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How to Achieve a Restful Sleep

Sep 01, 2018

How to Achieve a Restful Sleep

Stress and sleeplessness used to be my enemy.

I was a perfectionist with an overactive mind, always worrying about what people think. This would cause me to lie awake for hours on end at night…mulling over the day that was. The conversations I had with people, how I could have performed  better (yes, that perfectionism was always creeping back in) and worrying about the ‘to-do’s’ for the following day.

Also moving from a quiet farm life, to living on the corner of a noisy roundabout in the big smoke (Adelaide), contributed to my case of insomnia. I remember waking zombie like, after getting in just a few measly early morning hours, before it was time to face the day. This is how I operated- tired, but very wired.

Now, as a Naturopath I am seeing the same picture in many of my patients. The physical, mental and emotional daily stress contribute to a state of overwhelm for many. You push through the day, keeping busy and your mind occupied by other activities.

When its time for lights out, those stressors start to creep into your mind and contribute to the overactive brain activity and consequent insomnia. Stress, restless legs, anxiety, overactive mind, mixed in with the feelings of absolute exhaustion. These are the most common symptoms described by my patients and can lead to trouble both getting to sleep (called sleep onset insomnia) and staying asleep over the night (sleep maintenance insomnia).

THE HEALTH ISSUES ASSOCIATED WITH INSOMNIA:

The advantages of sleep can hardly be overstated. It benefits most major organ systems and improves many markers of longevity. Sleep helps to prevent major diseases such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and accelerated aging.

Ongoing sleep deprivation has been linked to:

  • Weakened immune system, increasing susceptibility to illness.
  • Adrenal gland exhaustion, causing chronic stress and fatigue.
  • Obesity, due to the high cortisol, leptin and insulin resistance it causes.
  • Depression, as a loss of sleep leads to reduction in serotonin levels.
  • Cognitive and memory decline, as insomnia can lead to losses up to 30% in concentration and 20-25% loss of work productivity.

CAUSES OF INSOMNIA:

It is important to realise that insomnia is a symptom, which means there is always an underlying cause to the sleeplessness experienced. To properly over come insomnia, you need to consider the following possibilities:

  • Nutritional deficiency’s, such as  omega 3’s, tryptophan, vitamin B3 and adenosine.
  • Heavy metal toxicity, such as high copper and aluminium levels, which ultimatley affect the levels of good minerals such as iron.
  • Food allergies and intolerances.
  • Loud noise and bright light.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Certain medications, such as thyroid medication, aspirin and the oral contraceptive pill.
  • Changes to your normal sleep pattern,  such as jet lag, shift work and  partying. This leads to issues with the production of your sleep hormone, Melatonin.
  • Brain chemical imbalances, such as low serotonin.
  • Adrenal, sex and sleep hormone imbalances.
  • Infections in the body.
  • Large liquid intakes at night.
  • Hyper and hypoglycaemia, better know as high and low blood sugar levels.
  • Nightmares
  • Sleep apnea

I recommend seeking the help of a Naturopath or Integrative GP to help you identify the cause of your sleeping troubles. In the meantime, read on for some simple remedies I found helpful for myself and patients in gaining a deep, restful nights sleep.

HERBAL REMEDIES FOR A DEEP SLEEP:

The following herbs in tea, liquid, capsule or tablet form, may help to promote a relaxed state before bed:

  • Passionflower

Passionflower is perfect for keeping anxiety and pain at bay, as it interacts with the neurotransmitter GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid). GABA is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter of the brain and has the ability to slow nerve cells throughout the central nervous system.  Through these actions, passionflower plays a role in helping you to get to and stay asleep at night.

  • Common or German Chamomile

Chamomile’s soothing and sedative actions help enhance a restful sleep. Chamomile is also a remedy for spasms and cramps (for those with restless legs) as well as nightmares. A perfect for all rounder for insomniacs.

  • Lavender

Lavender is a widely used remedy for insomnia, due to its ability to slow brain waves and relax the central nervous system. Lavender is an effective option if you are experiencing sleeplessness as a result depression or anxiety.

  • Skullcap

Skullcap is a strong nervine and antispasmodic, meaning it is effective at helping reduces nervousness, spasms and cramps in the body. Those suffering from insomnia caused by anxiety, or nervous pains (such as headaches) may benefit. Be sure to stick with the recommended doses on your product, as overdosing produces unpleasant side effects.

