Written by Gina Fox, Naturopath

Getting a good night’s sleep is an excellent starting point to improve your attention span and concentration, raise energy levels and increase your tolerance to stressful incidents during the day.

When to Eat and When to Sleep

  • Preferably eat dinner before 7.30pm at least 4 hours before bed
  • Avoid having a heavy evening meal
  • Do not go to bed with an over full stomach or feeling hungry
  • Have a regular bed time to allow your body to maintain a constant sleep/wake cycle.
  • Avoid daytime naps

Relax before Bed

  • There are a number of techniques to use to promote relaxation before bed. Try progressive relaxation by first tensing and then relaxing each area of the body. Begin by contracting the muscles in the feet and work your way slowly up through the thighs, buttocks, abdomen, chest, arms, eyes, forehead and face.  Hold the contraction for 2 seconds then relax the muscles.  You can do this exercise once or twice while in bed to promote deep relaxation.
  • Deep breathing exercises before bed. In fact if you do these regularly during the day it will have a cumulative effect on relaxing you and helping you sleep well.
  • Have a warm bath before bed with 3-4 drops of sleep inducing essential oils such as lavender. Or put a quarter of a cup of epsom salts in the water to aid muscle relaxation.
  • Don’t work or study before bed and aim to stop the study at least 1 hour prior to sleeping
  • Burning essential oils in the bedroom before sleep can be helpful. Choose one of the relaxing oils such as Bergamot, Lavender; Frankincense; Sweet Marjoram; Sweet Orange; Rose; Ylang Ylang.  Alternatively putting a drop or two of essential oil on a hanky by your pillow may have a similar calming effect.

Foods that may help sleep

  • Foods high in tryptophan may induce sleep. A cup of hot milk before bed may be helpful.
  • Include plenty of magnesium rich foods in the diet such as vegetables, nuts, seeds, soy products and whole grain foods.
  • Eat calcium rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds and soy.
  • If you have a problem with dips in energy levels during the day you may need to eat a light snack half an hour before bed to ensure blood glucose is balanced so you don’t wake in the night. Oatmeal, wholegrain cereals or a handful of almonds before bed can be helpful.  Avoid salty foods which can be stimulating.
  • Have a cup of herbal tea with sleep inducing properties before bed. Try lemon balm, chamomile, catnip, hops, passion flower, skullcap or valerian.

Foods that may hinder a good nights sleep

  • As a general rule coffee and caffeine drinks should be avoided after 1pm in the afternoon and certainly not taken after dinner. Food and drinks high in caffeine include soft drinks, colas, chocolate, coffee-flavoured ice cream, hot cocoa and tea.  Some people may be very sensitive to caffeine and may even have a problem with decaffeinated coffee.
  • Alcohol can impair sleep as it causes the release of adrenalin.
  • Do not take stimulating supplements in the evening eg B-complex or iron.
  • If you often get up to urinate during the night then avoiding drinks for the two hours before bed – common culprits are alcohol, coffee and apple juice.
  • Foods to avoid in the evening are those high in fats, heavily spiced foods and MSG. Other foods to avoid in the evening are sauerkraut, bacon and other smoked products, spinach, eggplant, wine and cheese as they all produce tyramine, releasing norepinephrine which is a brain stimulant

Exercise and Lifestyle

  • Regular physical exercise improves general well-being, relaxes tense muscles and has a good effect on sleep. The exercise should be undertaken morning, afternoon or early evening. 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise of moderate intensity is ideal.  Avoid strenuous exercise within three hours of bed as this might keep you awake.
  • An evening stroll after dinner or gentle stretching exercises before bed can help.
  • Gentle yoga in the evening can be beneficial and sleep inducing.
  • Don’t watch television in bed and in fact switch the TV off at least half an hour prior to bed. Use that half hour to do something relaxing such as a warm bath, stretching or relaxation exercises, reading a book or listening to relaxing music.

Noise and environment

  • Check for any electrical appliances near the bed and remove them.
  • Check if there is a fuse box on the wall behind your bed in another room. If so you may need to alter the position of your bed.
  • Try to maintain a consistent body temperature when you sleep. Have different summer and winter covers to avoid seasonal temperature fluctuations.
  • Noise control. If you are bothered by loud constant noises then try and reduce them.  High quality ear plugs can be helpful if noise is a factor.
  • A dark and quiet room is a recipe for a good nights sleep. And of course make sure you have a comfortable bed – not too hard and not too soft!

What to do if you wake up or still can’t get to sleep?

  • Practice a deep breathing or relaxation technique.
  • Or get up and do something monotonous until you feel sleepy.

Medication/Drugs and their effect on sleep

  • If you are on any medication check with your doctor if a side effect might be insomnia. The doctor may be able to suggest alternative medication if it is the cause of sleeping problems but don’t just come off your medication without first discussing this with your doctor.

Research compiled from:

Cameron M, 1993 Lifetime Encyclopedia of natural Remedies, Prentice Hall, New Jersey|
Haas E 1992 Staying Healthy with Nutrition, Berkeley, USA
Murray M, Pizzorno J, 1998 Encyclopaedia of Natural Medicine, Little, Brown and Co, London
Osiecki H, 1998 The Physician’s Handbook of Clinical Nutrition, Bioconcepts Publishing,  Queensland

Gina FoxGina Fox, Naturopath

Gina Fox is a naturopath with over 15 years’ experience. She trained under Francesca Naish (author of Better Babies) and has a Masters in Reproductive Medicine. As well as being an experienced clinician she is a speaker, naturopathic lecturer and student clinic supervisor.

Gina is highly skilled in providing naturopathic care for women’s health issues, pre-conception health, infertility, IVF support, pregnancy care and through menopause. She treats a wide range of issues including recurrent miscarriage, thyroid, auto-immune antibodies and she has seen good results working with men to improve sperm quality. She also enjoys the post birth appointments with mother and baby, maximizing wellness for the whole family and educating parents on how to manage many common childhood illnesses. Her professional approach involves working in collaboration with doctors and specialists to create an effective co-ordinated treatment.

Gina loves to help couples achieve full-term pregnancies and give birth to beautiful healthy babies. Gina excels at addressing underlying stressors while couples achieve their optimal fertility. Her own meditation practice led her to become a meditation instructor and co-develop the Be Fertile series of guided relaxation CDs for women around conception, IVF and pregnancy support.