The secret of sleep

Good quality sleep is vital for a healthy happy life. It enhances our energy, makes us feel more alive and has an important impact on our experience of pain. But so many of us struggle to fall asleep or find ourselves waking up during the night.

When we sleep our bodies are able to restore and repair themselves. One of the great ways our body does this is by secreting collagen in the first few hours of sleep. Collagen repairs and protects cells thereby allowing our entire body to have a better chance at healing. Another important substance released during sleep is melatonin. This is released in the last few hours of sleep when rapid eye movement (REM) sleep kicks in. Melatonin is an antioxidant that enhances our sleep cycle to give our cells plenty of time to repair, rebuild and regenerate. These healthy, happy cells are then better able to combat injuries, inflammation and other causes of pain in our body. On top of that if we are well rested then our mood improves thereby improving our resilience to pain.

Busy lives can make it difficult to get this good quality sleep. We are often staying up longer as well as worrying about lots of things. This extra stress increases our levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a stimulant for the nervous system and makes it difficult for us to wind down. To help combat this we need to ensure adequate GABA is being released in the evening. GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps to slow the nervous system down. To help our body produce more GABA we can take the following supplements.

-Magnesium: a muscle relaxant that helps increase GABA levels

-B6: helps convert glutamate into GABA

-Zinc: a requirement to activate B6

-Prebiotics: to help increase good bacteria in the gut to allow better absorption of nutrients

On top of balancing the body’s hormones there are other important things we can be doing to help our sleep. Try some of these tips:

-Switch off your phone

-Avoid screens in the hour before you go to bed

-Keep to a bedtime routine

-Keep the hour before bed the same every night

-Avoid heavy foods and drinks

-Try not to drink caffeine after 4 pm, or alcohol at night

-Do not eat heavy meals in the 2 hours before bedtime

-Try not to nap more than 20 minutes in a day

-Use meditation apps

-Ensure you are getting enough exercise throughout the week as exercise enhances the time spent in deep sleep

-Practice relaxing breathing and yoga prior to bed

If you feel tension in your body or particular areas of tightness and discomfort then have a chat with your physiotherapist. They can assess for the problematic muscles and provide you with gentle exercises to help release this tension prior to bedtime. You may also find it useful to get guidance on good breathing habits. Your physiotherapist can teach you to activate the correct breathing muscles allowing you to access the benefits of breathing techniques.