We’re all guilty of putting sleep to one side when other things get in the way, and we’ve all suffered the side effects.
These side effects range from the more recognised symptoms such as tiredness, low energy and irritability, to the less obvious such as food cravings (think munchies, constantly) and inability to control your emotions; swinging from almost ecstasy to dire lows at the drop of a hat.
Due to prolonged periods of sleep deprivation, we can quite quickly progress from tired and irritable to fatigued and burnt out. We’re sure you know how rubbish that feels, but did you know the effect it can have on your gut health?
Bad sleep can lead to an unhappy gut, with late-night hunger pangs and cravings for fatty and sugary foods due to sleep deprivation lowering levels of leptin (leptin inhibits your hunger). There will also be increasing levels of ghrelin (ghrelin is often called the ‘hunger hormone’) while production of cortisol (aka the ‘stress hormone’ which increases appetite and motivation – motivation to eat) is ramped up too. It’ll come as little surprise that gut health and sleep are intrinsically linked. Through research, it’s come to light that the microbiome can affect the quality of sleep by hindering the sleep-wake cycle, circadian rhythm and hormones that regulate sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep it affects your gut and the same vice versa – an unhealthy gut can contribute to bad sleep, which highlights the importance of taking care of both.
This may all have been entirely unfamiliar to you pre-March 2020, and though we’re beginning to better understand the link between sleep and gut. Something we’re only just getting our heads around is how Covid-19 has disrupted our sleep cycle, and subsequently, the importance of our day-to-day routine and reliance on structure to ensure we go to bed prepared for a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling alert and well-rested.
Just like learning to say your first word as a baby, studying a new language at school or trying to remember the names of faces when you start a new job, we as humans rely on repetition to enable us to learn and retain new information.
And this is no different to how our internal processes work, and why we rely so heavily on repetition and consistency in our day-to-day lives for our sleep. It’s the reason why, despite a late Friday night and no morning alarm, you still wake up at the same time on Saturday morning, and the same reason why we suffer from jet lag (a problem I’m sure we’d all happily be suffering from right now) when we go on holiday.
It’s all dictated by our circadian rhythm – a natural, internal process referred to as our internal clock, which regulates our sleep–wake cycle.
So why all the upset and how can this help to explain the mood swings, mixed emotions, stress and restless nights that you may have suffered over the last 15 months…?
Well, embedded into our internal clock is our working week, a ritual that our bodies have become accustomed to since we entered into the 5-day, 9-5 working week. It’s a fundamental foundation in our lives, and one that we’ve experienced crumble beneath us due to Covid-19.
From being furloughed to working from home, it’s shaken up our lives and upset what we recognise to be a normal working day.
If this resonates with you, what’s reassuring to hear is that you are by no means alone…
When asked, nearly 40% of all adults recorded having sleep issues due to the pandemic, and, whilst this may seem a staggeringly high statistic, it is unsurprising when you consider the numerous elements within your daily routine that have also been impacted.
– Take our working week for example, which has on average increased by 25% since the beginning of the pandemic, with many employees regularly reporting logging off their work laptops past 8pm.
– People are spending less time outside, meaning less exposure to natural light, reducing levels of melatonin – also known as the sleep hormone.
– Our screen time has increased, increasing our exposure to blue light which suppresses melatonin.
– Despite applaudable efforts to maintain online fitness regime’s, we are typically exercising less, which is relied upon to release endorphins that help us alleviate stress and restlessness for a better night’s sleep.
– We are socialising less – an activity that helps us wind down and switch off from work-related stresses.
It’s an amalgamation of factors that contribute to not only less sleep but also a deterioration in the quality of deep (REM) sleep, an essential phase that helps to enhance our cognitive function, gut health, immune system and more – a topic we delve into in much greater detail in our upcoming 12-week programme.
It wouldn’t be fair to simply burden you with all this information however, without giving you some relatively simple solutions so, here is our list of recommendations that will help you get a better night’s sleep.
How to get a better night’s sleep
Repetition, repetition, repetition… Go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time – on weekdays and weekends if possible. Your body will thank you for it.
Quantity of sleep – Aim for 8 hours sleep. Whilst different people require different amounts of sleep, 8 hours is recommended to ensure you are reaping the rewards of a well-rested body.
Look after your gut – Gut bacteria influences our sleep patterns by influencing the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. This is unsurprising given what we already know about the gut-brain axis, as well as the connection between cognitive function and sleep. So, make sure you are getting good levels of prebiotics, either through the foods you eat or by including our wonderful Aguulp for Gut sachets in your morning routine.
Alcohol – The relationship between alcohol and sleep is often misunderstood. Many of us rely on alcohol to wind down after a hard day’s work, and it’s true that alcohol can help our bodies prepare for sleep. What’s less understood (or wilfully ignored) is the impact alcohol has after sleep is initiated. While it can help induce sleep, it is a powerful suppressor of REM – the dream state of sleep. What this means is your sleep patterns will be shallower and disrupted.
Work-life balance – As much as there may be little else going on at the moment, it’s still important to switch off and drag yourself away from your screen. Try (if possible) to avoid working from your bedroom. This prevents your body from associating the place you sleep with work.
Exercise – Consistent movement and daily exercise helps de-stress our bodies and will prepare you for a better night’s sleep. Exercise doesn’t have to mean 45 minutes of near hell which further contributes to stress – a lengthy slow-paced walk in daylight is a great way to start your day.
Exposure to natural sunlight – Open your curtains when you wake up to help reduce melatonin and therefore brain fog in the morning. Try to take breaks throughout the day to get yourself outside and exposed to natural light. This helps regulate your circadian rhythm – your internal clock.
Avoid caffeine – 6 hours after you consume caffeine, half of it will still be in your body, so keep that in mind when you go to make yourself a coffee at 4pm – it’s like having half a cup of coffee just before bed at 10pm.
Body temperature – Your body needs to drop its core temperature by around 2 degrees Fahrenheit to initiate and stay asleep. This next suggestion, therefore, sounds like a contradiction, but try having a warm shower before bed. This will bring your blood closer to the surface of your body, cooling your blood, therefore reducing your core temperature.