Tammy Spiller is a Clinical Nutritionist at The Banyans Healthcare Group with a specialist interest in mental health nutrition – here she explains how to get a good night’s rest.
Our handheld devices and tech allow us to work anywhere, anytime. We respond to every message of perceived work or social crisis at all times of the day and night. Stressful and busy lives are the norm, making it difficult to prioritise sleep, let alone understand that our whole sleep cycle is impacted by the actions we take during the day AND the night. If we don’t get good quality shut-eye, the mental stress that keeps us ‘wired and tired’ can lead to physical, emotional and mental changes.
There are many reasons individuals may not be getting quality sleep, but one of the biggest is stress. In fact, new research from The Banyans Healthcare Group reveals nearly half (48%) of Australians say stress is what impacts their sleep the most. A healthy sleep cycle can be difficult to achieve when you’re spending all night tossing and turning due to stress and struggling to switch off. Taking that first step to break the pattern is vital for a healthy lifestyle.
High levels of stress can cause the adrenal glands to produce large amounts of cortisol and other stress hormones. Although cortisol peaks in the morning to wake us up, it should decline steadily during the day, so our sleep hormones can rise in the evening. However, nowadays alert signals are everywhere and our body and brain are receiving them all day and night from our environment. It doesn’t matter whether our stress is mental, emotional, physical or environmental it triggers our ‘fight or flight’ hormones which can prevent quality sleep.
This can lead to a vicious cycle where the stress that originally caused loss of sleep becomes worse due to poor-quality sleep. Sleep deprivation can cause irritability, lack of concentration, decreased motivation and influence our choices over the course of the day. Over half (57%) of Australians struggled to sleep properly over the last year.
Over time, high levels of stress hormones can result in further health issues such as inflammation, digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), excess fat storage, and even depressed brain function impacting our mood and ability to concentrate. Other contributors to poor quality sleep include being distracted by technology, irregular sleep schedules and poor food and lifestyle choices. Prioritising sleep means addressing these underlying causes and taking action before they escalate.
A good place to start is by avoiding electronics before bed. While it’s understandably tempting to scroll on your phone or watch a movie on your laptop in bed at night, using these devices right before sleep keeps your mind highly engaged. Excess light from screens and overhead lighting can block the main sleep hormone Melatonin from rising enough to trigger sleepiness. It may take you longer to fall asleep, or you may struggle falling into a deep sleep. A better alternative before sleep, is reading a book for half an hour. You’ll feel tired a lot quicker without a backlit screen, helping those who struggle to respond to sleep cues initiate sleep.
The other thing that supports a good sleep/wake cycle is maintaining a healthy diet. Eating nutritious meals and exercising at regular times from day to day is almost as important as light in a good sleep cycle. This allows your body to undergo key digestive and repair functions and can trigger a cascade of hormones and molecules that keep our body and brain functioning optimally. Together with sleep, they are key to improving stress resilience. Make a start by avoiding sugary foods in the evening before bed and keep your coffees to before lunch.
At the end of the day, not a lot of people realise that sleep is actually one of the most important foundations of health. Sleep is the bodies’ chance to rest and repair, we need it to create an all-round happy and healthy life. If you find yourself feeling exhausted both physically and mentally for long periods of time or it is impacting other areas of your life, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help.