Sleep and Exam Stress!

Sleep! It’s so important for our health yet so many of us fail to get enough or at least enough quality sleep, which is what matters. Lack of sleep can have a huge impact on many areas of our health, and in particular stress! Talking about stress, this month sees the beginning of the exam period for many students. Feeling nervous before an exam is completely normal but for some it’s a time of severe stress and anxiety. Thankfully there is plenty we can do to support both sleep and stress levels.

SLEEP

We all need different amounts of sleep but, as mentioned, quality is what matters. Normally 7-8 hours is advisable for most adults, but if you’re under stress, especially for a long time, then aim for 8-10 hours.

When it gets dark, our body releases a hormone called melatonin. It makes us feel drowsy and affects our circadian rhythms, so is vital for sleep! The tips below include ways to support your levels of melatonin.

10 Top Tips for a good night’s sleep:

  1. Turn off all electrics (eg phones, lap top, routers). Blue light from screens interferes with melatonin.
  2. Don’t drink caffeine beyond midday or at least 4 hrs before bed.
  3. Ensure your room is completely dark. Use black out blinds/curtains and turn off all lights.
  4. Start the winding down process 1- 2 hrs before you want to sleep. Eg switch off the TV, put away work, turn off the laptop!
  5. Don’t have sugary foods late at night, as it causes an imbalance in blood sugar levels which can wake you up in the night.
  6. Try having tryptophan foods in the evening. Eg Oats, turkey, dates, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Tryptophan converts to serotonin and then to melatonin.
  7. Don’t drink alcohol late at night (as it wears off it has a stimulatory effect, often at 3am ‘ish).
  8. Avoid/limit day time naps. If you do, make sure it’s before 3pm, and no more than 30-45 minutes.
  9. Exercise! Regular, daily exercise promotes sleep and the endorphins released help reduce stress. However, be careful with high intensity exercise late in the evening as it can raise cortisol levels (same hormone that is released when we’re under stress).
  10. Go to bed at the same time and wake at the same time, every day. Have a night time ritual that you can stick to eg a relaxing herbal drink, reading a book in bed.

 

What supplements can we take to support sleep?

Here are a few of our favourites which we’ve had good feedback on, from customers:

  • Magnesium – a muscle relaxant, great taken in the evening.
  • Cherry and Magnesium powder – cherry naturally contains melatonin!
  • Valerian and Hops herbal tincture – traditional herbal remedy for sleep that can be used before bed and if you wake in the night
  • Ashwaganda and Valerian herbal supplement – especially useful when anxiety is affecting sleep
  • Homeopathic remedy for sleep – a specific remedy to support sleep. Tiny pillules that can be sucked or chewed, so they are great for those who don’t like swallowing capsules!
  • Theanine and Lemon Balm – Theanine (naturally found in tea) has been shown to have a calming effect in the brain, without causing drowsiness and is commonly used by those with anxiety. Lemon balm is a herb that also has a calming effect. This combination works at any time of the day but is great used at night, when you can’t get to sleep because your mind can’t switch off.

Other options:

  • Herbal ‘Night Time’ teas – try some herbal teas specially formulated with a combination of herbs to support relaxation or sleep.
  • Topical sprays – Magnesium Spray (Original or Night Time) is a simple way to get magnesium into your body, as it is easily absorbed through the skin. This makes it ideal for children and those not wanting to take tablets.
  • Bath salts – Magnesium flakes or traditional Epsom Salts – again magnesium is absorbed through the skin. These are deeply relaxing, so go to bed straight afterwards!
  • Lavender wheat pillow – just heat in the microwave and put around your shoulders as you relax in bed.
  • Lavender essential oil – well known for its calming properties. Put 1 or 2 drops on your pillow as you go to bed. It may sound simple but it is a lovely addition to the night time routine. Try it! Again, ideal for children.

 

EXAM STRESS

There are some great natural products which are suitable for young people, to support their stress and anxiety levels. Here are some of our favourites, again which are popular with customers:

  • Theanine and lemon balm – theanine (from tea) and lemon balm, have both been shown to have a calming effect. This combination can be taken at any time of the day, or before bed. It is particularly useful for anxiety, especially as the theanine works quickly. It can be taken as you feel your anxiety levels rising or prior to an exam, for example.
  • B vitamins – taken as a complex, the B Vitamins are needed to support the nervous system (as well as energy levels). B5 is also important for supporting stress.
  • Magnesium – a muscle relaxant, so ideal for supporting relaxation and winding down time. This is available for young children too, in a chewable tablet or liquid, or as a spray.
  • Flower remedies – which work on the emotions, eg Rescue Remedy, used by many just before an exam. Other remedies are also available, to support concentration and focus, or confidence or a calm and clear mind.

Please note: some supplements, although suitable for children, need to be taken at a reduced dose, so please let us know the age of your child and we can advise you on this.

In addition, diet and sleep are also key, so try to get the right nutrients in to their diet and the ‘bad stuff’ out, as well as ensuring they get enough sleep. Easier said than done I know!

 

Dietary support for stress and anxiety

  1. Cut the sugar! – especially fizzy drinks, fruit juices and fruit smoothies – switch to whole pieces of fresh fruit , berries and dark chocolate (70-85% cacao) instead. Too much sugar causes an imbalance in our blood sugar levels, which then makes us less able to deal with stress well, affecting our moods.
  2. Have protein with each meal – eg nuts/seeds/eggs/chicken/fish/meat/beans/lentils/tofu. This helps to balance blood sugar levels and provides the building blocks for a healthy brain function.
  3. Eat good fats! – salmon, sardines, mackerel, nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, These are needed for a healthy brain function, including moods.
  4. Cut the caffeine (tea / coffee) – switch to green tea (has theanine in and a lot less caffeine)
  5. Eat every 3 – 4 hours to ensure your blood sugar levels are balanced. When blood sugar levels are out of balance it has a knock on effect on stress levels.

The following nutrients support your adrenal glands (which release stress hormones), so include these foods in the diet:

  • Vitamin B5 (sunflower seeds, salmon, avocados, sun dried tomatoes).
  • Vitamin B12 (Grass fed beef, tuna, cottage cheese, eggs, salmon).
  • Vitamin C (broccoli, strawberries, kale, red peppers, grapefruit, oranges).
  • Zinc (pumpkin seeds, seafood, spinach, cashew nuts)
  • Magnesium (dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, figs, bananas).
  • Fish oils (oily fish – salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines)

 

If you have anyone in your house taking exams we hope they go well!

Please feel free to come in and talk to us about any of the above. We would love to help!

I’m Alison and I’m a Nutritional Therapist. I love encouraging people to try healthy foods and to show them how simple, quick and easy it is to eat healthily. I’m a busy mum with 2 children, one of whom has a disability and special needs, so meals have to be easy! I love getting my veggie box each week, baking healthy treats and being out in the countryside.

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