Replenishing Sleep by Lindy Cook
Naturopath, Nutritionist & Herbalist
We all know the story, lying in bed wide awake in the wee hours of the night, unable to sleep and dreading yet another day ahead feeling exhausted and flat. Just as the sun begins to rise you finally drop off, only to be awoken by the sound of your alarm. Or do you find it hard to get to sleep, tossing and turning wishing you could just stop thinking and fall into a deep refreshing sleep?
Lack of sleep and associated fatigue seems to be the curse of the modern age. Adults need an average of seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but insomnia can keep them from getting the sleep they need. With around 1/3 of Australians suffering from a sleep issue of some sort there is no doubt there is plenty of ‘counting sheep’ going on every night around our country.
Just as exercise and nutrition are essential for optimal health and happiness, so is sleep. The quality of your sleep directly affects the quality of your waking life, including your mental productivity, emotional balance, creativity, physical vitality, and even your weight. Without enough hours of restorative sleep, you won’t be able to work, learn and create at a level even close to your true potential.
If you are struggling to get a good night’s kip, these tips can help get you sleeping more soundly and ready to embrace life again feeling energized and focused. Start getting the sleep you need to boost your energy, efficiency and creativity.
To drop off we must cool off, literally. The body temperature and the brain’s sleep-wake cycle are closely linked. That’s why hot summer nights can cause a restless sleep. Studies have shown that the optimal conditions for sleep are a slightly cool room and a lower core temperature. So make sure your bedding is appropriate for the time of year, the heating is not switched too high or have a luke warm shower if you are finding it difficult to cool down.
STep AWAY FROM YOUR PHONE
That’s right, switch off and unplug! Experts say one of the most alluring sleep distractions is the 24-hour accessibility of the internet. Why? The blue wavelengths produced by your smartphone and other gadgets (and energy-efficient LED light bulbs) significantly suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy, according to University of Basel research. They also keep your mind stimulated and active, making it harder to unwind and sleep.
Relaxation techniques are one of the most effective ways to increase sleep time, fall asleep faster, and feel more rested in the morning. Visualizing peaceful, tranquil scene and gradually relaxing every muscle in your body can help calm a busy mind or try a short meditation 20 minutes before bed. Meditation sends signals to your sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” response telling it that it’s all right to relax and can help you let go of the worries and problems from your day.
Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath and then reading a book or listening to soothing music. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime carried out away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from the activities of your day.
NOURISH YOUR ADRENALS
Your stress response, often known as ‘fight or flight response’, is powered by the hormone cortisol – secreted by the adrenal glands. This mechanism is intended to save your life when we are under threat and once the threat passes, return to normal. The problem is that in our busy world prolonged stress can leave our body’s thinking we have a never-ending emergency, the cortisol remains high and adrenal fatigue sets in. Stress and adrenal function affect sleep, particularly the circadian pattern of cortisol. When we are managing stress effectively, cortisol should rise in the morning to give us energy for the day. By the time we are ready to hit the hay, it should drop, making it easy to fall into a deep, refreshing sleep.
However, if it remains elevated at night we find it hard to unwind and slumber, instead feeling slightly wired, edgy and anxious – exactly when we need to find our Zen. Ultimately you must get sleep if your adrenals are to get stronger. Natural remedies are brilliant at resetting your stress hormone levels and inducing calm in an uptight body.
Try taking a mix of herbs such as Withiania, Chamomile, Oats, Rhodiola and Ginseng during the day to keep your body calm then add in the more powerful soporific tonics half an hour before bed. Think valerian, Zizyphus, Passionflower and Jamaican Dogwood. Of course these need to be prescribed by a qualified Naturopath.
BALANCE BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS
Adrenal fatigue may have another outcome in the poor sleep cycle – low blood sugar. Cortisol plays an important role in maintaining blood sugar (glucose) levels around the clock. However, during adrenal fatigue cortisol levels may not work effectively to maintain blood glucose levels. If your brain detects low blood sugar levels at night it may make it difficult to get to sleep or have you waking in the middle of the night. An internal alarm is set off so you can wake (or get up) and refuel. Make sure you eat a balanced diet during the day with protein at most meals and a good serve of complex carbohydrates. Skip the simple sugars from sweets and processed foods that cause your blood sugar levels to swing and energy to flag. Having a healthy snack before bed can help fortify the body’s nighttime energy reserves. Make sure your snack contains protein, unrefined carbohydrate, and high quality fat, such as half a slice of whole grain toast with almond butter, a serve of yoghurt with chopped nuts and blueberries or a slice of cheese on a whole grain cracker.
