(and other questions we’ve been asked about the subject)
It’s Sleeptember and we’re in the middle of an insomnia epidemic. So why can’t we sleep?
Good question. Here’s our view.
We are hardwired to sleep but modern life conspires against us having a good night’s kip. An always-on, always-connected modern lifestyle, the switch to LED and halogen lights, the use of screens at night, technology in the bedroom, high intensity exercise and poor nutrition are all creating the perfect conditions for an imperfect night’s rest. Small wonder then that, in a recent survey by Mintel, 67% of adults in the UK are struggling to fall and stay asleep. And, according to the Sleep Council, one in ten of those people (11%) have been suffering for more than 11 years!
Fact, you can survive longer without food than you can without sleep.
Sleep is as important as food and exercise and is absolutelyvital for good health.
Here’s what we know about sleep – or the lack of it. Our experience and research has shown that the problem with sleep resides in our internal environment (i.e. our physiology or biological health), not our external environment (with the exception of light, because this also has a huge effect on your internal environment). What we eat, how well we store glycogen, the level of our stress hormones, are some of the places where the secret to sleep is to be found. Yes, sleep hygiene can play a part to set the scene for sleep, but on its own it can be a fruitless endeavour. In our experience, what matters most is our internal environment, not the external one.
That means that current advice isn’t addressing the whole picture, and that’s why we set about creating our business – to pass on the advice, understanding and products that work on us and Sophie’s clients – including our very own sleep drink.
During the time we’ve been helping people back to sleep, we’ve been asked many (common) questions about sleep. This blog summarises the top twenty most commonly asked questions about sleep. It’s a long one – so you might like to put the kettle on first and read this over a cuppa.
Sarah & Sophie
1. Why aren’t we getting to sleep? Surely, it’s a natural thing to do?
Yes, sleep is a natural thing to do but modern life conspires against us having a good night’s sleep. An always-on, always-connected modern lifestyle, the switch to LED and halogen lights, the use of screens at night, technology in the bedroom, high intensity exercise and poor nutrition are all creating the perfect conditions for an imperfect night’s rest. Small wonder then that, in a recent survey by Mintel, 67% of adults in the UK are struggling to fall and stay asleep.
2. Are some people more prone to insomnia than others?
Yes, in our experience the majority of insomniacs are having problems sleeping because of poor nutrition and the effect this is having on their metabolism.
3. But I have really good sleep hygiene – isn’t that enough?
No. Our experience and research has shown that the problem with sleep resides in your internal environment (i.e. your physiology or biological health), not your external environment (with the exception of light, because this also has a huge effect on your internal environment). What you eat, how well you store glycogen, how high your stress hormones are, are some of the places where the secret to sleep is to be found. Yes, sleep hygiene can play a part to set the scene for sleep but on its own it can be a fruitless endeavor. In our experience, what matters most is your internal environment, not the external one.
4. Why is it important to have good sleep?
In short – good sleep is vital for good health. Chronic sleep loss is one of the most common, and yet overlooked, disorders that has far reaching consequences for our health. Lack of sleep increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity and dementia. Just recently brain scans have revealed that during deep sleep, the brain cells shrink by about 60% causing channels to form in the brain, allowing for the cerebrospinal fluid to flush out debris and effectively detoxify the brain. If that wasn’t enough, poor sleepers are more likely to feel alone, anxious, have relationship problems, struggle to be productive and find it difficult to concentrate. You simply can’t function optimally without sleep.
5. What is a good night’s sleep?
Good question. A good night’s sleep is 7-8 hours of sleep that leave you feeling refreshed in the morning. Ideally you should be going to bed between 21:00 and 22:00 at night too to stop you getting that “second wind” which can delay you getting your sleep.
6. How long should I be asleep for?
The short answer depends on how old you are. The National Sleep Foundation concluded that the hours of sleep required for each age are as follows:
- Newborn – 14 – 17 hours
- Infants – 12 -15 hours
- Toddlers – 11 – 14 hours
- Preschoolers – 10 – 13 hours
- School aged children – 9 – 11 hours
- Teenagers – 8 – 10 hours
- Young adults and adults – 7 – 9 hours
- Older adults 7 – 8 hours
So for adults like us we recommend getting 7- 8 hours a night. However, here’s something else to back up the 8 hour figure and one that ties in with our own belief that, for the majority of insomniacs, it is our metabolism (the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life) that is one of the main causes of insomnia. A healthy person, with a good diet and a healthy thyroid etc., can store upward of eight hours of glycogen (the body’s store of sugar which provides the energy needs throughout the night) in their liver. A lack of this store can lead to sleeplessness because as the sugar supply dwindles from the liver, this is detected in the blood and the body maintains blood sugar by releasing adrenaline which scavenges for energy from elsewhere. But the unfortunate side effect of adrenaline is mental alertness, which of course you don’t want at night. You can read more about the subject on this blog.