  • Valerian

A very strong relaxant to help you create a healthier sleep pattern. Warning, some people will experience the opposite reaction and gain nightmares from taking this herb. If effective, it is best not to take any longer than 6 weeks at a time (when  using continuously).

  • Kava Kava

This is the Fijian specialty! The locals drink it regularly to help with sleep. It works to reduce anxiety related symptoms by influencing the production of GABA. No wonder the beautiful Fijian people are so relaxed 🙂

  •  Zizyphus.

Zizyphus is a traditional chinese medicine used for sleep disorders. It inhibits the main excitatory neurotransmitter, Glutamic Acid (Glutamate) and helps modulate other excitatory neurotransmitter pathways.

  • Magnolia

Magnolia is helpful (through its influence on GABA), to reduce symptoms of mild anxiety and nervous tension experienced at night. Magnolia essential oil is one of my favourite no-tox perfume options to keep me calm through the day too. You can pick up my fav pre-diluted brand here.

These herbs can additionally be used as oils:

  • Lavendar

As the scent alone promotes relaxation, you can use Lavender essential oil drops on your pillow, in with a base oil and rubbed on your inner wrist before bed, diffused in your bedroom, or added to a warm bath.  For nervous headaches add a drop of essential oil to your temples. Note: to avoid adulterated, fragrance filled essential oils be sure to pick up a quality therapeutic grade Lavender essential oil

  • Lemon balm (Melissa Officinalis)

When massaged into the skin, Lemon balm helps to reduce stress and enhance relaxation. Add some lemon balm essential oil to the inner wrists to promote a deep sleep and reduce nightmares.

Note: Ensure you always read the directions when taking herbs internally and check with your physician before mixing herbal medicine with any medications.  For the best quality herbs and effective mixtures, seek the help of a qualified practitioner. 

For quality essential oils, ensure you select a high quality, pure, therapeutic grade essential oil. 

DIET SUPPORT FOR SLEEPING SOUNDLY:

Foods to avoid:

  • Eating large meals within 2 hours of bedtime and drinking large amounts of fluid in excess at night, will keep you up at night. Your body should be concentrating on healing, restoration and detoxification at night, not digestion.
  • Grains and sugars eaten at night will break down to simple sugars, raising your blood sugar for a short period of time. A low in your blood sugar (hypoglycemia) follows the high surge,  which can  be enough to wake you and lead to difficulty getting back to sleep. Best to leave these foods off your plate completely.
  • Other stimulants, such as caffeine (tea, coffee, chocolate, energy drinks), alcohol and nicotine in the 4-6 hours before bedtime. While a small amount of alcohol can help sleep initially by making you feel drowsy, it reduces Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, causes fitful, interrupted sleep in the early hours of the morning. Disturbing REM sleep can reduce the restorative functions of our required deep sleep and leads to reduced learning recall the next day.
  • Foods that you are sensitive or allergic to. Pasteurised dairy, grains, soy and sugar are common culprits. Intolerances can lead to symptoms that prevent you getting to sleep or that can wake you (or others around you) through the night- abdominal discomfort, flatulence, headaches, sinus congestion and sleep apnea.
  • Tyramine containing foods close to bedtime, as this amino acid increases the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant. Tyramine containing foods include tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, sauerkraut, spinach, bacon, cheese, ham, sausage, chocolate, sugar and wine.

Foods to include:

  • Foods high in the relaxing amino acid, Tryptophan, during the evening. My pick includes fish, turkey, beef, nuts, (or nut butter), pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds (or tahini).
  • Foods high in glycine. This amino acid has an inhibitory effects on excitatory neurotransmitters and therefore has the ability to releive nervous tension, anxiety and promote a restful sleep. 
  • As Magnesium levels are used up with stress, trouble sleepers should be concentrating on delivering Magnesium rich foods through their diet.  Green leafy vegetables, avocados, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds are rich in Magnesium. Aim to eat these foods raw (or in the case of nuts and seeds, activated), to get the highest dose of minerals.
  • If you’re still having trouble waking due to low blood sugar levels, try a small snack of the any of the above foods before bed. This should help maintain stable blood sugars throughout the night.

CONCLUSION

Before giving up and reaching for the sleeping pills, try the natural sleep aid approach. The introduction of some herbs and changes to your plate (and glass) over the day, can be very effective for promoting healthy sleep patterns.

For further sleep support tips, check out myLifestyle Hacks To Sleep Soundly post and find out further contributing factors and treatments in my book: Balanced, The Natural Way To Healthy Hormones.

 

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