According to a survey by the Medical Health Foundation, a third of us suffer from sleep deprivation and insomnia. It’s estimated that the NHS spends £15 million on insomnia, although many people don’t do anything about their sleep problems – they just try to get on with their lives.
The link between insomnia and obesity & diabetes
The BBC1 programme highlighted why it’s so important to get help for sleep problems. Research has revealed that 50% of people who sleep less than 5 hours a night are obese and that there’s a link between insomnia and diabetes. Researchers put this down to the effect of insomnia on the hormones that control hunger and appetite. If you’re not getting an average of 7 to 8 hours sleep most nights, you’re more likely to feel hungry and less likely to feel full when you eat. You’re more likely to get sugar cravings and because your glucose levels are higher, you’re at higher risk of diabetes. One person featured on the programme said he ate 10 custard creams for breakfast!
The research also pointed to the bad effect that insomnia can have on your gut bacteria. The millions of good bacteria in your gut that help you absorb nutrients from food and protect you against infections, get upset when you don’t sleep well. When you’re sleep deprived, the bacteria extract more energy from your food, leading to more weight gain.
What’s more, a lack of sleep puts stress on the body, leading to the release of the stress hormone cortisol. If you’ve got cortisol running round your body all the time, it’s very bad news if you’re trying to lose weight. Cortisol encourages the body to store fat.
So what can you do to help insomnia and sleep problems?
The programme highlighted several important things to help get better sleep, as well as the well-known advice of avoiding caffeine well before bedtime:
- Switch off phones, laptops, the TV and other screens at least 1 hour before bed. The light from screens interferes with your body clock.
- Keep your bedroom cool – about 17°C.
- Avoid alcohol. It might help you get to sleep, but it interferes with your sleep later in the night.
- Eat a dinner rich in fibre. Michael Mosley, the programme presenter, tried out dietary fibre in a prebiotic and reckoned it improved his sleep. He also recommended getting more dietary fibre from foods such as lentils, chick peas, lima & butter beans and hummus.
One participant in the programme tried eating 2 kiwi fruit 1 hour before bed and gave it 7/10 for improving his sleep.
Other recommendations for getting a good night’s sleep
The kiwi fruit was a new one on me. Among the recommendations I give to my clients on how to get a better night’s sleep, here are a couple that have been shown to work really well:
- Relaxation exercises – help prepare your body for sleep with relaxation before bedtime. Some simple breathing and muscle relaxation exercises and visualisations of peaceful scenes can be very effective. I always give clients my relaxation CD/mp3s to listen to.
- Mindfulness – mindfulness exercises are great for calming a busy mind in preparation for sleep. I have a mindfulness CD/mp3s that I make available for clients.
Top tip for when you can’t sleep
Finally, why not try this top technique to help your sleep problems? When you want to go to sleep, get your brain into dreaming mode by thinking in the same way as you do when you dream. Dreams are full of flashes of often bizarre pictures and experiences, for example, seeing people from different parts of your life somewhere that they would never normally be. Let your imagination run riot like it does when you dream – blue penguins with pink wigs sailing down your street; old school friends and the cast of your favourite TV programme having a picnic on the beach in period costume; the best memories from different holidays all jumbled together in the place you grew up – whatever takes your fancy!
Hypnotherapy to help overcome insomnia and sleep problems
As well as all these great techniques and more, hypnosis can be really effective in helping you sleep better. Hypnosis gets your mind into sleep mode and is a quick and easy way of retraining your mind and body to get into better sleep patterns.
Contact me for a free 45-minute consultation on how to get better sleep – e-mail or ‘phone 0208 546 2122.