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How to get a good night’s sleep

Hayley Pedrick - Sleep Specialist at The London Sleep Centre

To discover more about sleep and the positive impact it can have on your physical and mental wellbeing, we spoke to Hayley Pedrick, a specialist from the London Sleep Centre, a clinic leading the way in helping people overcome sleep disorders and the related medical and psychological disorders that stem from these.

Struggling to get a good night's rest or want to get an even better one?

Read our interview below to discover what might be impacting your sleep and how you can improve it.

What is a sleep centre and how does the London Sleep Centre approach sleep?

The London Sleep Centre, like many sleep centres, is a sleep support clinic. The difference between us and other similar clinics is that we take a holistic approach to helping patients get a better night’s sleep. We believe that a good night’s sleep is essential for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing and so it’s important to address each of these factors rather than focus on one.

Our treatment includes nutritional elements, psychiatry, and even dentistry as well as placing patients under the care of a medical team. We offer a wide range of diagnostic and treatment services for patients struggling with sleep including at-home assessments for their convenience. I specialise in the natural medicine arm of our approach, as a clinical nutritional therapist helping people through the process of regulating their sleep whether they are transitioning from medication, dealing with allergies, weight issues or the many other factors that can get in the way of a good night’s rest. I also focus on helping people improve their autonomic balance. Your autonomic nervous system can have a huge impact on sleep from an anatomical, physiological, and neurochemical point of view, so it's important to work with patients struggling with sleep on how to regulate this.

What are the most common types of sleep disorder you treat?

There are over 88 types of sleep condition, however, the most common conditions we see are insomnia and sleep apnoea. The symptoms of insomnia vary amongst patients. Some people have difficulty falling asleep altogether, while with others it manifests as waking up repeatedly throughout the night. Sleep apnoea is a condition that means your breathing stops and starts throughout the night, caused by your airways becoming relaxed and narrow while you sleep. This can occur for multiple reasons but the most common are weight issues or age-related health problems. All sleep conditions leave people feeling exceptionally tired throughout the day and can have a severe impact on physical and mental wellbeing.

Why is sleep so important to our physical and mental health?

Sleep is essential to improving your quality of life and not having enough will have a negative impact on mental and physical wellbeing. Sleep and Mental Health Sleep acts as a stabilising force for our mental health. Studies have shown that having less than the recommended amount of sleep (between 7-9 hours as an adult) increases your cortisol levels. Cortisol is your body’s primary stress hormone and is directly linked to stimulating you, in other words keeping you awake. At a regulated level, cortisol is an important part of your body’s natural physiology but at elevated levels, cortisol can have all sorts of negative impacts, including increasing your risk of chronic illness, weight gain, anxiety and even weakening your immune system. Having less sleep can also destabilise your coping mechanisms and studies have shown that chronic tiredness creates problems with emotional regulation and social interaction. So, all in all, sleep is a key factor in staying mentally healthy. Sleep and Physical Health When you sleep, your body takes this time to repair itself, rejuvenate your cells and metabolise many of the nutrients you have taken in during the day as well as hormones produced during daily activity. Sleep is also the time when your brain detoxifies itself, flushing cerebral fluid to prevent the build-up of plaque which can lead to degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer's. If you don’t get enough sleep these processes that keep your body and brain healthy can’t happen and studies have shown that sleeping four hours or less results in a 70% drop in immunity because of this. It’s really important you get enough sleep in order to stay well and physically healthy.

Has there been an increase in people struggling with sleep recently due to the current pandemic? We have seen a significant rise in sleep issues during the current quarantine. Most patients report vivid disruptive dreams and an overall lack of feeling rested. This is not abnormal because everyone is receiving a lot of stressful information due to the Covid-19 crisis and therefore our brains are under pressure. Sleep, especially REM sleep is our brain’s moment to process what we are going through, therefore it makes sense that people would be experiencing vivid dreams. Elevated cortisol levels related to stress can also disrupt sleep and so it’s no surprise people are struggling.

How can you improve the quality of your sleep?

There are so many factors involved in this and it’s important to find the routine and the tools that work for you. However, there are a number of simple ways that people can regulate their sleep and get a better night’s rest: Manipulate Your Exposure to Light It might sound a little funny to be talking about light in relation to sleep when our automatic association is between sleep and dark. However, light sets our circadian rhythm, the natural process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. During the day, it’s important you have enough exposure to natural light because this regulates your circadian rhythm, anchoring your sleep wake-cycle in a powerful way so that your body knows when to be more and less awake. During the evening you need to make sure you take the level of light you are experiencing down at least two hours before bed, in order to make sure you get a good night’s rest. No screens, tablets, TV, or phones. If you can switch to lamp-light do and I would also recommend investing in a pair of blue blocker glasses that block out blue light. Blue light is like coffee to your brain and research has shown that it can interfere with your melatonin production, disrupting your sleep. Regulate the Content You Engage With Make sure that you control the content you are reading and watching during the evening. It’s really important not to engage with anything that could make you stressed and anxious as this can elevate your stress response hugely, preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep. No more 10 pm news! Nutrition Good nutrition is vital to improving your sleep. 50% of the insomnia cases we see are caused by environment or nutrition rather than anxiety or other mental health issues. If you can stabilise your nutrition and therefore balance your blood-sugar levels, you can hugely improve the quality of your sleep and reduce anxiety. In order to regulate your blood sugar levels, it’s recommended to eat breakfast within an hour of waking and including protein and healthy fats with all meals food or snacks. Regular meals are also key to keep your blood sugar as even as possible. If you follow a plant-based vegan or vegetarian diet you need to be really careful about planning your meals so that you get enough complete proteins and in fact, a plant-based diet is not recommended if you are struggling with blood sugar issues as a vegan diet can be high in carbohydrates. Exercise There are lots of studies that prove exercise can have a positive impact on sleep. I myself have experienced the benefits of exercise on sleep through practicing yoga and more recently through weight training. When I started this year I was experiencing my own issues with sleep which was unusual for me as I’m usually an early riser. I tried lots of potential solutions but nothing seemed to be working until a friend encouraged me to join her at the gym and start weight training. Within five weeks the energy production in my muscle tissue had changed significantly enough that my sleep was more regulated and the quality improved. Research shows that exercising on a regular basis for 4 months solidly can have just as much of an impact as medication on improving sleep regulation, if not more so! However, the timing of when you exercise is key to determining whether it will positively impact your sleep. Exercising in the early morning or early evening (5/6 pm) is a great way to help you improve the quality of your sleep. If you exercise any closer to the time you go to sleep the stress hormones released when you workout don’t have time to metabolise and therefore your body won’t go into recovery mode and your sleep will be negatively impacted. The only form of exercise that doesn’t have this impact is in fact yoga, as this is a form of moving meditation and can actually help regulate your sleep. Meditation This has a similar effect to yoga and certain meditative breathing practices can have a really positive effect on regulating your sleep. Having a Good Bedtime Routine This is up to you and what helps you relax. Some people love to read a book, others listen to classical music or white noise. Whatever you prefer, it's really important to have a healthy bedtime routine so that your brain knows when to start preparing your mind and body for sleep.

The London Sleep Centre is a leader in the provision of diagnostic and treatment services for people with Sleep Disorders and related Medical and Psychological disorders. Visit their website here to discover more about their work and the excellent services they provide.

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