12 tips for a good night’s sleep

Just as body hygiene is about clean habits, sleep hygiene is about good habits around sleeping. This is important for everyone and extra important when you live with diabetes.

You may have heard of your circadian clock or rhythm. We all have a central clock, which regulates our body functions.

This clock is affected by our body parts such as our gut, muscles, liver, fat stores and eyes.  The clock can become “out of whack” as a result of changes to our food intake, altered light/dark exposure, shift work, disturbed sleep and jet lag, for a few examples.

Disruption of your circadian clock may lead to insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance can be easily understood by thinking of insulin as the key that unlocks the door to cells in your body. Insulin, which is made in the pancreas, allows glucose to enter the billions of cells in your body. Glucose is the main source of energy for your body. If the locks to your cell doors are rusty (insulin resistance), insulin will not open the cell doors all of the time. The result of insulin resistance over time means the pancreas needs to supply more insulin to compensate. This means there may not be enough insulin to do its job of allowing glucose into cells for energy. As a result, glucose remains in your blood stream, raising your blood glucose levels.

Let’s go back to that central clock which is influenced by light exposure. Your central clock has control over sleep-wake cycles and what and when you want to eat. So when we have a poor sleep pattern we want to eat generally unhealthy foods when we are not hungry.  Hormones such as cortisol (the wake-up hormone) and melatonin (the go-to-sleep hormone) depend on your circadian clock. You are probably getting a picture that disrupting this clock is not helpful or healthy.

In the summer months, I find it challenging to get enough sleep. Do you? For me this is generally about increased daylight hours and the heat. Your central clock only starts to produce that go-to-sleep hormone, melatonin, once darkness falls. Melatonin will take at least two hours to kick in.

At night, even dim light and in particular blue light reduces melatonin production when your pupils are dilated. In this way, devices such as laptops and smartphones before bedtime can be unhelpful. So what can you do about this? Good sleep hygiene!

Here are 12 tips for you

Get regular. Try to go to bed at the same time each night and rise about the same time each day. Oversleeping may be as unhelpful as under sleeping.

Go to bed when you feel sleepy. Lying in bed waiting for sleep does not work.

Get up and try again. If you have not been able to get to sleep after about 20 minutes or more, get up and do something calming until you feel sleepy. Sit quietly on the couch with the lights off. Bright light such as a television will wake your brain. Read something easy to understand, listen to a recorded book or music, or meditate.

Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, cola drinks, and chocolate) or cigarettes after lunch. These ingredients may keep you awake when it’s time to sleep.

Avoid alcohol. Alcohol can reduce the quality of your sleep. Try to have your last drink more than four hours before bedtime.

Keep the bed for sleeping. Try not to use your bed for anything other than sleeping and intimacy. Your brain needs to connect bed with sleep.

No naps. It is difficult not to take a nap during the day when you haven’t slept well. A routine without a nap can help to reset your clock.

Make some bedtime rituals. Create your own rituals of things to remind your body that it is time to sleep. This could be stretches or breathing exercises before bed. Have a relaxing bath with a drop of lavender. Sit calmly with a caffeine-free tea may relax you and help your thoughts calm.

Don’t watch the clock. Regularly checking the clock during the night can wake you up. It also supports negative thoughts such as “Oh no, look how late it is, I’ll never get to sleep” or “it’s so early, I have only slept for five hours, this is terrible.”  The less stressed you are about getting to sleep the more likely you won’t sleep.

Regular exercise will help you sleep. However, try not to exercise within four hours of bedtime. We release wake-up hormones during exercise and you need this time to allow them to switch off. Morning walks are a great way to start the day feeling refreshed.

Eat well. A healthy, balanced diet will help you to sleep. Timing is important. You will not sleep if your stomach is growling or if you are lying down on a full stomach. Make sure you eat foods which calm your stomach, like a glass of warm milk. Milk has a natural element, which your body can makes into the sleepy hormone, melatonin.

Good vibrations. Your bedroom must be quiet and comfortable for sleeping. A cooler room with enough blankets to stay warm is best. If you are not an ‘early to rise’ person block out curtains and an eye mask can help. And use earplugs to block out noise, if necessary.

If these tips don’t work, consult your doctor. There may be reasons for insomnia, which your doctor can treat.

I hope you have a good night’s sleep ahead. For more information on this or other topics, please contact us on 1800 637 700.

By Donna Itzstein, Diabetes Queensland Pharmacist

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