FOOD AS MEDICINE
Without doubt what you eat affects how you sleep. One of the keys to a restful night’s sleep is to get your brain calmed rather than revved up. Some foods contribute to restful sleep; other foods keep you awake
Studies show even being mildly deficient in magnesium can affect your sleep quality. Given one of the major constituents of the adrenal glands is magnesium and we tend to burn through it when under stress, it is a fair assumption to make that a high degree of our population s deficient in this important nutrient. Magnesium comes in a wide range of foods, from nuts and seeds, to leafy greens and grains.
Nuts and seeds – Raw almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, walnuts, pumpkin, (pepitas) and sesame seeds
Green leafy vegetables –Kale, silver beet, chard and spinach.
Whole grains – Quinoa, wheat, buckwheat and rye are not only high in magnesium but other nutrients too.
Dark Chocolate – feel like a treat? Raw Cacao is also high in magnesium and makes a great guilt free treat. Just don’t eat it too close to bed time, the caffeine can keep you awake!
Tryptophan is a precursor to the sleep-inducing hormones serotonin and melatonin. This means tryptophan is the raw material that the brain uses to build these relaxing neurotransmitters and will help make you sleepy.
Eating carbohydrates with tryptophan containing foods makes this calming amino acid more available to the brain. So cutting the carbs at night may not be the best thing for someone who is struggling to get a good nights in! Eating a high-protein meal without accompanying carbohydrates may keep you awake, since protein-rich foods also contain the amino acid, tyrosine, which perks up the brain.
Food sources of tryptophan include red meat, dairy products, nuts, seeds, legumes, soybeans and soy products, tuna, shellfish, and turkey. Try having a serve of natural, full cream yoghurt with a handful of nuts mixed before bed to enhance your tryptophan levels naturally.
So we all know regular exercise helps promote deep sleep. It helps relieve muscle tension and stress build up in the body. A couple of key points to note are; don’t exercise too late at night. As already mentioned, your body needs to be cool in order to sleep. The increased adrenaline can also make switching off harder. The other key point is to include exercise as a regular part of your daily routine. A recent studied revealed that while long-term exercise does help alleviate insomnia, it needs to be a regular habit. Unfortunately, only
exercising once a week or for a short burst will not necessarily induce those nods you are craving.
GET YOUR YOGA ON
A few low-key yoga moves can signal to your brain that slumber is coming. It is also a beautiful way to lower stress levels, calm the mind and relieve the tensions of the day and can be an effective natural sleep remedy. Certain resting and inversion poses can be particularly helpful for combating restlessness and insomnia, especially when practiced in the evening just before turning in. A Harvard study found that daily yoga for eight weeks improved total sleep time and the time it took to fall asleep.
CUT THE CAFFEINE
It is a bit of a vicious cycle. You feel so tired during the day you desperately need a coffee, especially midafternoon, to keep you going. Then that night, although you are exhausted, for some reason you just can’t drop off (again). When you are not sleeping well and feeling burnt out you need to nourish and calm your body, not keeping pushing it to fire on all cylinders with caffeine – I always liken it to flogging a dead horse. Aim to stick to just one, morning caffeinated drink daily (excluding the nasty coke and pepsi drinks) and if you are really struggling with your sleep, it is time to cut it out and switch to chamomile or other herbal teas to stop stressing your adrenals That also means no nibbling on dark chocolate after dinner. Caffeine products, such as coffee, tea, colas and chocolate, remain in the body on average from 3 to 5 hours, but they can affect some people up to 12 hours later. Even if you do not think caffeine affects you, it may be disrupting and changing the quality of your sleep. Avoiding caffeine within 6-8 hours of going to bed can help improve sleep quality.
LOSE THE BOOZE
Drinking alcohol close to bedtime can lead to a night of restless sleep. Although many people think of alcohol as a sedative, it actually disrupts sleep, causing nighttime awakenings.
So make sure you take the time to look after the most important person – you. To sleep well we need a calm, healthy, well-nourished body. Step off the merry-go-round and find your Zen.
Naturopath, Nutritionist & Herbalist