7. Is it ok that I get up during the night?
Yes, it’s normal to wake once or twice. It’s only a problem if you struggle to go back to sleep quickly as this could be an indication that your body is under stress. This is also true if you’re getting up to go to the toilet several times (adrenaline can act like a diuretic) during the night. Have you eaten enough? Are you magnesium deficient? Are you ‘tired but wired’ and mentally alert still? These can be some of the common reasons why you’re struggling to get back to sleep. The key here is to wake up feeling refreshed in the morning. If that’s not happening then you’re not getting good quality sleep. Have a look at our ten top tips for sleep to see what you can do to improve your sleep quality.
8. I have a hard time going to sleep during the week, but I sleep a lot during the weekend. What can I do to get a more restful sleep throughout the week?
Everyone should get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night to feel rested; otherwise you will feel tired throughout the week. Often, people will try to catch up on sleep over the weekend to repay the “sleep debt” we accumulate over the week. While this can help, one weekend of increased sleep is not enough to compensate for lack of sleep the rest of the week.
One of the keys to good sleep is establishing a routine – make sure you have a wind down schedule before going to bed (see next question) and follow our ten top tips for sleep.
9. What is the best way to get back into an acceptable sleep pattern?
Routine is sleep’s best friend so turn the following top tips into a routine and you’ll find quality sleep much easier to achieve:
- Consider going for a good half hour walk in day light each day. Morning is best but afternoon is good too.
- Have a wind down for sleep routine that includes sleep drinks, an Epsom salt bath, reading
- Go to bed at a regular time each night
- Wake up at a regular time every morning
- No caffeine after 2pm and switch to decaff lattes or relaxing herbal teas with some honey
- Have a sweet, milky drink before bed – we recommend our very own bedtime drink, which was specifically designed to ready our bodies for sleep. Taken in either 200ml of hot milk or milk substitute, it really is the perfect bedtime companion.
- Turn the screens off at least an hour before bed and read a paper book instead
10. I get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, but I wake up exhausted and have overwhelming daytime sleepiness. Is it possible to be getting enough sleep but never reaching REM sleep?
If you are getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep and still feel sleepy this is called non-restorative sleep. It is possible you may benefit from a herb called an adaptogen. Adaptogens can give you an increased sense of well-being, including better energy levels. One particular adaptogen that is used for non-restorative sleep is called Ashwaganda. Unremitting fatigue can also be caused other disorders such as hypothyroidism or sleep apnoea which you can discuss with your GP.
11. I often wake up throughout the night and have trouble falling back asleep. Is there a simple explanation for this?
It’s OK to wake up during the night but it’s not OK to then struggle to fall back to sleep. In our experience this is because the body is keeping you awake because it is under some kind of physiological stress. In most cases this is because your body has run out of energy so in this instance we get up, go to the kitchen pour ourselves a glass of sweet, not-from-concentrate orange juice and then add a pinch of salt to it. We then drink it and return to bed having rinsed our mouths out. Or you can try this.
12. How can I change my sleep cycle from 3am-9am to 11pm-6am?
If we are in an unusual or unhelpful sleep pattern we must bear in mind that your circadium rhythm (your wake/sleep cycle) is governed by light (mainly) and eating. Light, as in the rising and setting of the sun is the most powerful governor of this cycle. However, light pollution, particularly from screens and LED energy-saver bulbs disrupts this rhythm by blocking melatonin production – our key sleep hormone. Turning off screens as earlier in the evening, changing back to traditional incandescent bulbs for lighting and getting as much early daylight exposure as possible can help break a late sleep pattern. But also, eating breakfast early morning and having an early evening meal may also help.
13. Why do I wake up at 2 am every night? What could be the reason?
If you’re awake with an alert mind in the middle of the night then that’s because your adrenaline and cortisol are running high. As odd as this may sound, our body and brain need just as much energy during the night as during the day. When we sleep, we use a form of stored glucose, known as glycogen, to meet our energy needs and maintain balanced blood sugar levels through the night. When this reserve runs low, our adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol to scavenge for energy in other body tissues. And what is the side effect of adrenaline at night? Mental alertness (and, if you’re unlucky, a racing heart too). That’s right, just when you don’t want it! Eating adequate carbohydrates which go on to be stored as glycogen – such as adding honey to a night time drink – can help prevent this from happening and, along with the salt, helps to take down the stress response. Try this little trick that really helped us.
