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Strategies To Sleep Soundly

Nov 23, 2020

 By Naturopath Kasey Willson 


 

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…going 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.

Then I met my fair share of broken Mumma sleep, with not more than 4 hours in a row for 2 years. I was just reminded of the debilitating feeling of sleeplessness just this week as our toddler’s 2-year-old molars are on their way through. I’m sure grateful for any day nap opportunities.

What’s you sleep story?

When its time for lights out, do stressors start to creep into your mind and keep you up?

How about 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).

Or do you fall sleep as soon as your head hits the pillow but feel the physical and mental fatigue of a mumma being woken multiple times a night?

Either way, getting quality sleep when the opportunity is given to you is important for your health and wellbeing.

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 Sleeplessness

It is important to realise that insomnia is a symptom, which means there is always an underlying cause to the sleeplessness experienced. To properly overcome 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 ultimately 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 apnoea

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.

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.
  • Refined grains and sugars eaten shortly before bed 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 before bed.
  • 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 relieve 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. A Magnesium chloride salt bath/ foot bath at night is a way to enhance your magnesium levels in your body and can particularly help with reducing restless legs. 
  • 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.

Lifestyle Factors That Can Impact Your Sleep

Far too often we often forget the major role which lifestyle factors play in regulating our sleep- wake cycle. While trying to overcome my past sleep disturbances, I found addressing lifestyle is just as important. Today I want to share more tips for you to gain regular, restful shut eye. 

1. Sunshine and Fresh Air

During the day, get plenty of fresh air and at least 30 minutes of midday sunshine.  Vitamin D (from the sun to skin contact), is crucial for the regulation of sleep hormones. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with daytime sleepiness, compounding the effect of a disturbed nights sleep.

Another benefit from exposure to bright, natural light during the day, is healthy production of the sleep hormone, Melatonin at night.

2.     Block The Night At Night 

Be sure your bedroom is dark, to encourage the production of the sleep hormone, Melatonin. Melatonin is produced by the light sensitive Pineal Gland (at the base of your brain), makes you feel drowzy when exposed to darkness and therefore encourages a deep, restful sleep. Melatonin is also responsible for supporting the immune system to stimulate healing throughout sleep and low levels are a known risk for cancer.

To maximise Melatonin production, avoid turning the light on if you wake through the night.  Himalayan salt lamps are an alternative, as they do not stimulate the Pineal gland and therefore upset Melatonin production. Otherwise keep those curtains closed, and wear an eye mask for the deepest sleep.

The blue light from TV, laptop, computer, phone and ipad screens can also disrupt Melatonin production. The flickering lights and fast moving objects are too stimulating for the pineal gland, that needs to prepare to sleep. Avoid exposure within 1 hour before lights out and use orange coloured blue light blocking sunglasses

3.     Enhance A Relaxed Mindset

Relaxing exercises before bed, help to switch off overactive brain activity. Try some deep breathing, reading, meditation or listening to gentle music  to contribute to a relaxed state and ease getting to sleep.

If your insomnia is due to an active mind, write down tomorrow’s jobs that need completing. This is also an effective time to journal any thoughts from the day.

The amino acid L-Theanine which promotes your inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA 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.

Herbs such as Passionflower, Lavender, Chamomile, Skullkap, Valerian, Kava Kava and Zizyphus, Magnolia and Lemon Balm can also help lower the mind chatter and drift you off to sleep.

If you wake through the night, do not check the time, as this only contributes to the anxiety of getting off to sleep and to prevent a started adrenal gland response upon waking, set your alarm to a relaxing tune or song (if you need one at all).

4. Switch Off To Drift Off

Removing electromagnetic frequencies (EMF’s) in your bedroom is another important factor when trying to get a decent sleep. The exposure to EMF’s is enough to disrupt the Pineal Gland’s production of Serotonin and Melatonin. You can check your bedroom (and home) using a device bought online called a Gauss Meter or hiring the help of a building biologist to check your home. My friend Sammy came into my home to test and I was blown away with the readings and how small changes can be really effective at minimising the exposure to EMFs throughout the home. You can have your home checked with Sammy Moffatt here. 

Minimise the use of electrical appliances in your bedroom. Residual electricity (even after lights are turned off) circulates through the wires in the walls, which can have a mildly stimulating effect on your body.

Most importantly, ensure your bed is well away from any power box on the outer wall of your house, which is a strong source of Electromagnetic Frequencies called magnetic fields.

Secondly unplug any devises not in use and turn switches off at the power points

If you want to use bedside lamps, create a 1 m distance from the bed (placing them on the far side of the bedside table– as magnetic fields work on a 1-1.5m distance).

Instead of keeping a radio clock in your bedroom, swap to a wind-up alarm clock or if you want to use your phone alarm, keep your phone just outside the door, otherwise your alarm will still work if you set it before switching your phone to the safer setting of aeroplane mode for night time.

Along with turning the Bluetooth off on your phone before switching it to aeroplane mode, also ensure your wifi is switched off at your modem, as this is yet another source of Radiofrequency EMF’s that could impact your sleep quality.

5.     Retire On Time 

If in your control (because I know allll about unpredictable night times with a little one), aim to follow a pattern of retiring around the same time each night. This will allow your Pineal gland to balance neurotransmitters and hormones.

Aim to retire no later than 10pm, to allow your adrenals to rest, your gallbladder to dump toxins and your whole body restore and heal. If you are one of the lucky ones who can function on less sleep (around 6-7 hours per night), going to bed by 10pm, will naturally create an earlier rise and a more productive day.

6.     The Right Temperature

For the best night’s sleep, you should aim for a temperature of 21 degrees celcius in your bedroom. If you are prone to feeling the chill, wear socks to avoid waking through the night.

It is important however, to have a fresh supply of air to your bedroom each night. If opening your window creates noise pollution, invest in a pair of ear plugs.

7.     Unwind With Essential Oils 

A good couple of hours before bed, we’ll reach for essential oils as an aromatic anchor to help us unwind, relax and get ready for sleep. Here are our favourites to use both topically (diluted) and in our diffuser:

  • Lavender
  • Lavender Peace blend
  • Frankincense
  • Cedarwood
  • Marjoram
  • Vetiver
  • Sandalwood
  • Hawaiian Sandalwood
  • Copaiba
  • Roman Chamomile
  • Magnolia

If you’re seeking therapeutic grade essential oils, head here for my recommendations.

Time To Drift Off

When trying to get a restful night’s sleep, don’t neglect lifestyle factors. Diet and herbal medicine can work wonders for some. However, you should also address areas such as exercise, natural and artificial light exposure, sleep patterns, bedroom noise, temperature and aromatic anchors to holistically encourage a future full of deep, restful, sound sleep.

And if you’re still in pre-baby life and planning for a baby, pick up a copy of my Glowing Mumma preconception guide, plus do yourself a favour and savour your sleep. You will thank me later :)  

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