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Sweet dreams, stronger bones ....


This month we’re going to explore a vital, yet often overlooked aspect of bone health – sleep. I grew up through that era of being told that sleep is for the weak, we must push all the time. Work hard and play hard. That advice was (and is) so very wrong on lots of levels. Good quality sleep is a vital part of life and in this blog, I’m going to focus on sleep and bones, so let’s get started.


The importance of sleep for bone health

Sleep isn’t just a luxury; it’s a cornerstone of optimal health. During sleep, our bodies undergo crucial repair and regeneration processes, ensuring that our bones remain strong and resilient. Inadequate sleep disrupts these essential functions, leaving our bones vulnerable to deterioration and possibly increased fracture risk.


Nutrition for restful sleep

Unlocking the secrets to restful sleep begins with nourishing your body with the right nutrients. Incorporating sleep-restorative foods into your diet can pave the way for deep and rejuvenating sleep. Consider magnesium-rich foods such as leafy greens, nuts and seeds, which promote relaxation and help regulate sleep patterns. Additionally, foods rich in an amino acid called tryptophan – turkey, chicken and dairy (if tolerated) – can enhance the production of serotonin and melatonin which are just two of the neurotransmitters and hormones that regulate sleep-wake cycles.


Creating helpful sleep habits

Getting into a good sleep routine is really important. Below are some hints and tips for you to consider.

  1. Reduce/avoid caffeine, especially after noon, and substitute with decaffeinated. Try ‘coffee fading’ if this is a problem. Start by making your last cup of the day half caffeine and half decaffeinated. Do this for a week, then have that last coffee completely decaffeinated for a week. Then move to your second-to-last cup and repeat the process until you are only drinking decaffeinated coffee (this has an additional benefit for your bones as caffeine may reduce absorption of calcium).

  2. Reduce daytime/afternoon naps, especially between 1pm and 3pm when the body temperature rises and produces some melatonin. Naps have an effect on your sleep drive and sleep rhythm. How to stop the post-lunch sleepiness? Go outside and get some natural light onto your eyes. That turns off the production of melatonin and stops the sleepiness.

  3. Sleep becomes fragmented as we age, and the amount of deep, restorative sleep reduces. To counteract this, we need to limit environmental factors that adversely affect our sleep.  

    1. Get yourself to a routine of going to bed and getting up at a similar time each day. Consistency like this helps our body to know when to start relaxing, producing melatonin and winding down to go to sleep, and then when to reduce the melatonin and start producing awakening hormones like cortisol for us to get up and get going again.

    2. Block out light. Invest in blackout blinds or curtain linings that keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Have a motion-activated night-light around for if you need to get up during the night so that you can see where you’re going. Something like this is particularly good as it has no blue light, so won’t reduce melatonin production: https://www.blockbluelight.co.uk/products/motion-activated-night-light.

    3. Keep your bedroom comfortably cool.

    4. Block out as much noise as possible. If necessary, use ear plugs.

    5. Consider replacing your mattress if it’s 7+ years old. Have good support at the edge of the mattress and in the centre. Have a comfortable pillow that supports your head. If you’re a side sleeper it’s particularly important to get your head and neck supported to keep your spine aligned. I use a pillow from this website: https://www.reflexpillow.com/products/ It’s not cheap but is fantastically comfortable and supportive.

  4. Medical conditions. These can include high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, obesity, dementia. All of these can potentially have a detrimental effect on our sleep. Make sure that you get any medical issues checked out first to see if it makes a difference. Remember that you may have an undiagnosed sleep condition like sleep apnoea that can be helped.

    1. Restless Leg Syndrome. You get a strange creepy, twitchy feeling in your legs as soon as you lie down. It might even happen before you get into bed. This can affect your sleep.

    2. Some medications can adversely affect your sleep. For instance, some antidepressants are a stimulant. Do not stop any medication without checking with your doctor. It may be a simple matter of changing the timing or the dosage of your medication. Again – only make changes to your medication in association with your doctor.

    3. Insomnia. Difficulty in falling or staying asleep. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) has been shown to help with insomnia, so it’s worth giving that a try. Certainly it helped me. You can search for a CBT practitioner near you or online here: https://www.bacp.co.uk/ 

  5. Supplements – just be careful in what you are taking. Some supplements have been shown to help with sleep but be cautious with over-the-counter sleep supplements. Just because something is labelled as ‘natural’, it doesn’t mean that it should be taken without checking its efficacy or if it could react with any medication you are already taking.



Shiatsu for serene sleep

In shiatsu, specific pressure points can be targeted to promote relaxation and to alleviate sleep disturbances. One such point is Heart 7 (HT7), located on the palm side of the wrist, in line with the little finger. Stimulating HT7 by pressing on it with a finger or thumb from the other hand is believed to calm the mind and soothe the spirit, which may facilitate a sense of peace and calm conducive to restful sleep. Incorporating gentle massage or pressure on this point before bedtime can help prepare your body and mind for a peaceful night’s sleep.

 

Here is a video of how to locate the point.



Qigong: cultivating inner harmony

Qigong offers a holistic approach to enhancing sleep quality by balancing the body’s energy flow and promoting relaxation. Through gentle movements, mindful breathing and visualisation, qigong cultivates inner harmony, easing tension and stress that may interfere with sleep. Consider practicing a gentle bedtime routine focusing on gentle stretches, deep breathing and calming visualisations to prepare your body and mind for a restorative night of sleep.

 

This month, instead of showing you a qigong form or set, I’m going to show you a specific breathing technique called Alternate Nostril Breathing. This exercise is particularly good for calming the mind and for strengthening the tone of the Vagus nerve – a vital part of the parasympathetic nervous system. If I find it difficult to get to sleep or, if I wake up and can’t get back to sleep easily, I do some alternate nostril breathing and it helps my brain slow down a bit so that I can fall to sleep.

 

If you do yoga, you may already have learned how to do this. I am not teaching the yoga version, just a very simple method that I find works well.

 

Here is a video showing how to do alternate nostril breathing.


A recipe for restful sleep

At the end of this blog I’ve put a recipe card for a Cherry Coconut Smoothie. It is delicious and is also designed to support restful sleep without causing spikes in blood glucose levels. Here is how it works:

  • Cherries are low on the glycaemic index, which means that they have a minimal impact on blood sugar levels. They also contain a little melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles, promoting restful sleep.

  • Banana: while bananas contain natural sugars, they also provide potassium, magnesium and tryptophan, all of which support relaxation and sleep.

  • Sunflower seed butter is a good source of healthy fats and magnesium, which can help relax muscles and promote sleep. It’s also low in oxalates, making it suitable for those avoiding oxalate-rich foods like almonds.

  • Rolled oats provide fibre, which helps slow down digestion and the release of glucose into the bloodstream. This prevents rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, promoting more stable energy levels through the night.

  • Cinnamon has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and help regulate blood sugar levels. By adding cinnamon to the smoothie, we can further support stable blood sugar levels, preventing disruptions in sleep.


In conclusion, let’s remember the profound impact that quality sleep can have on our overall well-being. By prioritising restful sleep and incorporating nutrition, shiatsu and qigong practices into our daily routines, we can nurture both body and bones.

 

Next month we will be looking at exercise for bone health. Gym gear at the ready!

 

With warmth and wellness,

Ettaline

 

 

PS. If you’re interested in finding out more about what I do to help bone health and overall health through what I practice, please contact me for a free, no-obligation 30-minute chat. Here is the link.




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