Good sleep is fundamental to both physical and mental health. While we sleep, compounds from our food are synthesised into the proteins of living tissues, supporting cellular growth and rejuvenation. That’s why good sleepers have been shown to enjoy greater skin barrier recovery, and significantly lower intrinsic ageing scores than poor sleepers.
Our sleep enables us to recharge our energy levels while also stabilising our mood and motivation. The neuronal networks that govern our sleep also govern our mental health – and disruption in sleep patterns is well documented to increase our risk of developing mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety.
In this way, sleep disturbances can provide us with an early warning sign, and act as a reminder to restore balance to the nervous system and safeguard our physical and mental wellbeing.
Quality versus quantity
First things first, it’s important to define what sleep quality actually means. Sleep quality is ‘one’s satisfaction with the sleep experience’ and so encompasses our ability to fall asleep, stay asleep for a satisfactory amount of time, and the experience of waking feeling refreshed.
For someone who struggles to drop off, the amount of time it takes to fall asleep may be their biggest measure of sleep quality. Someone who frequently wakes in the early hours would place greater weight on their ability to stay asleep as the sign of a quality night's rest.
What causes disrupted sleep?
A blood sugar imbalance is one of the most common causes of sleep disruption. However, in my clinic I also frequently observe unwitting overuse of caffeine, and mistimed or overly indulgent alcohol consumption as common sleep robbers too.
Some people have an inherent caffeine sensitivity, while others will mistakenly consume too many caffeinated beverages over the course of the day – or end their caffeine consumption too late. It takes longer than most people realise (around eight hours on average) to reduce the circulating caffeine load by around 75%.
For this reason, cutting off caffeine by 3pm in the afternoon can help ensure it doesn’t overstimulate you at night and prevent you from dropping off, or interfere with your body’s ability to switch over into parasympathetic mode, which is needed for deep sleep and enhanced recovery.
Alcohol – while it is a sedative and may help people to feel drowsy – tends to give with one hand and take with the other. By this I mean that it turns your sleep progression pattern upside down, providing the majority of your deep sleep up front, followed by lighter sleep in the early hours of the morning.
Our sleep cycles should broadly move from light to deep to REM sleep, and alcohol prevents this from happening which is one of the reasons we feel tired after a night of over indulgence. Keeping to one small glass of wine and finishing it around three hours before bed may lead to a more restful night's sleep.
My five tips for better sleep
1. Keep a consistent sleep/wake schedule
The body and brain respond well to this kind of ‘programming’. Research shows that when you keep your bedtime and wake up times consistent, you fall asleep faster and improve circadian alignment, which greatly enhances your chances of waking feeling refreshed and ready for the day ahead.
2. Create your own unwind routine
A well-researched formula with proven sleep-enhancing benefits is to divide your final hour before bed into three stages. Twenty minutes finishing off tasks and ‘closing your day’, 20 minutes of sleep preparations such as showering, brushing teeth and donning your PJs, followed by a final 20 minutes of relaxation.
I’ve seen positive sleep-promoting benefits from a wide range of relaxing activities including reading, listening to soothing music, connecting with your partner or engaging in a short gratitude, breathing or mindfulness practice.
3. Eat protein at breakfast
Waking in the early hours is frequently linked to a blood sugar imbalance. Adequate protein at breakfast helps to improve blood sugar stabilisation over the duration of the day, reducing the likelihood of sleep-disrupting fluctuations at night. It also provides the amino acids that support melatonin production, the dark hormone that helps you to sleep.
4. Do 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days
In my clinical experience, insomniacs that establish daily exercise routines are more successful in transitioning off their medication than those that don’t. That’s because exercise has powerful, medicinal-like effects on the brain, increasing feelings of drowsiness or ‘sleep pressure’ through the build up of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is involved in energy production.
If this seems daunting, try incorporating a power walk as part of your commute, or mimic a commute by opening and closing your work day with a stride around the block.
5. Actively reduce blue light exposure from 8pm
Switch to low lighting in the home, don your blue light-blocker glasses, and treat your skin to Pai’s Bonne Nuit Night Cream. This Peptide moisturiser contains special ingredients that protect against the effects of blue light and mimic melatonin – for a night of true beauty sleep.
What to do if you’re still struggling to sleep
If you’ve tried those pointers and are still struggling to sleep three or more nights a week for more than three months, it is advisable to discuss it with your doctor. Chronic insomnia is a serious medical condition, and so it’s wise to have a medical professional overseeing your treatment plan, even if you’re keen to pursue natural solutions.
I would also recommend functional testing to better understand if your problems are linked to stress, inflammation, nutrient deficiencies or hormonal and/or neurotransmitter imbalances.
Discover next-level beauty sleep with Bonne Nuit night cream here
Find out more about Hayley’s clinics and workshops on her website