Sleep – Part I

Sleep is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves, and soon effects many areas of our life when we are lacking in it.  Research shows that we need at least 7-8 hours per night to function optimally, and any less than this can cause up to a 30% reduction in concentration, not to mention irritability, tendency towards depression and carbohydrate cravings.  When we are over-tired we become more vulnerable to anxiety, high blood pressure, increased pulse rate, disrupted respiration and a slow metabolism (i.e. weight gain).  Another study reported that by limiting sleep in healthy young males for just 4 nights considerably affected their insulin response, suggesting a tendency to contribute to risk of diabetes.  

“We need at least 7-8 hours per night to function optimally”

There are different types of sleep problems – sleep onset (falling asleep) & sleep maintenance (staying asleep and waking at a regular time).  These two types of sleep issues have different contributory factors.  For example, a deficiency in omega 3 fats, serotonin (a hormone that converts to melatonin), B vitamins or even iron will disrupt sleep patterns.  Other issues to name a few are stress, elevated heavy metals, infections, food allergies, hyper/hypoglycaemia, alcohol, noise or light disruption, or use of medications such as the contraceptive pill, thyroid medication and aspirin.

Some people find that they suffer with restless legs, which can worsen in pregnancy, when anaemic or with onset of diabetes.  In this case specific B vitamins are required and work very effectively.  Herbs such as Magnolia, Passionflower & Valerian in therapeutic doses are wonderful for supporting particular symptoms relating to sleep.  Magnesium is also a tried and tested form of therapy and if used in the correct form and dose can aid a restful sleep.  Finally black pepper is a proven tranquilizing spice, promoting deep sleep and also iron uptake from other foods.

In short, it is important to establish the cause of the problems in order to address efficiently.  An appointment with a naturopath can help work through the list according to your symptoms and lifestyle, and referrals for testing are given if deemed necessary.

As for things to do at home to promote a good night’s sleep that will hopefully have you bouncing out of bed in the morning and ready for the day! –

  • Sleep hygiene – no phones/laptops/iPads in the 30 minutes before sleep.  Avoid electrical devices in the bedroom full stop.  Turn lights down low to allow melatonin to be released and make you sleepy.
  • Review medications if you have been on them for along time or feel they are contributing to issues.
  • Look for food sensitivities or come in for a consult and/or testing.
  • Get regular exercise to promote circulation and toxin clearance.
  • Address stress with counselling, meditation or Flower Essence therapy (available in clinic).
  • Avoid caffeine products, particularly after 3pm.  Excessive use of antacid medication can also be a factor.
  • Have a serotonin promoting drink before bed – warm a cup of milk/almond or rice milk, add 3/4 tspn ginger & black pepper if you like (a little honey is OK if you need it)