One of the hallmarks of a sound body and mind is quality sleep. If you’re not getting it, you’re not alone: more than a third of New Zealanders and 20 per cent of Australians report not getting enough sleep, or that the quality of their sleep is compromised.

But there’s a lot to be said about what kind of insomniac you are. Women’s health expert Lorna Vanderhaeghe explains what your sleep problems may be trying to tell you about your body.

Support your adrenal glands

If you drift off to sleep without a problem but wake up suddenly at 3am, wide awake, it could mean your cortisol is peaking at two or three in the morning instead of at six or 7am when it is supposed to. “All of that increased
cortisol will make you feel like you should get up and out of bed,” says Vanderhaeghe.

To combat cortisol levels, take adrenal support nutrients such as a handful of nuts – especially almonds, pistachios and cashews – during your mid-afternoon slump. To assist you in falling asleep, deep breathing techniques can help.

Black out the bedroom

“Insomnia can be caused by not having enough of the sleep hormone melatonin,” says Vanderhaeghe. At night, when the sun goes down, an influx of melatonin is triggered, which makes you ready for sleep. Artificial light can disturb this process. To make sure that your bedroom is pitch-black, she recommends blacking out window light and turning off bathroom and hall lights to signal your brain to secrete enough melatonin. “This is important because melatonin is your anti-ageing and sleep hormone, and protects you from certain types of cancers.” If you want to supplement melatonin, the less you take, the better. “If you feel groggy in the morning, you’ve taken too much,”
she says.

Up your magnesium intake

When you hop into bed, do you have restless legs? Twitchy eyelids? Feel like you have bugs crawling all over you? Or maybe you can’t stop thinking or calm down? All of these may be signs of a magnesium deficiency. The mineral is responsible for 300 reactions in your body; including nerve and muscle function, and if you don’t have enough magnesium, you can’t relax and fall asleep. You can add it to your diet in the form of nuts, legumes and fatty fish, or take a supplement.

Reading helps you fall asleep

You know the feeling: you’ve been tossing and turning, and you know for a fact you’re nowhere near falling asleep. Your mind is racing faster than ever. The best way to let go of that anxiety? Pick up a book.

“Occupying the mind with something other than the business of the day or the stress or the concern of not sleeping is the easiest way to get back to sleep faster,” says clinical psychologist and sleep expert Dr Janet Kennedy. “Tossing and turning creates tension that creates adrenaline,” she says. “If you distract the mind with something very interesting but not too activating, like engage in reading a story, your mind is diverted away from the stress.”

Just make sure to use a book light rather than the usual lamp on your bedside table, says Dr Michael Breus, clinical sleep specialist and author of The Power of When. The light wavelengths from a regular lamp signal the brain not to produce melatonin, a hormone that helps lull you to sleep, he says.

Picking up a book is a better alternative to TV, which gives off another type of light that could make you more alert. Plus, reading requires just enough brainpower to mellow your thoughts without looping back to your worries.

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