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CommunityHealth5 wellness and fitness experts give us their actually helpful sleep advice

Whether you consider yourself to be a good sleeper, or you struggle to get a good night’s rest, it’s important to realize the full potential of your nightly slumber – and what can go wrong if you are not getting a good quality and quantity of it.  Five experts across the UAE’s fitness, medical and food fields go further than most to explain how they get good sleep, demonstrating that most sleep problems can be...
Ann Marie McQueenDecember 28, 202214 min
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Whether you consider yourself to be a good sleeper, or you struggle to get a good night’s rest, it’s important to realize the full potential of your nightly slumber – and what can go wrong if you are not getting a good quality and quantity of it. 

Five experts across the UAE’s fitness, medical and food fields go further than most to explain how they get good sleep, demonstrating that most sleep problems can be alleviated with a few simple yet sustainable changes to your lifestyle routine.

Futtaim Beljafla Crank Dubai
Futtaim Beljafla, instructor, Crank Abu Dhabi

Caffeine is the enemy of sleep

Futtaim Beljafla, instructor, Crank Abu Dhabi

The enemy of good sleep is caffeine! No matter what bedtime rituals you follow, if you’re having caffeine too late in the day, then you’re keeping your brain alert throughout the night and affecting the quality of your sleep. I am also guilty of having caffeine at night, especially before teaching my evening classes at Crank. Coupled with the adrenaline I get from teaching, there’s no way I will get to sleep before two in the morning. My advice, before anything else, is to curb caffeine after 3pm. Then you can start following a bedtime ritual every night to train your body and your mind to know when it’s time to sleep. Avoid using your phone at least one hour before going to sleep. Instead, read a book to give your eyes a break from screens. And no TV or laptops in bed! As for sleep aids, my go-tos are chamomile tea and magnesium supplements. Remember, what works for others may not work for you, so try to create your own ritual that helps you relax and teaches your mind and body when it’s time to switch off.

 Tamara Ghazi, medical director, DISC Dubai

Tamara Ghazi, medical director, DISC Dubai

Work with your circadian rhythm

Tamara Ghazi, medical director, DISC 

Our body has a circadian rhythm, which means that even night owls would probably function much better if their routine followed the sun. Anything creating a mellow mood such as dimming lights and noise, essential oils such as lavender, a warm bath, massages (using a roller to self-administer myofascial release, a manual therapy technique often used for pain) and breathing exercises to help slow down heart rate, are great ways to get yourself ready for restfulness. When it comes to nutrition, certain supplements like magnesium, 5 HTP, tryptophan and melatonin can help recovery or insomnia. There are many wearables on the market like the Apple Watch, which I personally use, to measure my time in bed, and others which go into more detail such as REM vs light sleep for people who love data analysis. These great tools for people who don’t have good sleep habits or who want to optimize performance. Otherwise I recommend creating routine, which is something the human body craves, especially sleeping and waking up at the same time every day.  

Jeffrey Zorn, Nourishing Dubai
Jeffrey Zorn, founder and managing director, Nourishing Dubai

Manage your weekend jet-lag

Jeffrey Zorn, founder and managing Director, Nourishing Dubai

As people who live abroad, we all know what jet lag is, but few people realize that they give themselves jet lag every single weekend by going to bed two to four hours later. That’s like flying to London every weekend and coming back for the working week. You don’t need a fancy watch or ring to diagnose your sleep. You already know if it’s great or if it’s in desperate need of improvement. Before getting into bed at nine, I might drink a small glass of water with Thorne Magnesium Bisglycinate and take a few Cortizen made by Tranzend. Some people might also do well with a cup of warm herbal tea. You can also try breathing exercises like the Wim Hof Technique or guided meditation or a simple yoga routine. Supplements will not be effective if you live a sedentary life, barely move or exercise (don’t confuse the two), consume alcohol or caffeine later in the day and spend time doing work or looking at your screen before bed. 

Dr Shefali Verma
Dr Shefali Verma, integrative medical doctor

Take magnesium and study up

Dr Shefali Verma, integrative medical doctor

I generally choose to eat more white meat than red, especially for dinner, as it’s easier to digest. I also like to have my carbs then, as it leaves me happier and more satisfied (where tryptophan and serotonin are released). I generally advise my patients to stay in a routine, as the body likes routine. Our hormones are secreted according to our natural body clock. Stress, whether acute or chronic, can impact sleep hormonally, especially when the cortisol remains too high at night. It depletes magnesium, which helps sleep, bowel regulation and stress tolerance. Magnesium is a great nutrient to supplement. You can try having a bath with Epsom salts or lavender. Stress can also turn us into emotional eaters, which can pull us out of a natural sleep routine. For menstruating women, sleep can change during different stages of their cycle. Vitamin B6 and evening primrose oil can be very handy supplement in this case. As a medical biohacker I use the Oura Ring (an accurate sleep and activity tracker). It monitors your heart rate and variability, respiratory rate and all sleep stages. And finally, I recommend reading Why We Sleep by Mathew Walker.

Dr Saliha Afridi
Dr Saliha Afridi/Lighthouse Dubai

Good sleep is made in the day

Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist, The LightHouse Arabia 

Sleep is done at night but made in the day. How you spend your day, what you do during the day and what you eat during the day will affect your night’s sleep. Move your body in the morning sun (a walk, yoga stretches or swimming) because a body that doesn’t move holds a lot more anxiety and anxiety does not make for good sleep. If you’re eating and drinking late at night, the muscles and organs that digest and metabolize our food have to keep working when they should be resting, which means you will not get the restful, quality sleep you need. When you consume alcohol before bed it can exacerbate sleep apnea and disrupt the REM sleep cycle, which is critical for learning and creativity. For a better night’s sleep, let’s start with blue light-blocking glasses or protectors on your screens from suppliers like EnvisualEyez. Don’t underestimate the power of a pillow to keep your neck and head aligned. I recommend the Layla Kapok pillow, the Tempur-cloud breeze, or the Brooklinen Down Alternative. I personally can’t live without Pukka Night Time Tea and 300mg of MagVita supplements to relax the body.

• This story was originally published on March 15, 2021

Ann Marie McQueen

Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.

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