The widespread panic and uncertainty being caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means sleep isn’t coming easy for many people right now. But good quality sleep is the bedrock of our lives, consuming about a third of our total time on this planet and dramatically influencing the other two-thirds. That’s why it’s so important that we all get enough good quality sleep on a regular basis. With that in mind, here are five tangible tips to promote better sleep at this difficult time: 1. Get into a routine By getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, you can significantly boost your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. If you get into a routine of sleeping and waking at the same times each day, you’ll feel more refreshed and energized than if you follow random patterns. 2. Exercise more In addition to the physical and mental health benefits, regular exercise also helps you sleep better. And while cardiovascular exercise, strength training and yoga are all great for helping you sleep – especially if you do them during the day and not just before bed. 3. Watch your diet For the best sleep, try and eat a balanced diet that contains vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, and low-fat proteins that are rich in B vitamins - like fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy. 4. Consume less alcohol While some people rely on alcohol to help them fall asleep, studies show that alcohol does not improve sleep. In fact, it reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is thought to be the most restorative kind. 5. Limit gadget use at night Blue light from TVs, smartphones, tablets and other gadgets plays havoc with your circadian rhythm and, as a result, the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin is suppressed. For the best night’s sleep, limit your use of gadgets and other visual devices to around one to two hours before bed.
If you’re looking to lose some weight, eating earlier in the day and intermittently fasting could help, new research suggests. According to a paper published in the journal Obesity, the timing of meals and intermittent fasting influences metabolism, which can have an impact on weight loss. Researchers discovered this following a trial involving 11 men and women, all of who were in good health, aged between 25 and 45 years and carrying some excess weight. The trial participants were split into two groups: one who ate breakfast at 08:00 and then ate their last meal of the day at 14:00, and another who ate breakfast at 08:00 and had their last meal of the day at 20:00. Both groups ate the same meals each day. At the end of the trial, participants underwent a battery of tests in a respiratory chamber to assess their metabolism. The number of calories, fat, carbohydrates and proteins burned were all measured. It was revealed that the participants who ate their last meal of the day at 14:00 and, therefore, fasted longer overnight, burned more fat than the other group. They also had lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin. “Eating in sync with circadian rhythms by eating early in the daytime appears to reduce body weight and improve metabolic health,” the authors of the paper wrote.
Women who are larks, otherwise known as “morning people”, have a lower risk of developing breast cancer, a study has revealed. While the exact reason why remains unknown, the team of researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK say their findings are important and add to the growing understanding of how sleep affects our health. A person’s body clock (also known as their circadian rhythm) regulates when a person feels sleepy or awake over a 24-hour period. So-called morning people wake up earlier, peak earlier in the day and feel sleepy earlier in the evening. In contrast, “evening people” (night owls) get up later, peak later in the day and go to sleep later in the evening. Using a data analysis technique called Mendelian randomisation, the researchers looked at DNA snippets of more than 400,000 women. They discovered that women who were larks were less likely to have breast cancer than their night owl peers. Speaking about the findings of the research, Dr Rebecca Richmond, a researcher from the University of Bristol, told the BBC: “The findings are potentially very important because sleep is ubiquitous and easily modified. “Previous research has looked at the impact of shift work, but this is showing there may be a risk factor for all women.” Nevertheless, many questions still remain. For example, more research now needs to be conducted to see whether the body clock itself is directly impacting a person’s risk of developing cancer, or if factors like night owls breaking their natural circadian rhythm to accommodate jobs is having an impact. [Related reading: Major study finds eating processed meat raises risk of breast cancer]