There are so many people who struggle with sleep. I see this time and time again. People of all ages, are struggling with some form of sleep issue. Not being able to fall asleep, waking during the nights, restlessness, waking up feeling unrefreshed, feeling anxious during the night, the list can go on. We lead such busy lives and often make countless excuses as to why we may not be getting enough sleep, or why we aren’t willing to deal with and find the underlying causes. Instead we opt for quick solutions such as sleeping pills or supplements to knock us out.
This is becoming a serious concern as it’s leading to less productivity and focus and potentially affecting our safety. We become less motivated, grumpy, irritable as well as impacting on our hormones. leading to more imbalances.
If you are suffering from any form of sleep issue, let me first ask you some questions.
- Do you suffer from stress?
- If yes, how are you managing this?
- Are you getting the right nutrition and enough movement?
- Are you spending too much time indoors, in front of a screen and less time being outdoors, in natural light and amongst nature?
Why don’t I first talk a little about 3 common contributing factors to sleep disturbances, and then we’ll get to some tips and suggestions that you may find helpful.
This is pretty much the biggest cause of not only sleep deprivation, but so many other diseases and illnesses we experience. I won’t go into the causes of stress as I’m fairly certain that’s common knowledge, but I will talk a little about what happens to our brain when we experience stress. Stress causes a reaction in our brain by sending a warning signal to our hypothalamus which keeps us in a fight or flight state. This response keeps our physical being in an elevated state by raising our heart rate, it makes our breathing faster and shallower and increases our adrenaline and cortisol levels. Normally, these physiological reactions decrease and we go back to a more relaxed state, but with the lifestyles many of us are living, this is something that happens less frequently than desired. When we experience stress over a prolonged period of time, this becomes a chronic condition, and when left untreated imagine what damage it can cause. Cardiovascular disease, weight gain, diabetes, depression, and cancer are just some potential outcomes.
- How do you cope with your stress?
- Do you find that it keeps you up at night?
- Are you unable to switch your mind off as you are lying in bed trying to fall asleep?
- What are your go-to activities to switch off and recharge?
- Do you have any?
These are important questions to ask yourself and answer. Suppressing the underlying causes will only make the situation worse, not better no matter what you tell yourself. “I don’t have time” is simply not the answer. Not dealing with these issues will keep us in a constant “on” state, not only mentally, but also physically.
One of the effects of stress is that it can lower our immune system, and interestingly enough, our immune system plays a big role in both stress and sleep. Without going into the biochemistry of it all, there are a number of cytokines which cause signalling between the immune system and regulating our sleep, and our immune cell production is greatly dependent on our circadian rhythm. When this chemical process in disrupted, so is our sleep, and therefore so is our physical homeostasis.
EMFs can disrupt our pineal gland which is partly responsible for the production of melatonin and serotonin. These two hormones play an integral role in our sleep, so when they are compromised so is our sleep (not to mention all the other systems these key hormones play a crucial role in). Studies have shown a positive correlation between sleep quality and EMF exposure, however this is also dependant on a number of other factors (see next point).
How often do you think of what your diet is like when you think of sleep? I bet not many people do. As I mentioned before, hormones such as melatonin and serotonin are essential to help support sleep, as well as stress management. So what do these have to do with diet? EVERYTHING! If you are not eating the right foods, you are simply not providing your body with the right cofactors. Cofactors are nutrients our cells need to produce specific biochemical reactions in the body. Without the right cofactors these reactions do not have the fuel to work, and therefore we become imbalanced. This can also result in anxiety, depression and lack of sleep. As a vicious cycle, anxiety, depression and lack of sleep can cause us to become nutritionally depleted as our nutrient requirements increase yet we make poorer food choices or simply not eat enough. I’m not going to go into detail about exactly what foods you should be eating, as this is largely dependent on the individual, but here are some general things you can ensure your diet in not lacking. If you’d like more information, I suggest you book into to see a Bachelor qualified Nutritionist or Naturopath who can go through a thorough consultation and help you optimise your health.
Eat a serving of protein (specifically rich in tryptophan)- poultry (especially turkey), grass fed red meat, eggs, fish (oily preferably), tofu, chickpeas, nuts and seeds and cheese.
Kiwi fruit, banana and tart cherries are particularly rich in melatonin.
Dark leafy greens are rich in magnesium and calcium which help boost melatonin production and support the REM sleep cycle.
