Seasons’s slumber: how summer can affect your sleep
Waking up to light mornings and socialising outdoors on balmy evenings are two of the pleasures of summer but they can play havoc with sleep patterns.
Those who already have sleep problems can find it even harder to get enough rest, as Claire Stone, a 32-year-old public relations consultant, knows only too well.
"I've never been a great sleeper and find I particularly suffer in the summer with the difference in light and warmer temperatures," she says.
"I've tried everything from sleeping pills, which I hated as they gave me a hangover-type feeling the next day, to hypnotherapy but nothing really worked."
She's devised her own sleep strategy, which includes taking a Vitamin B complex supplement as well as magnesium, to help her overcome the problem.
"Switching my mattress helped. Despite the commonly held view that a firm mattress is good for your back, I've found you should opt for a mattress to suit you which offers comfort as well as support.
"I've also put up black-out blinds which combats the problem of an earlier sunrise. An eye mask is inadequate as your whole body needs to be in the dark because when our skin senses daylight this raises hormone levels which help wake us up and make us feel alert."
Lack of sleep can place all sorts of strains on the body and contribute to feelings of low mood and depression, says leading nutritionist Patrick Holford, who reports that enquiries about sleep problems rise during the summer months.
"It helps to know how our body prepares for sleep," he says.
"As you start to wind down in the evening, your serotonin levels rise and adrenaline levels fall. Serotonin is a type of chemical which helps to relay signals from one area of the brain to another.
"As it gets darker outside, melatonin also kicks in which helps to control your sleep-awake cycle. Both serotonin and melatonin are made from 5-HTP, a natural amino acid which is present in most protein foods."
Boosting the levels of 5-HTP by taking it as a supplement can benefit some people, he says and advises taking 100 to 200mg half an hour before bed.
"It's best taken on an empty stomach, or with a small amount of carbohydrate such as an oatcake or a piece of fruit.
"Other nutrients which help you get to sleep are magnesium, which has also been reported to help with restless legs. I take magnesium supplements daily and recommend 300mg for those with sleeping problems."
Valerian, often known as 'Nature's Valium' is known for its sleep inducing effects, but Holford points out that although it can be highly effective it should only be taken in the evening.
Also, as it can interact with alcohol and other sedative drugs it should not be taken in combination with those.
What you eat can help your body to be more receptive to sleep, according to Lorna Driver-Davies, nutritionist for the Nutri Centre.
She suggests upping intake of pumpkin seeds, nuts and dark green vegetables, and cherries.
"Pumpkin seeds are rich in amino acids which are required to help manufacture melatonin, the sleep inducing hormone," she says.
"Essential fats found in pumpkin seeds and other seeds are also helpful for improving metabolism. Take a handful before bed."
Nuts and dark green vegetables, she advises, are all rich in the mineral magnesium, which is known as a 'nature's tranquilliser' and commonly used as a sleep aid. Cherries also contain small amounts of the hormone melatonin.
An inability to sleep can often be associated with fluctuating blood sugar levels, as it's common for people to struggle to sleep when these fall, says Alli Godbold, a nutritional therapist and author of Feed Your Health.
"To prevent this problem, sugar and refined carbohydrates should be avoided as far as possible, and it's also a good idea to cut back on stimulants such as coffee, tea, cola, chocolate and alcohol and avoid or keep them to a minimum in the evening."
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) can vary in severity and causes an irresistible inclination to move your legs.
It can cause discomfort in the feet, calves and thighs and in many cases, the condition can be distressing and disruptive and affect daily activities including sleep.
"Over 50% of people in the UK suffer with sleep disorders of some kind, generally attributed to a stressful lifestyle, and RLS is a common problem," says acupuncturist Rachel Peckham.
She recommends acupuncture to calm the nervous system and it may also boost hormonal outputs by increasing endorphin production.
Nocturnal muscle cramp causes distress and sleep disruption for more than 13 million people in the UK.
Around 82% per cent of women have suffered with the complaint, with 12% per cent experiencing nocturnal cramps every night.
"People often aren't aware that they could be suffering from a sleep condition that is easy to treat," Dr Guy Meadows, insomnia specialist and founder of the Sleep School.
"Instead of worrying about the problem, it's important to trust your body's ability to sleep, making lifestyle changes or taking appropriate treatments where appropriate."
NOT TIRED ENOUGH
If you haven't burned enough energy throughout the day, it's likely that you'll find it hard to nod off at bedtime but a daily work-out could be the answer.
"You can give yourself a work-out at home without spending a penny on expensive equipment," says Justin Way, personal trainer with Pure Gym.
"Doing the housework is the perfect opportunity to flex your muscles. When hoovering, stand on your left leg while pushing and pulling the hoover around with your right arm.
"Hop to move around the room and alternate legs every two minutes. This will work the core while toning the legs and bum."