Getting enough sleep is essential if you want to feel happy, stay healthy, and reach peak performance.

And beyond quantity, we also need to consider the quality of our sleep and how rested we feel in the morning.  It should go without saying that one of the most important pillars of health is undoubtedly SLEEP! You can do everything “right” when it comes to nutrition, and yet if your zzz’s are lacking, your health will suffer. 

In an upcoming post, I’d like to share some of my favorite sleep hygiene tips and what helps me hunker down for a restful night, but I thought I’d start with a few nutrition strategies that can set you up for better slumber.

     1. Limit caffeine. Not many people want to hear this one! We each metabolize caffeine at different rates, so while some people seem to be able to drink coffee at all hours without feeling jittery or without laying in bed staring at the ceiling all night, others struggle with very minimal amounts. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, caffeine can effect the quantity and quality of sleep for all of us more than we may realize. In my experience, the best practice is to avoid caffeine after 12pm, and stick to 1 – 2 cups of joe per day. When that afternoon craving sets in, turn to an herbal tea (hot or cold). 

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     2. Cut the sugar and processed foods! A diet high in sweets and treats, or breads and cereals can put the body in a state of dis-stress. The hormonal response to the blood sugar rollercoaster can disrupt circadian rhythms AND increase general inflammation; both make quality sleep nearly impossible. Best practice: cut out the junk and build your meals with a variety of veggies, natural fats and quality proteins.

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    3. Feed your microbiota. The bacteria in our gut may have much influence on how well we sleep. Sugar, refined grains and processed foods not only result in gut irritation, but they can also lead to gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of the “bad” guys and the “good” guys). We are learning more and more everyday about the value these little critters play on our health. Without them we can’t do all the amazing things that make us human. We rely on them and they communicate critical information to our brains. Best practice: eliminate sugars and processed foods, while emphasize fibrous vegetables, fermented foods and bone broths to replenish populations of good bacteria and improve their communication. Odd as it may sound, this can result in better sleep.

 4. Add a little starch. Too much carbohydrate can be problematic, but, so can too little (for some). For those following a low carb, whole foods diet and struggling with sleep, best practice may be to add a serving of starch (root vegetables, sweet potato, potato, or winter squash) to your dinner plate around 4 hours prior to bed. Such foods may increase the amount of tryptophan available, which may boost melatonin and serotonin synthesis. It’s something worth playing with for a few weeks.

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5. Decrease the alcohol. There’s a common perception that a couple drinks will bring on the heavy eyelids, and thus alcohol has become one of the most utilized sleep aides people turn to. But, the reality is that it’s disruptive to the natural sleep cycle. Alcohol can suppress melatonin, which naturally initiates and regulates our sleep-wake rhythms. As alcohol is being metabolized it can also effect the time you spend in deep and REM sleep states. This negatively impacts mental restoration, physical recovery, and increases your chance of waking during the night. Best practice: decrease your consumption, enjoy a drink earlier in the evening, and better yet, swap your glass of wine for sparkling water with a splash of fresh citrus most nights of the week.

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While good nutrition can help improve your sleep, good sleep can also set you up to make better food choices. A win win!

Here are 12 proven ways you can help your mental health in these tough times

As the coronavirus pandemic sees a shift in every element of our lives, the need to protect and support our mental health has arguably never been more important. 

An ongoing study by the University of Sheffield and Ulster University

showed that on Tuesday 24 March, the day after Boris Johnson placed Britain under lockdown, 38% of study participants reported significant depression and 36% reported significant anxiety.

This compared with 16% reporting significant depression and 17% reporting significant anxiety the day before the announcement.

So what can we do? 

Research from the science of positive psychology about how to support our mental health can offer help. We are guided by the fact that we are all different – a five mile run every day may make you happy but doesn’t do it for me. This is a period in which we will really get face to face with who we are and what works for us. 

12 things you can do to help your mental health in lockdown

With that in mind, here are 12 different things we currently look after ourselves, and ideas on how to adapt them in these times of isolation.

1) Look after your physical health

In order to have good mental health, we have to take proper care of our physical needs, include:

2) Manage your thinking

Thinking patterns are habits. That negative thought  is not the truth, it’s just a perspective. Write negative thoughts down, then return to them and deconstruct their validity.

3) Maintain a human connection

We may not be able to hug the people we love until the end of this period but social media really comes into its own here, as does video conferencing. We’ve got virtual book clubs running, gigs from people’s sitting rooms, quizzes. Get involved if you’re missing the social aspect of life.

4) Manage what you read

Limit yourself to official news channels and just once a day. If you have people who are constantly catastrophising in this period, mute them for a while – they don’t need to know!

5) Learn

Perfect for the self-improvers. Learning allows us to expand ourselves and puts our situation into perspective. Enrolling in an online course could change your whole life direction post-corona.

6) Practice kindness 

We all feel good if we help the elderly lady next door by getting her milk in, it’s much easier than being kind to our partner whose very tapping on the keyboard grates on every nerve. But be kind to them too.

7) Focus on gratitude

We are here, we are alive, we have roofs over our heads.  Focusing on what to be grateful for  is the easiest route to happiness. 

8) Savour and appreciate

We have lived mad busy lives. We rarely get the chance to really take in that smell and taste of coffee, the bird singing, or even going through precious memories of previous times in our photo albums. Take a minute to stop, and savour.

9) Practice mindfulness

If you haven’t had time to try mindfulness before, now is the time. Just five minutes each day has proven health benefits. 

10) Find meaning and purpose

Often the happiest people are those who work really hard for something outside themselves and in service of others. Can you offer online support to someone, or donate funds or supplies?

Many charitable acts can be done without leaving the house. Search online for information on how you can help anyone struggling during this crisis.

11) Set goals

Isolation can induce self-reflection. Understand things in your life you would like to change, and set goals in place to do that.

12) Accept the situation

The fact that we are all in the same boat is incredibly helpful here. But, in all aspects of life, railing against things we can’t change is not only detrimental to us but also to those around us.

Concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl said: “When we can’t change our circumstances, we are challenged to change ourselves.” If you haven’t read his book Man’s Search for Meaning, then now is the time.

The most important thing to remember is that this time will pass. Almost every one of us will come out of this poorer financially, but equip yourself with the tools to come out of it stronger.

Debs Brookes Roots of Life
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