Has lockdown and anxiety surrounding the current unpredictable situation affected your sleep? Are you getting less shut-eye? Here’s how to remedy the situation…

How has your sleep been lately? Have you had a busy mind due to the current situation and found yourself unable to nod off so easily? If you have been finding it harder to get to sleep or waking up more frequently during lockdown, you’re not alone. Not surprisingly, 60 per cent of Brits have had poorer quality sleep since lockdown started on 23rd March, according to a survey by researchers at Kings College and Ipsos MORI. Half said their sleep has been disrupted more frequently, with women affected more than men. We all know about the importance of sleep, especially for anyone with an active lifestyle. It’s when your body repairs and heals. So what can you do if you aren’t sleeping too well at the moment?

Environment and diet

We spoke to registered nutritionist and author, Rob Hobson, who wrote the book The Art Of Sleeping. Rob says: ‘The art of sleeping is about addressing all areas of sleep hygiene and these can be categorised by behaviour, environment and diet. Behaviours includes habits such as too much screen time before going to bed which can impact on melatonin (the sleep hormone) secretion by the body. Environment is all about your sleep oasis; if your room is too hot, light or cluttered then this may impact on your ability to sleep well. Understanding how your body is programmed and feeding it the right foods at the right time can help you to unlock the secret to a good night’s sleep and keep your circadian rhythm on track.’

Rob has provided some top tips on how to improve the quality of your sleep…

Fuel your mornings

Getting up and feeling energised across the day can be just as challenging as going to sleep for some people, especially night owls. Avoid falling into the snooze button void and get up at the same time each day and fuel your morning with the right nutrition. Start the day with a nourishing breakfast rich in protein and fibre to keep you feeling full and energised through to lunch.

Rob recommends: ‘To get a healthy start to the day make time for a nutritious breakfast such as plain yoghurt topped with fresh fruit and crushed almonds. Almonds contain energising plant protein and healthy fats, plus fibre, to keep you going throughout the day. They are also a high source of magnesium, which contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue. They’re a perfect feel good fuel to get you off to the right start.’

Say no to a long siesta

Some of us can fall victim to ‘catching up on sleep’ at the weekends and going back to bed, but if you’re having trouble getting a good night’s sleep, powering through the day and avoiding the temptation to have a long afternoon doze is important to keep your circadian rhythm in check. A quick 40 winks is fine, but any longer and you’re at risk of suffering from sleep inertia – that groggy feeling you get when you wake up. If you feel yourself flagging throughout the day try to keep yourself active and alert. Go for a short walk, stay hydrated and grab a nourishing snack.

Rob comments: ‘Research suggests that we’re more likely to crave foods high in fat, salt and sugar when we are tired, so it’s no wonder we’re grabbing the biscuit tin for a sweet fix when we hit that 3pm slump at work. But this really doesn’t help us to stay sustained and focused in the long run. Instead opt for a healthy snack like a handful of unsalted almonds and a banana.’

Tiring tryptophan

Tryptophan is an amino acid found naturally in a number of foods. It plays a role in maintaining our circadian rhythm as it is used by the body to make serotonin which in turn is converted to melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that is released when it gets dark to help trigger our internal body clock into going to sleep.

Rob recommends: ‘You can increase your intake of tryptophan by eating foods such as seeds, soya beans, bananas, chicken, turkey, oats, beans and eggs. Eating these foods with a source of carbohydrate can help with its uptake to the brain. So, a simple dish of scrambled eggs on toast or chicken stir fry with rice is a good choice for a quick and easy dinner.’

Don’t go to bed hungry

Skipping evening meals, not eating enough or eating sugary foods before bed may cause dramatic shifts in blood glucose during the night which in turn can stimulate the brain, signalling it to wake up and eat. This phenomenon can disrupt sleep and effect overall sleep quality.

Rob recommends:  ‘Try to eat something before bedtime and keep it light to avoid any digestive issues that may also contribute to your ability to get to sleep.  Evening snacks containing protein and good fats, such as a handful almonds, are a good way to have a slow release of energy during the night, especially important if you have eaten early in the evening. Recent research has also shown that almonds may be a useful snack to curb hunger pangs.’

The magic of magnesium

Other nutrients, such as magnesium, also have a role to play in sleep quality and relaxation. Among its many roles, magnesium is important for the normal functioning of the nervous system and psychological health, it is also involved in the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

Rob says: ‘Magnesium is more rapidly depleted from the body during times of stress, and low levels are associated with anxiety and insomnia. Which can in turn create a vicious circle of depletion and anxiety, preventing you from sleeping well. Magnesium is difficult to absorb from food so to ensure you are getting enough in your diet (especially if you are under stress) you can increase your intake by including foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses and cocoa powder.’

More information

Rob Hobson is a Registered Nutritionist (Association for Nutrition) and the author of a book called The Art Of Sleeping, which is about finding your sleep base and identifies the issues that are contributing to their lack of slumber.