A recent survey by the Medical Health Foundation revealed that a third of us suffer from sleep deprivation and insomnia.  It’s estimated that treating people with insomnia costs the NHS £15 million, although many people don’t seek medical help for it – they just try to live with it.

The link between insomnia and obesity and diabetes

A BBC1 programme, ‘The Truth about Sleep’ , which aired a couple of years ago, demonstrated why it’s so important to get help for sleep problems.  Research has shown that 50% of people who sleep less than 5 hours a night are obese, and that there’s a link between insomnia and diabetes.  Researchers concluded that this was because of the effect of insomnia on the hormones that control hunger and appetite.  If you’re getting less than an average of 7 to 8 hours’ sleep a night, the effect on those hunger and appetite hormones means that you’re more likely to feel hungry and less likely to feel full when you eat.  Another effect is that you get more sugar cravings, have higher glucose levels and consequently have a higher risk of diabetes.  One person featured on the programme said that he ate 10 custard creams for breakfast!

How insomnia affects your gut bacteria

Another feature of insomnia highlighted by the research was how insomnia had a  bad effect on your gut bacteria.  There are millions of good bacteria in your gut that help you absorb nutrients from food and protect you against infections.  These good bacteria are badly affected if you sleep badly.  When you don’t get enough sleep, the bacteria take more energy from your food, leading to more weight gain.

To make this worse, sleep deprivation causes stress on the body, leading to the release of the stress hormone cortisol.  Cortisol encourages the body to store fat, making it difficult to lose weight.

What can you do to help insomnia and sleep problems?

‘The Truth about Sleep’ programme gave some important advice about what can help you sleep better.  Of course, it included what most people know – avoiding caffeine several hours before going to bed.  Other advice was:

  1. Switch off all screens – phones, laptops, TV etc at least 1 hour before bedtime.  The blue light from screens has been found to disrupt the body clock.
  2. Your bedroom temperature should be cool– around 17°C.
  3. Avoid alcohol.  Alcohol interferes with your sleep during the night, even if it helps you get to sleep.
  4. Include fibre in your evening meal.  Programme presenter, Michael Mosley, reckoned that he slept better when he took dietary fibre as a prebiotic.  He also recommended eating more foods such as lentils, chick peas, lima & butter beans and hummus to increase intake of dietary fibre. Another recommendation from the programme was to eat two kiwi fruit one hour before bed.  This got a 7/10 rating for improving sleep.

Other recommendations for getting a good night’s sleep

Before seeing the programme, I hadn’t come across the recommendation of kiwi fruit before bed as an aid to sleep.  I always give my clients recommendations of a range of practical things that they can do to get a better night’s sleep, as well as showing them different techniques they can use to help them go to sleep more easily and get back to sleep if they wake in the night.

Here are just a couple that work really well:

  1. Relaxation exercises – Relaxation is very effective in getting the body and mind in the right state to go off to sleep easily.  The best relaxation exercises to use before bed are breathing and muscle relaxation exercises, listening to relaxing sounds or music without words and visualisations of peaceful scenes.  As part of my ‘Sleep Better’ programme, I give my clients relaxation audio recordings to listen to.
  2. Mindfulness– If an active mind keeps you awake, mindfulness exercises are very helpful in slowing down thoughts and calming a busy mind, so you can drift off to sleep more easily.  Mindfulness audio recordings are included in my ‘Sleep Better’ programme.

The Christian Therapy ‘Sleep Better’ programme

If you would like to know more about what else can help you to get a refreshing night’s sleep, please do contact me for information about the Christian Therapy ‘Sleep Better’ programme.

Book a free 30-minute consultation on how to get better sleep – click here to see how to contact me.