14. What are some techniques you use to help ensure a good night sleep?
Here’s our four-point check list for quality sleep:
- Have we prepared our bodies for sleep? We often take an Epsom salt bath with the addition of two or three drops of lavender or chamomile an hour before bedtime.
- Is the room dark enough? If not, we use a sleep mask.
- Did we have enough to eat during the day? To make sure, we have our very own nighttime ‘nappetiser’ in hot milk and sip it in bed whilst reading a book
- Have we switched off? If we’ve got things on our mind we write them down as a way of downloading our thoughts so that our minds do work overtime at night. We also make sure we’ve switched off the screens at 9pm and gone over to reading a paper book instead. We also turn off the wifi too overnight as even wifi can interfere with melatonin production.
15. I feel tired all the time. What should I do?
If you are not getting good quality and adequate sleep (7-8 hours) then this could be the most important reason that your energy is low. However, if you are sleeping enough hours but still waking up tired, this is called non-restorative sleep. It is possible you may benefit from a herb called an adaptogen. Adaptogens can give you an increased sense of well-being, including better energy levels. One particular adaptogen that is used for non-restorative sleep is called Ashwaganda. Unremitting fatigue can also be caused other disorders such as hypothyroidism or sleep apnoea which you can discuss with your GP. Other reasons for low levels of energy can be chronic stress, which adaptogens can also be very helpful for.
Basic poor nutrition and food allergens can also cause fatigue. “Starvation in the midst of plenty”, describes a scenario where the quality of food is just so poor, the although the quantity is there in terms of calories, the quality and content of the nutrition of the diet is very poor.
- Are you eating enough protein every day? Approximately 1 gram for every kilo of body weight, or less if you are overweight. Are you eating enough carbohydrates which includes plenty of fresh fruit and root vegetables?
- Are you eating foods that really bring your energy down? Too much wheat is a common cause of this kind of fatigue.
- Are you magnesium deficient? Two thirds of the population are.
16. How can I overcome insomnia?
Here’s what we know about insomnia. When you’re lying awake, wondering if you’ll ever get back or simply off to sleep, it’s very tempting to view the inability to sleep as a symptom of psychological distress. Believe us when we say we know how distressing this can be. And whilst we know sleepless nights can be the result of worry, from what we’ve learned, experienced and seen, we do not believe that is the case for the majority of insomniacs. Bottom line, our experience and research has shown that the problem with sleep resides not in your head but in your body. Or at least that’s where it starts. What you eat, how well you store glycogen, how high your stress hormones are, are some of the places where the secret to sleep is to be found. Yes, sleep hygiene can play a part to set the scene for sleep but on its own it can be a fruitless endeavor. In our experience, what matters most is your internal environment, not the external one. As a starting point, we recommend having our bedtime drink every night as part of a pre-sleep routine. This drink was thoughtfully created from understanding sleep, scientific rationale and the need for something that is all-natural and safe to take every night. In fact, we’ve swapped our nighttime sleep teas for this drink because it’s positively good for us! This video explains more.
17. What are some sleep hacks and tips?
Here are our ten top tips for sleep. Once you’ve downloaded the pdf you’ll find there are links that will give you further information or take you to recommended products. Check out point ten which is our favourite sleep hack for when we are awake in the middle of the night and need to get back to sleep.
18. What is the first thing you do after you wake up in the morning?
We sweep back the bedroom curtains, let the light flood in to our eyes and the bedroom and give thanks for a new day. After recovering from such long and severe insomnia, it is impossible to wake up after a good sleep and not feel gratitude.
19. I have anxiety and can’t stop my mind from racing when I want to sleep, what should I do?
A racing mind at night is a sure sign of elevated cortisol and adrenaline. At this point you are under hormonal control and the best thing you can do is hack into your own physiology and take something that knocks those stress hormones on the head. Contrary to politically correct nutritional advise, something sweet and salty can be the ideal thing in this situation. A tall glass of naturally sweet orange juice with a quarter of a teaspoon of salt will go a long way towards knocking those pesky adrenal hormones back. Added to that, our very own sleep drink concoction is full of relaxing ingredients to calm and relax the mind. If you have thoughts concerns, get out a paper and pencil and scribble them out, literally download them from your head to the paper to save them circulating around in your mind all night.
20. Why does the human body have to sleep?
In short for repair, brain detoxification, energy conservation and consolidation of memory and learning. You cannot have good health without good sleep. Why is sleep important? Here are just some of the reasons: