You may have sprinkled lavender oil on your pillow, invested in blackout blinds or even bought over-the-counter medication in search of a good night’s sleep.
All well and good, but you might not have realised that one major way of improving your sleep is to be found in the kitchen, rather than the bedroom or bathroom cabinet.
For, as I’ve learnt from the latest research on the science of sleep — along with techniques such as adjusting your sleep schedule and getting more light into your life — what you eat is also vital to bringing you restful slumber.
Until quite recently I struggled to sleep. I tried all the usual remedies and every over-the-counter medication I could find, but none made any difference. I would wake up feeling shattered and need at least three cups of strong coffee to get going in the morning [File photo]
As government advisers warn that up to 10,000 people in the UK may already have coronavirus, it couldn’t be a better time to think deeply about your sleep habits.
While studies have shown that not getting enough sleep can increase the risk of depression, memory loss and obesity, they have also identified many benefits which follow a good night’s sleep. These include boosting your immune system.
Studies have shown a clear link between sleeping well and the body’s ability to protect itself against viral pathogens.
This is due to the production and release of immune-boosting proteins, which only happens during deep sleep.
So, it’s worth asking if better sleep could be a weapon to help fight off coronavirus — as I explain in greater detail on these pages.
Instead of trying to improve your sleep by spending more time in bed, I will show you how, by carefully reducing the amount of time spent in bed for a short period of time, you can condense and concentrate your sleep [File photo]
So where do you start? Well, making simple changes to what you eat, and when you eat, can be one of the most effective methods of boosting the quality of your sleep, as I explain in my new book, Fast Asleep, exclusively serialised all next week in the Mail.
Although the brain plays a part in keeping you awake, what’s happening in your gut is also key, as I’ve discovered.
You may not be aware of it but there’s a microscopic war going on in your gut between ‘bad’ bacteria triggering inflammation and stress which keep you awake, and ‘good’ ones that are busy turning the food you eat into restful transmitters like serotonin, which aid restful sleep.
In this series, I’ll explain why your diet has such a big effect on the quality of your sleep, and talk you through the exciting new research which has shown how easy it is to boost those varieties of gut bacteria, which produce chemical compounds to help you sleep.
But that’s just one part of my powerful new sleep-boosting programme, which is very far from the usual mix of old wives’ tales and unproven remedies.
Instead, I will be providing you with solutions based on the very latest research into what actually does improve sleep quality.
While studies have shown that not getting enough sleep can increase the risk of depression, memory loss and obesity, they have also identified many benefits which follow a good night’s sleep. These include boosting your immune system [File photo]
It brings together up-to-date thinking on how to use light, melatonin, your microbiome — the trillions of microbes that live in your gut — and the timing of your meals to reset your circadian clock and reboot your sleep.
There are lots of books out there which will warn you about the catastrophic effects of too little sleep, but very few which actually show you what to do about it.
Standard advice is woefully inadequate, which I can tell you as an insomniac who has tested almost everything that’s going. This is why wrote this book.
Fast Asleep is based on robust science but also recognises that we are all different: you can pick and choose elements from it according to your lifestyle and the severity of your sleep problem. However, do keep filling in your sleep diary (you’ll find it in Monday’s Mail) to monitor the plan’s success.
Within four weeks you should be sleeping far more soundly, and you’ll start to enjoy the many benefits that follow.
A key part of my plan is to adopt a Mediterranean-style diet — eating fewer cakes and biscuits, while increasing your intake of fish, vegetables and pulses. Do that and you should soon see some rapid improvements in the depth and quality of your sleep.
With this in mind, you’ll find a delicious selection of sleep-boosting recipes in today’s Weekend Magazine, created by my wife, GP Dr Clare Bailey, working closely with Justine Pattison, a leading writer of healthy recipes, to get you started on my Fast Asleep plan.
For those who have serious sleep problems I have also included information on Sleep Restriction Therapy (SRT).
Instead of trying to improve your sleep by spending more time in bed, I will show you how, by carefully reducing the amount of time spent in bed for a short period of time, you can condense and concentrate your sleep.
This technique is so powerfully effective that it works on even long-term insomniacs, and unlike sleeping pills, the results last, with no side effects. SRT is the sleep specialists’ best-kept secret, but I have created a super-easy version which anyone can try.
Trust me, it all works. And I should know: like a third of the UK population I’ve had long-term problems with sleeping.
Indeed, just like I tested my revolutionary Fast Diet on myself to reverse my type 2 diabetes diagnosis, I’ve tested my Fast Asleep plan on myself, too. It has been remarkably effective.
Until quite recently I struggled to sleep. I tried all the usual remedies and every over-the-counter medication I could find, but none made any difference.
I’ve also been looking at fascinating research that shows how food affects your mood and sleep. It’s mainly due to the trillions of bacteria and other microbes that live in our guts [File photo]
I would wake up feeling shattered and need at least three cups of strong coffee to get going in the morning.
My family grew used to nudging me when I fell asleep at the cinema or while watching TV. Although I still have the occasional disturbed night, the change has been remarkable.
Insomnia is a problem that looms large in my family. I grew up accepting that whenever we went to the cinema or theatre, my father would fall asleep, exhausted. He was overweight and over-worked and, in the end, died far too early because of his diabetes-related ill health.
I hoped I’d escaped my father’s poor-sleep genes, but insomnia crept up on me in my 40s after a decade of juggling a demanding career with the inevitably broken nights that go hand in hand with bringing up four young children.
But as the children grew older, my insomnia only worsened.
Any stressful time or busy period of work would see me sitting bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night with thoughts rushing through my head.
No matter how tired I was, I would wake four and a half hours after going to sleep — normally at about 3.30am — go to the loo, get back into bed and then just lie there, for what felt like hours, worrying about how shattered I was going to be the next day.
Finally, I’d drift off, only to be dragged awake again by the alarm clock at 7am. Any fellow insomniac will know how depressing this is. Going to bed stops being a pleasure, and instead you close your eyes with an impending feeling of dread and a rising sense of panic.
Naturally enough, I wanted to understand what was going on. How could I get back to the days of blissful, effortless sleep I’d enjoyed in my youth?
This led me to make what was to be the first of many popular television programmes examining the mystery of sleep, which in turn introduced me to many sleep scientists and a whole new, fascinating world of research.
Since then I’ve spent many nights in sleep labs with electrodes attached to my head and body.
I’ve taken drugs to put me to sleep and drugs to keep me awake. I’ve interviewed hundreds of people, ranging from firefighters to doctors, astronauts to policemen, about their experiences.
In one experiment I discovered just two nights of sleep deprivation altered my hunger hormones, leaving me ravenous, as well as causing an escalation of stress hormone, cortisol. As a result my blood-sugar levels soared into the diabetic range. Poor sleep, then, leads directly to overeating, weight gain and increases your risk of type 2 diabetes.
I’ve also been looking at fascinating research that shows how food affects your mood and sleep. It’s mainly due to the trillions of bacteria and other microbes that live in our guts. These tiny creatures not only have a profound impact on our weight and our mood, they seem to also have sleep-inducing powers too.
Forget those old wives’ tales of hot cocoa before bed or eating slices of turkey or cheese.
It turns out eating more legumes and fibre-rich foods and fewer late-night sugary snacks is one of the most effective ways to boost your levels of deep sleep and improve your mood.
That’s, in part, because fibre-rich foods feed the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut’s biome, which in turn produce chemicals that have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.
Studies have shown a clear link between sleeping well and the body’s ability to protect itself against viral pathogens. This is due to the production and release of immune-boosting proteins, which only happens during deep sleep [File photo]
This robust research combined with my enthusiasm for the health-promoting powers of the Mediterranean Diet — most likely due to its powerful anti-inflammatory effects — is why I have placed food at the heart of my insomnia-busting plan.
It sits neatly along with another key weapon — sleep restriction.
It may sound utterly counter-intuitive, but I discovered that restricting the time you spend in bed is also a powerful tool in breaking your insomnia habit.
Don’t believe me? Well, I’ve tried it — and it worked. The sleep restriction technique was first clinically tested in the late-1980s.
The idea is that by restricting the amount of time you spend in bed to only those hours you’ll actually be snoozing, you intensify your sleep drive (the chemical processes in the body and brain which compel you to drop off and which keep you asleep), ensuring you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply without waking up.
A classic mistake made by people with sleep problems is trying to spend more time in bed.
Yet for most, lying awake, waiting for sleep, is the opposite of restful — it’s stressful. This also sets up behaviour where your brain comes to associate being in bed with being awake.
Studies have shown that sleep restriction can be more effective than any other approach, including drugs, and the results last, long-term.
I was surprised that such a powerfully effective technique wasn’t more widely used. I was told it was too challenging and requires specialist supervision, yet studies show that once you understand the principles, most people find it relatively easy.
Studies have shown that sleep restriction can be more effective than any other approach, including drugs, and the results last, long-term. I was surprised that such a powerfully effective technique wasn’t more widely used [File photo]
It reminds me of what some critics said when I first wrote about the benefits of intermittent fasting in the Fast Diet. They said: ‘It’s too hard and people will never stick to it.’ How wrong they were.
Cutting your calorie intake for a couple of days a week can be difficult at first, but that is true of any change.
And as millions of people worldwide have now found, intermittent fasting can be one of the simplest and most effective ways to lose weight.
As I’ll explain next week, sleep restriction is no different. It’s tough, but many people see improvements in just a few days, and even the most deeply entrenched insomnia can be completely reversed in a month.
I will reveal what you should keep in your bedroom — and what you should remove — and I will outline my tried-and-trusted night-time wind-down routine.
I will also give some brilliant strategies for ending the mind-numbing exhaustion caused by jetlag and shift work.
