A lack of sleep can leave the body and mind feeling exhausted, creating anxiety and stress. But even if you get to bed on time, it's not always as easy as simply closing your eyes and drifting off.
Fear not, our Senior Herbalist answers common questions about sleep, and explores little changes we can all make to our daily routine and night time rituals to help get a much better night's rest.
So why is sleep so important?
It's important to remember that our bodies carry out a huge amount of vital tasks each day to keep us happy, healthy and ultimately alive. As we drift off each night, sleep is an opportunity for our body to be able to:
Help repair damaged cells
Give our immune systems a boost
Recover from the day’s activities
Recharge your heart and cardiovascular system
Do I have a sleep problem if I wake up in the night?
We are evolutionary conditioned to wake up in the night, it's completely natural. When you do, settle your mind and try to go back to sleep.
Top tip: Meditating is a powerful way of silencing the worries rattling around in your head. Go beyond your brain’s noisy internal dialogue and enter into a more relaxed state. Try our free guided meditation.
How much sleep do I need?
This depends on a few things, the kind of person you are, how old you are and what is a normal sleep time for your family. We need an average of 7-8 hours but some people need 4 whilst others need 10. You will know what is enough for you by how refreshed you feel.
When is a good time to go to bed?
Many people believe that going to bed early is better for a good nights sleep, but what is more important is routine. Try and go to sleep and get up at the same time every day.
Top tip: Minimise mental activity in the evening. Try to avoid working, doing life admin or sending those long text messages/ emails just before bed. Give your brain a break. Those messages can wait and they’ll be a lot better when you’re less tired too!
Do I need a strict regime to get a good night’s sleep?
No not really, a night time routine is something that should be really savoured. Think of little habits that can help calm the body and mind before bed. Try running a warm bath infused with epsom salts and soothing herbs, or snuggle up with a cup of Night Time tea. Keep noise and electronic stimulation to a minimum and dim the lights for an hour or so before bed. The less anxiety you have about getting to sleep the better
Should I completely avoid caffeine?
That’s not necessary but its probably best to not have more than two caffeinated drinks a day and none after lunch time. Matcha tea is also a great, healthy alternative for your daily coffee fix.
What sleeping remedies could I take?
Many conventional sleeping tablets for insomnia such as benzodiazepines and tricyclic anti-depressants actually inhibit REM [Rapid eye movement] sleep and should only ever be used short-term.
Natural relaxants such as plant-based supplements like Pukka Herbs’ Night Time capsules will help to relax a restless body and mind as well as encourage undisturbed and refreshing sleep. The key ingredient in Pukka’s Night Time capsules and Night Time tea is valerian.
Valerian is a strong nervine and sedative to the central nervous system relaxing tense muscles whilst also encouraging an undisturbed sleep, healthy sleeping pattern and relieve stress.
Valerian is know to help support the following:
Promotes relaxation through enhancement of GABA neurotransmission [the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the adult brain]
Relaxes the heart treating palpitations, tightness and high blood pressure
Reduces the time to sleep onset [the time it takes you to get to sleep] and improves the quality of sleep
It can also help with withdrawal from conventional medications used to treat insomnia.
What should I eat and drink to help me sleep better?
Nutritionist Cassandra Barns says: “foods rich in a natural chemical known as tryptophan can help support the body’s circadian rhythms."
"These include foods such as oats and oat flowers, dates, pumpkin and sunflower seeds but also natural proteins."
"Herbs that help to relax the nervous system or influence a slight sedative action can also help smooth out any residual tension left over from the day.”
What exercise should I do to help me sleep better?
Celebrity personal trainer, James Stark says: “People having trouble sleeping may need to de-stress allowing their body to relax.
"I would advise avoiding too much high volume work and maybe stick to more strength-based training. Applying more yin work would be essential so this may mean going to a good yin yoga class, taking a trip to a spa to relax or meditating.”
When is the right time to exercise?
James suggests: “Avoid doing any high intensity work late afternoon or in the evening to avoid cortisol levels increasing to high and keep the adrenals in check.
"Perform heavier/high volume workouts in first half of day (early morning is best) and leave the relaxation to the end of the day i.e. yin yoga, sauna, working on breathing techniques.
Is there something that you would like our herbal experts to write about? Send your ideas and suggestions to email@example.com. Or if you have your own blissful night time ritual, give @PukkaHerbs a tweet and let us know your top tips for calming the mind and unwinding before bed. Meet the author
Katie Pande, Senior Herbal Advisor
Katie is a qualified Medical Herbalist, and member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH), currently practicing in Shaftesbury. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Herbal Medicine and a BSc (Hons) in Plant and Environmental Biology.