Sleep and winter health

As the weather becomes colder, it can be harder to get out of bed in the morning. So, we spoke to Nutritionist and Medical Herbalist, Jessica Giljam-Brown to understand why quality sleep is one of our best tools to help boost our immune system and general well-being. 

Sleep health

Sleep is not only essential for our energy levels, but also for our immune function, metabolism, mood and cognition.

There is a complex relationship between your immune system and nervous system. Circadian rhythm patterns are seen in the way the immune system functions, and changes to your sleeping patterns have been shown to dysregulate and disadvantage your immune function. In simple terms, your immune system operates best when you sleep well.

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What does sleeping well look like?

  • You sleep 7-9 hours at night
  • You are asleep by 10.30pm 
  • You sleep through the night, without waking for long periods
  • You wake up feeling refreshed

Poor sleep has been linked to higher levels of inflammation, lower levels of protective immune cells and impaired development of immunological memory; this means that your body is not able to recognise bacteria and viruses or attack them as efficiently. These outcomes are not only a risk for short term health and your risk of infection from viruses but also your long-term health and risk of neurological degeneration and cardiovascular disease. 

Top tips for getting better quality sleep:

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Increase magnesium

Magnesium plays an important role in relaxing the muscles, supporting melatonin production and decreasing cortisol – all important factors in helping to send you into a deep slumber. Try to increase your dietary magnesium intake by including more pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds, chickpeas, lentils, leafy green vegetables, dark chocolate and avocado.

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Support melatonin production

Melatonin regulates your sleep/wake cycle (circadian rhythm), sending your brain a message when it is time to go to sleep and time to wake up. Melatonin levels increase when it gets dark and decrease when you are exposed to both natural and artificial light. In order to make more melatonin at night you will need to say ‘goodbye’ to screens at least an hour before bed and reach for a good book instead. Where possible dim the house lights after 7pm and use lamps and indirect lighting instead.

Studies have also shown that individuals who meditate often have three times more melatonin than individuals who do not meditate. Plus, this is a great ritual to support relaxation and get ready to doze off.

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Improve your sleep environment

If youre having trouble with sleep, addressing your sleep hygiene is a good idea. Sleep hygiene refers to the habits you have surrounding sleep that can affect the quality of your sleep. Developing a bedtime routine, keeping your bedroom at a comfortable temperature, ensuring it is dark, and avoiding blue light from devices, are all key when it comes to sleep hygiene. Consider creating nightly rituals, such as sitting down with a cup of tea and a book for before going to sleep, to help you relax.

Set yourself up for sleep success with the right mattress. To find out which type of mattress best supports your sleeping style try the Sealy Bed Selector tool.

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Balance your blood sugar

Blood sugar levels have a profound impact on your energy, mood and even your sleep. Signs of blood sugar dysregulation include fatigue, mood swings, excessive thirst, frequent urination, sugar cravings, insomnia and brain fog. When your blood sugar levels rise quickly and then fall, stress hormones are produced to help regulate these fluctuations. Excess stress hormones can cause us to feel anxious and also prevent relaxation when it’s time to go to sleep. 

Stabilising your blood sugar at night is key for great sleep, especially if you tend to worry and overthink at night. Forget the old myth of ‘no carbs at dinner’ as you need complex, slow-burning carbohydrates to help lower your cortisol and help you sleep deeper.

Aim to include complex carbohydrates with a source of protein and fat for best results. Dinner may look like this:

  • Roast potato + chicken + salad with nuts and avocado
  • Brown rice + chickpea and veggie curry + greek yoghurt
  • Sweet potato mash + lamb sausages + steamed veggies

Sleep is something we all need, but many of us don’t get enough of it. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when introducing new lifestyle changes into your daily routine, so start by selecting a few habits from the suggestions above. You’ll be sleeping soundly in no time!

About Jessica

Jessica is a Nutritionist and Medical Herbalist, providing advice around creating a sustainable health journey and lifestyle based on science and balance. She founded ‘Wellness’ by Jessica in 2015, to help people achieve wellness goals.

wellnessbyjessica.com  |  Instagram: @wellnessbyjessica

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