As a practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine and co-founder of Pukka Herbs, Sebastian is big on the necessity of getting enough good shut-eye. ‘There are huge levels of stress in society and it’s a big issue for our health. The government lays down guidelines on diet and exercise but the vital third factor is sleep. When we sleep well we can digest our day and process our emotional experiences so we can cope.’
There’s confusion and contradiction with the ‘on-all-the-time’ way we live and work, he says. ‘In today’s society, we’re encouraged to be out there working hard – doing, doing, doing. But we should also be resting and sleeping lots to keep well and fit, physically and psychologically, and our world doesn’t champion that.’ Odd that, as it’s well established that insufficient sleep is linked to a litany of physical and mental health conditions. Recently, a link has been identified between short sleeping and a build up of the beta-amyloid protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Sleep is such an individual thing that we need to find our own rhythm: but there are common threads that, woven together, can help us all benefit from the deep comfort of a good night’s sleep.
Like other experts, Sebastian emphasises that we need to prepare for sleep from the start of the day not just at bedtime, if we want to recharge and prevent burn out. Caffeine, for instance, blocks the brain’s ability to use a neurotransmitter called adenosine, which accumulates during the day, making us progressively drowsier and ready to sleep. But that delicious cup of coffee or pot of strong tea has a half-life of six hours and a quarter-life of 12 hours. Do the math…
Here are Sebastian’s top suggestions for sleeping well:
- Enter the day in a calm, clear space: have a protein breakfast, such as eggs, to keep blood sugar levels steady. In general, avoid high carb/sugar diets, which cause blood sugar levels to spike and send your metabolism haywire, which impacts on sleep.
- Build in relaxation moments during the day: as above, stretch, meditate, walk and do some yoga; listen to music; look at clouds… We forget how to relax and need to practice just as we do with exercise or playing an instrument.
- Slot back into the rhythms of nature: getting outside in natural light as soon as you can in the morning helps your brain go into wakeful mode. Equally, avoid bright light in the evenings to enable your brain to trigger the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
- Switch off your email and your brain in good time: whether or not blue light from screens is a factor – and this is a warm topic just now – reading and responding to emails is not relaxing. For most people, seven pm is quite late enough. Writing a To Do list for the next day can be calming.
- Practise being totally in the flow of the present moment: one of the easiest ways is deep belly breathing. Switch your mind’s eye to your tummy button, put one hand over your tummy, then breathe deeply in and down, feeling your belly swell as you count to four. Hold the breath lightly for a count of seven, then exhale slowly for eight. Repeat. This is also brilliant if you wake up in the night, especially if you have racing brain.
- Harness the power of lavender: smell has massive power and this fragrant herb triggers a cascade of relaxing responses in the brain. Try lavender oil on pulse points and/or pillow spray. Lavender oil in capsules (Kalms Lavender One-A-Day Capsules) has been shown to help symptoms of mild anxiety, stress and nervousness.
- Consider taking supplements: an adaptogen such as ashwagandha at breakfast time gives you controlled energy and allows your system to adapt to fluctuations of stress hormones so you get less wound up. (Pukka Herbs Wholistic Ashwagandha)
- Vitamin D levels are generally low, especially in winter, and among other vital roles it can help support your nervous system. (BetterYou DLux 3000 spray)
- Taken early in the day, Vitamin B Complex can help your energy levels, brain function and cell metabolism. (Higher Nature B-Vital)
- Magnesium at night helps your muscles relax. (Try NeuroMag)
- I swear by Pukka Night Time Capsules, which contain valerian and ashwagandha, to calm my mind and body. And a cup of Night Time tea after supper.
- Have a light evening meal early: eating heavy or rich food late can keep your digestion far too busy for sleep, which in turn is likely to disturb your slumbers. Fresh, warm, soupy food is good for the evening, not too spicy or stimulating. Try grains, legumes (aka pulses) such as chickpeas and lentils, vegetables and a little protein with flavourings such as ginger, fennel and cumin.
- Be content to sleep in chunks; we expect to slumber through the night but until recently people would go to bed around sunset, sleep for a few hours then get up for an hour or so telling stories, making love, whatever – before they went back to sleep until the dawn.