Possible to influence our ability to fall asleep

Ruth Zeinert

I’ve heard many people saying that the upheaval created by Covid-19 is making it hard for them to get a good night’s sleep.

One of the single-most important things you can do for body and brain health is to sleep well, and the good news is that there are plenty of ways we can influence our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, and increase our capacity to handle life’s challenges.

The hormones involved in our sleep and waking cycles are melatonin and serotonin.

These amazing chemical messengers perform almost opposite jobs but they need to work in harmony to keep our body balanced.

The production of both is increased or decreased depending on the amount of light hitting the retina in the eye; a good night’s sleep will be within reach if we increase our melatonin levels at night and boost our serotonin levels the next morning.

What we also now know is that 80%-90% of our serotonin is found in the gut, and 400 times more melatonin is synthesised in the gut than in the brain.

This means that looking after your digestive system is a crucial component of achieving great sleep.

If you are committed to getting a better night’s sleep, try these tips.

Routine and consistency are key so it’s also really important to go to bed and get up at similar times every day.

1. Caffeine can stay in our system for about eight hours (possibly longer), so limit your caffeine consumption to before noon.

2. Your bedroom should be your sanctuary.

Keep it clean, tidy and aired, and wash your sheets regularly (dry them on the line whenever possible bacteria, and there’s nothing quite like climbing in to crisp, clean, sun-dried sheets).

3. TVs, computers and handheld devices such as smartphones emit a blue light that prevents melatonin production.

Create a habit of not using backlit devices for 90 minutes before bedtime (in fact, keep that smartphone out of the bedroom completely).

4. Support your gut health by starting every morning with lemon and warm water, and add fermented foods to your diet.

5. Practise deep belly breathing throughout the day and especially when you go to bed at night.

6. Keep your bedroom dark and if you’re someone who wakes repeatedly and checks the time, get rid of any electronic clocks.

7. Keep a notebook beside your bed so if you wake up and think of something you need to remember, you can write it down and go back to sleep.

8. When you wake, boost your serotonin levels by opening the curtains and letting in as much sunlight as possible. Better yet, get outside into the open air.

Here’s to a good night’s sleep!

Ruth Zeinert is a registered nutritionist, former physiotherapist and the founder of Living Well, a local business working in a holistic way with people who are experiencing a health challenge or recovering from one