Sleep: the best prescription for optimal health
What if there was a natural treatment that would make you look younger, live longer and improve overall vitality? Many of you would jump at the chance to get your hands on such a miracle cure. What is this revolutionary therapy? A full 7-8 hours of restful sleep every night. For many of you, burning the midnight oil has become a way to accomplish even more in an already busy day. Adequate sleep is often viewed as more of a luxury rather than a necessity. However, chronic sleep deprivation can be as risky to your health as being obese or smoking. Lack of sleep can increase the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin. Excess ghrelin triggers an increase in appetite and leads to eating more food than the body needs. Ultimately this causes an increase in weight gain and obesity. Lack of sleep can also worsen chronic health conditions such as depression, headaches and heart disease. Over many years chronic sleep deprivation places you at greater risk for stroke and dementia. What exactly happens to the body during sleep continues to be studied and explored. What we do know is that cutting your sleep short has both immediate and permanent long-term effects that disrupt brain and body repair. Experts believe that good quality sleep is vital for cellular repair, longevity, cognition, memory and learning. In a medical practice focused on helping people achieve optimal health it is often surprising how easy it is for patients to dismiss the importance of sleep and the role it may play in their own health conditions. Many are amazed at how good they feel when they commit to making sleep a priority.
For some, falling asleep and staying asleep is easier said than done. Conditions such as anxiety, depression and chronic pain can make it difficult to get adequate sleep. Sometimes stress and hormonal changes can temporarily interfere with sleep. Several of the over- the-counter sleep aids can cause drowsiness and lethargy in the morning. Some prescription sleep medications can have adverse side effects such as extreme sleep walking and may be addictive. Many people are trying a more natural approach to treating insomnia. Rather than looking for a magic pill, regular rejuvenating sleep requires a more thoughtful approach. Following these simple steps can help your body fall back into a healthier sleep pattern.
1. Establish a normal circadian rhythm
The body was designed to wake and sleep with the rising and setting of the sun. Sleep is regulated in part by a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin is released from the pineal gland in the brain when it detects a decrease in light in the evening. The breakdown of melatonin is triggered by bright light in the morning. Establishing a good sleep routine that includes low light in the evening and exposure to full spectrum light in the morning can be an important first step in regulating sleep. Bright light exposure, especially light in the blue wavelengths, can be particularly beneficial for boosting attention and mood. Unfortunately this is the same light that can be the most disruptive to our sleep after sundown. Blue light, the light emitted by electronic computer screens and energy efficient light bulbs, is a powerful inhibitor of melatonin. An overexposure to this light may not only affect our sleep but can also be detrimental to our health. Some studies have shown an association between those with low melatonin levels and the development of certain types of cancers (breast, prostate), obesity and heart disease. For those people wanting to establish a healthy circadian rhythm supplementing melatonin 30-60 minutes before sleep can help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Melatonin is most effective for those who follow regular sleep and wake times, even on the weekends. If you cannot avoid electronics the 2-3 hours leading up to your bed time consider wearing the orange tinted glasses specially designed to block a majority of the blue light emitted from these types of devices.
2. Counteract the effects of stress
There may be several reasons why you may be more active at night than you should be. Sometimes stimulant medications, caffeinated drinks or alcohol can increase night time wakefulness. Other times sleep is impacted by hormone imbalances caused by chronic stress, worry and anxiety. In these cases certain amino acids such as 5-HTP, glycine, taurine, GABA and L-theanine can support brain chemistry balance and have a calming effect. Nutrients like phosphatidylserine and herbs like Magnolia officinalis can help decrease spikes of the stress hormone cortisol. It is most effective to take natural products that focus on balancing brain chemistry and decreasing stress hormones on an empty stomach 30-60 minutes before bed. This can make it easier to drift to sleep and improve sleep quality.
3. Support relaxation
Natural products for relieving muscle tension and quieting the nervous system are also great natural sleep aids. Calcium and magnesium are two key minerals supplemented before bed for muscle relaxation and avoiding leg cramping at night. Many of the most popular herbs for sleep such as Valerian, Skullcap, Hops, Lavender and Chamomile are described as “nervines” or nerve tonics. These herbs help the body relax into sleep without being sedating.
If you are not sleeping soundly after following these tips for a week or two then it is time to consult with your physician. Your doctor may recommend an evaluation for hormone imbalances and a sleep study to determine if there may be an underlying condition that is preventing a restful and rejuvenating sleep. NaturoMedica is now offering a convenient and accurate sleep study that you can do in the comfort of your own bed rather than a sleep lab. This testing is used to diagnose sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. Rather than requiring patients to spend the night in a lab, advancements in technology now allow sleep studies to be performed in the home for a fraction of the cost. Most major insurances cover this testing. Ask your NaturoMedica physician if you are a candidate for the SNAP Diagnostics Sleep Study.
*NaturoMedica Sleep Cocktail: 1 scoop Thorne’s Cal/Mag Effervescent powder + 1 scoop Xymogen’s Relax Max in 4-6 oz. of cold water. Mix, sip and enjoy 30 minutes before bed.