be keeping screens away from the bedroom. The blue light emitted from electronic devices can interfere with our melatonin production and make it harder to fall asleep, so it's far better to read a book in the evenings before drifting off. As we are always so reachable by phone or email nowadays, this can help to ease feelings of stress from constant connectivity.
2. The body's natural rhythms
Committing to shaping your natural body clock is a great place we can all start to improve our quality of sleep. If you've got into a pattern of staying up too late and struggle to begin your day, try setting your alarm fifteen minutes earlier each week until you reach your desired waking time. This can help you to improve your sleep pattern as your body gradually regulates its release of serotonin and melatonin (the key hormones in the sleep-wake cycle).
However, we must also recognise there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to sleep. It is highly individual and everyone's natural rhythms differ. So, if you have more energy in the afternoons and evenings, then this isn't necessarily a bad thing: instead, try adopting a more organic approach to sleep that works with the body rather than against it.
If your schedule allows for it, this may mean incorporating a short nap into the day or moving more of your work tasks to the afternoon, so that your mornings are a little slower. However, it’s best not to nap after 3pm as this will tend to spoil your ‘sleep appetite’. The most important thing is listening to your body and recognising how it responds to your current routine.
3. Natural bedding
Making your bedroom a welcoming and comfortable environment is key to a peaceful night's rest. One crucial way of doing so is investing in high quality bedding made with natural and organic materials. Temperature plays a large part in how well we sleep, and the ideal night-time conditions are a dark and relatively cool room (around 16-18 ̊C).
Unlike those using synthetic fabrics, bedding made from natural fibres like organic cotton or wool bedding is far more breathable and helps to regulate the temperature conditions as they change throughout the night. Natural sheets and pillowcases therefore not only feel lighter and softer on the skin, but they also help to reduce any sleep disruptions due to overheating or feeling a chill. What’s more if you opt for natural organic bedding, you can be sure there’s no toxic chemicals and fixatives that tend to lead to poorer quality sleep, irritate the skin and can cause low grade chronic inflammation.
4. Teas and supplements
According to a recent sleep survey, more than one in ten UK adults (13%) use sleeping tablets or drink alcohol to help them unwind at night (Source: Aviva). And while we may feel like a nightcap helps us to drift off, it can actually have the opposite effect and disrupt your sleep quality. While alcohol is perfectly fine in moderation, using it to help you sleep will not benefit you in the long term.
Instead, curl up with a book or puzzle and a comforting cup of a caffeine-free herbal tea to help you drift off into a deeper, easier rest. Look for organic, soothing ingredients like chamomile, lavender and valerian as these offer a natural way to unwind and relax the mind. Herbal supplements containing ashwagandha and gotu kola can also aid a calmer mind and deeper sleep, so that you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day.
Similarly, reducing reliance on caffeine in the morning can help you form healthier approaches to energy and sleep. Instead of coffee, try starting your day with naturally energising herbal teas containing matcha, turmeric or ginger.
5. Exercise and diet
Although most types of exercise are beneficial for improving our overall quality of sleep, doing exercise outdoors where possible is ideal. Time spent outdoors can have an incredibly positive impact on our wellbeing: in fact, studies routinely find that exposure to green spaces results in a decrease in blood pressure, cortisol levels, and general heart rate (Source: Science Direct). Not only this, but experiencing more natural daylight can also regulate our circadian rhythms, helping to support sleep.
Moderate aerobic exercise has proven to be the most effective at increasing the amount of slow wave sleep we get (Source: Hopkins Medicine). This crucial kind of sleep gives the brain and body a chance to replenish their energy stores, regenerate tissue and recalibrate the immune system. Walking, jogging and yoga are all moderate aerobic exercise that can help you achieve this slow wave sleep more easily: again, work with your body's individual rhythms and exercise when you feel the most energised in the day.
Lack of sleep can also make the body crave sugar and caffeine, substances that form a negative cycle by disrupting your sleep further. Instead, try caffeine free herbal teas with licorice or cinnamon, which are naturally sweet ingredients that can help to satisfy our sugar cravings and aid in balancing blood sugar levels.
In your everyday diet, look for foods that are high in tryptophan like oats, almonds, and protein sources like tofu, as this aids the production of sleep hormones. Similarly, the gut plays a larger role in sleep than you may realise so be sure to include enough pre- and probiotics in your diet. Fruit, vegetables, pulses, herbs and spices all have prebiotic effects, so aim to eat a consistently varied and colourful diet. Good sources of probiotics include fermented food like sauerkraut and kimchi and drinks such as kombucha and kefir, all of which help to balance the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Better sleep - key to a healthy life
Sleep is one of the main pillars of health and wellbeing, but it can sometimes be a neglected part of our lives. By incorporating things like a strong sleep routine, herbal remedies and organic natural bedding you can start to improve your sleep pattern in a natural, intuitive way.
Jo Webber, Herbal Education Lead at Pukka Herbs