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  • Writer's pictureMelanie

How much sleep do you really need and what happens if you don’t get it?

How much sleep do you get a night? 7 hours? 5 hours? What is the quality of your sleep like? Perhaps you struggle to get to sleep and lie there for an hour or two before dropping off, or maybe you can get straight to sleep, but find yourself wide awake at 2am? Or are you one of the lucky ones who sleeps straight through and can wake up without an alarm?

We need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night, with 8-9 hours being preferable for our health.

I am pretty lucky these days, I get a reasonable night most nights, but it wasn’t always the case. I have been known to bake loaves of bread and cakes while the rest of the house slumbered on. I have both started and finished a book during long sleepless early hours and I have had more than one near miss driving home from work during a period of insomnia – red light, what red light?

Sleep deprivation can be deadly, it is as harmful as alcohol when it comes to our decision making and reflexes; driving when tired contributes to 1,500 fatal road accidents a year.

But it doesn’t stop there, lack of sleep plays havoc with our body systems.

Research demonstrates the impact of sleep on our immune systems. Where sleep is disrupted, immune responses become impaired, increasing our risk of illness. It is thought that where sleep is short (less than 7 hours per night) for prolonged periods of time, the risk of autoimmune conditions and low-grade inflammation increases.

A lack of sleep increases the risk of obesity and diabetes. Leptin and ghrelin are hormones that regulate of food intake, studies have shown that sleep deprivation results in changes in these hormones, we can not tell if we are full, meaning that we crave foods, especially high sugar, refined carbohydrates.

Menopause-related sleep disturbance is associated with negative changes in mood and stress reactivity due to increased production of the stress hormone cortisol.

The less sleep we have, the lower our levels of concentration and performance, both mental and physical.

So, a good night’s sleep is crucial, but how can we get one?

5 food tips to support sleep:

1. Eat sufficient protein (approximately 45g for women and 55g for men per day)

2. Include tryptophan-rich foods such as walnuts, oats and mushrooms in your diet.

3. Try taking a tablespoon of tart cherry juice before bed.

4. Eat two Kiwi fruit for your dessert in the evening

5. Try a soothing cup of Lemon balm tea, or a tea containing chamomile, valerian and lavender.

5 lifestyle hacks to support sleep:

1. Get into a routine: go to bed and get up a the same time every day, weekends included.

2. Switch off devices at least an hour before bed.

3.Have a warm, but not too hot, magnesium salts bath before bed

4. Avoid caffeine after noon.

5. Don’t eat a heavy meal within 3 hours of bedtime

For more information, see my eBook on sleep, coming soon!

If you would like to discuss how nutrition and lifestyle medicine can support your sleep, book a free discovery call today!

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