TIPS FOR OPTIMISING SLEEP
- GET OUT IN NATURE– Often people think that if they have trouble sleeping they can just take some melatonin and that will fix their problems. Whilst melatonin is one of the main hormones required for sleep, it’s not the one and only answer. It can also be a tricky one because each person will have a different dose requirement and ensuring they have all the right cofactors is also essential. One thing we don’t often think of is Vitamin D. Deficiency in Vitamin D has been linked to poor sleep quality, and ensuring adequate Vitamin D levels is essential to maintain a healthy balance of melatonin in the body. Getting the right amount of exposure to both light and dark are essential to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. Make the most of any opportunity to get out in nature to get a good dose of Vitamin D by going for a walk, lay in the grass, have a picnic, or sit outside at your favourite cafe.
- EAT A WHOLESOME DIET- As mentioned above, ensuring you are giving your body plenty of wholesome nutrients is going to play a major role in supporting your sleep. Eating whole-foods are also rich in fibre, keeping you fuller for longer and minimising those unwanted sugar crashes. Supporting your blood sugar levels will also help support melatonin production.
- REDUCE EXPOSURE TO ELECTRONIC DEVICES- Let’s face it, many of us are addicted to our phones and computers. It’s basically taken over our lives, but at what cost? We know the effects of EMF”s, but how can we reduce our exposure? Well for starters, make sure you sleep with your phone on airplane mode, or better yet, turn off your wifi all together in your whole house. Put your phone away at least an hour before bed time so you are not starting at a bright screen, causing more stimulation. This goes for the TV, laptop and tablets also.
- MEDITATE- Mediation is a great way to calm the nervous system and get us out of the fight and flight state. If you are new to meditation there are some great apps available for download, there are many classes you can attend (look up google for ones near you), take some yoga classes or you can simply do some deep breathing exercises. For this all you need is to find 5 quiet minutes and breathe in deeply for 5 seconds, filling your lungs to the base, and breathing our for 3-4 seconds. Do this for 5 minutes a day and this can make a huge difference. The plus side to this? You have NO excuse not to do it. You can do it on the train, in bed before bed or upon waking, in the shower, anywhere! NO EXCUSE! So go on, give it a try.
- SET THE RIGHT TONE AND SCENE-Use a salt lamp from 9pm onwards to allow your body to adjust to the dark (remember that melatonin production). Salt lamps are so relaxing and having one in your room can really set a beautiful tone. (I even use it to wake up if I get up before the sun does, instead of the normal light). Diffuse some calming essential oils such as lavender, frankincense, cedarwood, bergamot, ylang ylang are some examples.
- SET A ROUTINE- Set a daily morning and night time routine. This is not only going to benefit you mentally, by allowing you to know what you are doing and feeling less stressed as a result, but its also going to balance your body physically. This can be; setting a bedtime, including switching off your phone, meditation, waking at a certain time to ensure you have enough time to do what you need to do (walk, prep lunch, shower, have breakfast- remember, protein rich, deep breathing). Whatever it may be, if it helps you to write a list then do that, and work on getting into these new, healthier habits.
- STAY HYDRATED- Drink plenty of fluids during the day to maintain hydration and avoid drinking fluids too close to bed time. This can lead to nocturne (excessive urination at night), which, if you are already struggling to sleep is something you want to avoid.
- EXERCISE- Moving your body can have multiple benefits, one of them being supporting a good nights sleep. Exercise can reduce stress by releasing endorphins and help regulate our circadian rhythm (providing we don’t exercise too close to bed time, as this can keep us feeling more stimulated and alert).
- REDCUE CONSUMPTION STIMULANTS- Caffeine is a stimulant which so many of rely on to get going in the mornings. What we don’t realise is that coffee can stay in our system for up to 9 hours, so imagine what multiple cups a day is doing to us? While coffee has its benefits, try and avoid having it past 3pm. If you really crave energy around that time, opt for a protein rich snack, a cup of herbal tea or some water. On another note, alcohol is another stimulant many people like to indulge in. While a glass of wine is absolutely fine in small amounts, relying on it to work as a sleep aid is probably not the best idea. Whilst it can help you fall asleep easier, it reduces the REM sleep and causes more restlessness in the second half of your sleep cycle.
- TALK TO A HEALTH PRACTITIONER- If you are having ongoing sleep issues it’s recommended that you speak to a health practitioner. This can include a nutritionist, a naturopath, psychologist, counsellor or a life coach. There is always an underlying cause for any imbalance in our body and mind. If we ignore it and suppress it, as I have mentioned already, it will not go away by itself. Deal with your stress, talk to someone, seek help. If you want to live the best quality of life possible, you absolutely can. Sometimes we need someone to show us the way, so don’t be afraid to ask.