The current heat wave is leaving many of us sleep deprived, as more than sixty two per cent of adults in the UK struggle to sleep in warm weather. In order to get a good night’s sleep, it is essential for our body’s temperature to drop at night by one degree. This becomes difficult during the warm nights in summer, leaving many people struggling to get to sleep and stay asleep. Read on for five ways to improve sleep naturally.
1. Tart cherry juice
The body needs darkness in order to make the sleep hormone melatonin. The long and light summer days cause melatonin levels to drop, meaning that many of us begin to suffer with sleep problems. Boosting levels of melatonin naturally can help to alleviate this problem.
One of the best ways to boost melatonin levels is to drink tart cherry juice. A recent study found that drinking just 30mls of cherry juice each day is effective in boosting melatonin levels. Adults who drank the cherry juice had more than 25 minutes more sleep each night compared to those who drank a placebo drink, and they also woke less often through the night.
2. Boost your Magnesium levels
Magnesium deficiency is common among adults. It is abundant in leafy greens, and lacking in processed foods, meaning that the typical UK diet often falls short. Magnesium is required for the production of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep and relaxation. For this reason, magnesium supplementation can be helpful in supporting good quality sleep, especially in those who find it hard to ‘switch off’ at night.
Studies have found magnesium to be effective in improving sleep, while increasing melatonin levels and reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol (2). Those who find difficultly sleeping may wish to try supplementing 300mg of a well-absorbed form of magnesium, such as magnesium citrate or magnesium taurate.
3. Try supplementing Lemon Balm and Theanine
Lemon balm is a plant from the mint family, which has been used for centuries to soothe the stomach, reduce anxiety and promote calm. More recent studies have found that lemon balm aids restful sleep by boosting levels of circulating GABA, the brain’s ‘calming’ nurotransmitter.
A pilot study found that lemon balm, at a dose of 600mg for 15 days, resolved insomnia for 85 per cent of participants (3). Hopefully the promising results of this study will pave the way for larger studies in this area.
Combining lemon balm with theanine is thought to be particularly beneficial in promoting healthy sleep. While theanine does not have lemon balm’s sedative effect, it works to boost the brain’s production of alpha waves. These brain waves are linked to deep relaxation. They reduce levels of physical and mental stress, and lower levels of anxiety (4).
4. Eat to Sleep
To encourage good quality sleep, try eating a high-protein, low GI snack, such as natural yoghurt with berries or some almond butter on rye, a couple of hours before bed. This can provide the L-tryptophan needed by the brain to produce the sleep hormone.
While, protein-rich snacks can help, sugary foods will have the opposite effect. These will raise your blood sugar and delay sleep. Later, when blood sugar drops too low, you may wake up and be unable to fall back asleep.
Alcohol also robs the body of good quality sleep. While a chilled glass of wine might seem tempting on a hot evening, alcohol actually prevents the body from falling into the deeper stages of sleep, where the body does most of its healing.
5. Lower your Core Temperature
Good sleep is strongly linked to core body temperature. In order to get to sleep, your body needs its internal temperature to drop by around one degree. Losing heat actually helps to bring on restful sleep at night. Unfortunately this can be difficult during the summer, when hot days lead to uncomfortable, warm nights.
To combat uncomfortably hot summer nights, a cool bath can encourage a drop in core temperature, bringing on restful sleep. Try adding some Epsom bath salts to boost the effect. Ventilate the bedroom well before bedtime to reduce the room temperature, and keep a cooling water mist spray by the bed for a quick cool down.
1. Howatson G et al (2010) Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr 51:8 pp909-916
2. Abbasis B et al (2012) The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci 17:12 pp1161-9
3. Cases J et al (2011) Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. Med J Nutr Met 4:3, pp211-8
4. Kimura, K. (2007). L-theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biological psychology, 71(1): 39-45.