How are you sleeping? Annabel and I both feel anxiety about the conflict in Ukraine is really impacting our sleep. I’ve been having weirdly vivid dreams too. Quality sleep is a key pillar of our Age-Well Project so I’ve rounded up the latest research on the subject to share with you. I’ve included some practical take out – and read on to book your ticket for our free yoga nidra event aimed at getting better sleep.
GUT HEALTH AND SLEEP
We know that gut health is important for a healthy brain, but new research from Japan suggests that the health of our gut microbiota also has a direct impact on our sleep patterns. The community of bacteria, fungi and viruses in our gut help produce serotonin and dopamine, feelgood neurotransmitters involved in the sleep-wake cycle.
The study looked at mice, not humans, but is still worth reviewing. The mice were given water containing broad spectrum antibiotics to deplete their gut microbiota. The result? They stopped producing serotonin and suffered disrupted sleep-wake cycles: staying awake when they should have been asleep and being sleepy at times when they were usually active.
- Lentils, chickpeas and beans
- Jerusalem artichokes
- cold potatoes and cold cooked rice
and new ‘friends’ in the form of probiotic foods like:
- Kefir and live natural yoghurt
- Aged cheeses like camembert and Emmental
- Fermented soy like tempeh and natto
- Kimchi and sauerkraut
- Kombucha (a fermented tea)
CIRCADIAN RHYTHMS AND ALZHEIMER’S
Respecting our circadian rhythms, which govern the sleep-wake cycle – is vital for good sleep. And now new research has linked these internal ‘clocks’ to our immune system’s ability to destroy the amyloid beta plaques associated with Alzheimer’s. Our circadian rhythms are a natural system designed to anticipate day/night and send in the right ‘team’ so the body gets what it needs – be that sleep, digestion or the immune function which clears toxins from our brain – when appropriate. If our cycle is out of whack, it doesn’t know which team to send in when.
“Circadian regulation of immune cells plays a role in the intricate relationship between the circadian clock and Alzheimer’s disease,” explained the lead researcher on the project. “This tells us a healthy sleep pattern might be important to alleviate some of the symptoms in Alzheimer’s disease.’
TOP TIP: We can anchor our clocks with regular bedtimes and rising times: even if we don’t sleep, our bodies need to know when they’re supposed to sleep. It helps to build a sleep ramp: the practices we go through before bed each day to prepare us for sleep. That could be dimming the lights, a warm bath, reading a book or listening to music.
INSOMNIA AND SUGAR
I recently came across a report into insomnia among women over 50. It’s a couple of years old but I wanted to share it as I know so many of you have struggled with this debilitating condition at times. The researchers reviewed the data of over 50,000 women and found that a diet high in refined carbs – particularly sugar – was linked to sleep issues.
It was difficult for the research team to extrapolate whether the women tracked in the research had consumed more refined carbs, especially sugary foods, because they were suffering insomnia, or vice versa. I think we all know the cravings for sweet things after a bad night’s sleep….
But they also pointed out that eating sugary foods results in raised insulin levels, followed by a dramatic drop in blood sugar levels. This in turn leads to the release of the hormones adrenalin and cortisol (the stress hormone), which interfere with sleep.
TOP TIP – avoid sugary snacks in the evenings! The women on the study who ate more fruit and vegetables were less likely to have insomnia.
YOGA NIDRA FOR SLEEP: A FREE ZOOM SESSION WITH KANAN THAKERAR
Our lovely friend, the yoga nidra teacher Kanan Thakerar, is running a free online session for followers of The Age-Well Project on Tuesday 29th March at 7pm BST. I do so hope you can join us there.
Yoga nidra is essentially the lying down bit of a yoga practice where you consciously relax your mind. It uses guided visualisation, allowing the body to slumber whilst the mind stays awake. The practice engages the left and right side of the brain which aids creativity, reduces stress and builds neuroplasticity. It’s the most relaxing thing I’ve ever done! Kanan will focus this one-hour session on helping us get a good night’s sleep. She also runs a sleep clinic and will be sharing her top tips. I’ll be there in my pyjamas….
The event will be recorded if you can’t make it live, and the link sent out by Kanan’s team afterwards.
Photo: Alexander Possingham / Unsplash