Sleep easy

Statistics have recently revealed around two thirds of our population have struggled to properly get their head down at night, as we adjust our whirring brains in this Zoom-tastic era.

What lockdown has shown everybody is how vital your sleep truly is. As a population we’ve travelled fewer miles and perhaps been on the move less, so our brains are frazzled from screen time and that’s having a direct impact on our resting habits throughout the night.

But while some people have commenced healthier eating regimes and embarked on a journey to concoct ambitious new recipes while managing to exercise at home, converting four-pack tins of beans into dumbbells, pets into weights and garden furniture into bootcamp-style assault courses, others have found themselves snacking more and consuming a less nutritious diet.

Then you factor in stress – something surely everyone has experienced in 2020 – and it’s easy to see why sleep patterns are going out the window. Even nutrition experts have noticed changes in their way of life since March.

Take it from the pros – sleep and stress have a big impact on dietary choices and this knock-on effect has been all too plain to see so far this year…

“Pre-lockdown so many of us were running at such a fast pace which meant we never stopped to slow down. I personally have found lockdown really encouraged me to slow down,” says Jenna Hope, nutritionist and co-founder of The Yoghurt & Juice Network, who educate children and teachers about how to make healthier dietary and lifestyle choices.

“Of course, it was challenging to adjust at first although I do feel as though I have re-found my normal and I will be maintaining a slower pace of life after lockdown too.”

What you may not also realise is the number of options out there to improve your sleep. So, before we take you to some eye-opening (or should that be closing?!) food tips to improve your sleep, let’s start with something as obvious as taking the pressure off your quietest time.

“Consuming your food at least 2-3 hours before you go to bed can help support the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin.

“Avoiding coffee after 2pm can also benefit your sleep given caffeine has a half-life of six hours and so by 10pm – let’s say if you drink a coffee at 4pm – 50% is still in your blood.”

Even more simply, don’t worry about what others say when they describe the perfect night’s sleep of somewhere between seven-nine hours, or maybe even for a very small percentage of the population six and in some cases four.

Depending on where you get your information, famous people such as inventor Thomas Edison and artist Leonardo da Vinci managed fine on little sleep and nowadays PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi is one of a string of successful businesspeople who stay awake long hours.

“We all have our sweet spot where we feel best,” says Jenna.

This advice is so crucial, and so easy to ignore when you’re caught up in the frenzy of work life, social life, kids, family and trying to stay fit and healthy. Sometimes the best advice is what your own body is telling you.

“We are all unique and have individual requirements,” adds Jenna.

“Honour your hunger and prevent skipping meals. If something doesn’t feel right or you’re lacking in energy or struggling on a daily basis, then your first port of call should be your GP to get a blood test.

“If you need to take a rest/have a longer lie in and miss your workout then so be it, that’s essential to your overall health.”

Ok, let’s finish with some more food specific tips – they’re simple to digest but make sure you take note.

If you’re trying to lose weight, be aware there’s much more involved than just calories in vs calories out. Remember: calories = units of energy.

Stress, sleep, lifestyle, medications, exercise and other factors can all have a large impact on overall weight and wellbeing.

Finally, know your macronutrients from your micronutrients. The former are things like carbohydrates, protein and fat, essential for fuelling the body as the calories you take in help cellular growth, make your immune system tick over nicely and help your body repair.

Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are required in much smaller amounts: vitamins also aid energy production and immune function while minerals are essential to growth and bone health, among other processes.

For more nutrition tips head over to Jenna’s Instagram – @jennahopenutrition