So whether you’ve always been a poor sleeper, or your insomnia has worsened in mid-life, or whether you’re just sick and tired of feeling tired, this plan is for you.
Fast Asleep by Dr Michael Mosley, published by Short Books at £9.99 © 2020 Michael Mosley.
To order a copy for £5.99 (40 per cent discount, p&p free, go to mailshop.co.uk or call 01603 648155. Offer valid until April 30, 2020.
How ZZZZs could be your silent weapon against coronavirus
Defending ourselves and loved ones from Covid-19, the new coronavirus disease, is at the forefront of everyone’s minds right now.
We’ve all heard about the importance of handwashing — but did you know that getting a good night’s sleep is also vitally important for boosting your immune system?
Numerous studies have shown a clear link between stress, poor sleep and vulnerability to viral infections.
You might get a coronavirus infection by inhaling particles from someone who is infected or, more likely, picking particles up on your fingers from surfaces.
The fast asleep protocol
1) Practise sleep restriction to reboot your brain and boost sleep quality.
2) Adopt a low-carb Mediterranean diet — adding more oily fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds and oils rich in Omega-3. All of these will help to reduce inflammation in the body and brain.
3) Eat at set times each day to help set the circadian clock which controls your sleep patterns. Also, try ‘time-restricted eating’ to boost that effect and manage your weight.
4) Establish a healthy microbiome through eating prebiotic foods, such as legumes and fibre-rich foods, which feed the trillions of ‘good’ bacteria living in your gut.
These, in turn, produce chemicals that have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.
Probiotic foods, such as live yoghurt and fermented produce like sauerkraut, will increase the diversity of healthy bacteria in your gut.
5) Carry out sleep hygiene to create the best environment for sleep.
This means, for example, avoiding computer screens before bed and having a set bedtime.
If you don’t wash your hands, then the next time you rub your eyes or touch your nose, the virus gets in.
The viral particles then travel to your lungs, where they infect cells. What makes them so dangerous is that they hijack the mechanism of those cells to make billions of copies of themselves.
It is like a rogue robot taking over a factory and using it to produce endless identical machines before going off to conquer the world.
The race is now on between the virus, which will try to replicate as fast as possible, and your immune system, which will try to wipe it out before it can really take hold.
The trouble is, if your body has never seen this sort of virus before it takes time to mount an adequate immune response. To do that it needs all the help it can get.
That is where sleep comes in. During sleep your body makes cytokines, a protein that targets viral infections, creating and co-ordinating a powerful immune response.
Cytokines are produced and released during deep sleep, so it’s a double whammy if you don’t get enough.
Lack of sleep will also suppress the production of infection-fighting antibodies, which are vital for combating viruses.
A recent study has also shown that after a poor night’s sleep your killer T-cells, whose job is to bind onto cells infected by viruses and destroy them, become less effective. Lack of sleep reduces their ability to latch onto infected cells.
The impact sleep has on our ability to fight viral infections was highlighted by an extraordinary study where U.S. researchers deliberately tried to infect a large group of healthy volunteers to see how well their immune system fought back.
They asked 164 healthy men and women to wear sleep trackers and keep a record of how well they slept.
Then, in a lab, they were asked to inhale droplets containing cold-inducing viruses. Afterwards, all the volunteers were kept isolated in a hotel for five days and monitored.
It turned out that those who slept less than six hours a night were four times more likely to develop a cold than those who got seven hours or more.
In other words, not getting enough sleep made them hugely more vulnerable to the impact of the common cold virus, despite being exposed to the same level of infection.
In a similar study, researchers found that if your sleep efficiency (the percentage of time you spend slumbering in bed) was 90 per cent or better, then you were nearly six times less likely to develop a cold than if your sleep efficiency was low.
I’ve no doubt that a good night’s sleep is the best possible medicine for your immune system.
Sleep is when the body’s defences really kick in. It’s one reason why fevers tend to rise at night, as fever is a sign that your body is fighting back.
Lack of sleep will also suppress the production of infection-fighting antibodies, which are vital for combating viruses. A woman is pictured wearing a face mask
This is also the time when your body makes the necessary changes to boost your immune system to fight off infection and viruses — and recover from them, too.
Healthcare workers are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 because they get more exposure to it through treating sick people, — but also because in emergency situations they are expected to work around the clock.
In China, there were stories of medical staff wearing nappies because they didn’t have time to take a break. This is brave but very foolish.
Medical staff always bear the brunt. For example, during an outbreak of the Ebola virus in 2013, which killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa, healthcare workers were unsurprisingly the most exposed.
According to the World Health Organisation, they were 30 times more likely to become infected than the general population.
Again, if you look at SARS (a coronavirus infection that killed one in ten), about 20 per cent of people who got it were medics.
So do make sure you are getting enough sleep, particularly if you are a healthcare worker.
We all need to do everything we can to keep our immune systems in really good shape for the challenges ahead.