Are you getting enough rest these days? This time of year with the shorter periods of daylight are conducive for getting more sleep than the brighter days of summer. Years ago as an experiment, I went to sleep when it got dark and awoke upon daybreak. I never felt so rested! With light available at the flip of a switch we are able to extend our ”day” as long as we desire, but is this a healthy choice?
Our bodies need natural restorative sleep to repair wear and tear that results from our daily activities. I am sure most of you have heard about cleanses – which involve fasting or eating differently in order to purge toxins from our bodies.
Our bodies actually perform these cleansing processes every second of our lives. This restorative rebuilding takes a lot of energy deep down to a cellular level. Sleeping allows our bodies to access energy not available during the day for these processes to take place. Visualize an army of toxin-gobbling scavengers moving through the cells, removing debris and leaving each cell able to perform effectively all of its specific functions during the following day.
Unfortunately, many of us do not experience natural restorative sleep, but instead experience insomnia, causing our bodies to carry around potential cell-damaging toxins that over time speed up the aging process and lead to digestive disorders, reduced cognitive function and perhaps proliferation of mutated cells, i.e. cancer.
What causes insomnia?
Many prescription drugs - including blood pressure medications, cholesterol lowering formulas, weight loss pills, hormone replacements, oral contraceptives and many over-the-counter pain and cold medicines, list insomnia as a ”side effect.”
Sleep quality is often affected by conditions such as apnea (brief periods of not breathing), asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), congestive heart failure, acid reflux, kidney disease and many other acute or chronic maladies.
Hormone imbalances can interrupt natural sleep. Adrenal hormone imbalances, such as abnormally high cortisol levels, affect sleep quality and quantity. Women often experience insomnia during perimenopause and menopause transitions.
Insomnia can be triggered by abnormal fluctuations of blood sugar as the body works to re-balance these levels, which is becoming an increasingly common reason for sleep interruption. We store in our liver a complex form of sugars called glycogen, which is converted as needed to glucose (blood sugar). This conversion process may be responsible for our waking up in the middle of the night - from even a sound sleep. The more carbohydrates and sugar we consume during the day, the more we may be woken up by the above described sugar conversion process. It is important to note that if we reduce our daily carbohydrate intake our blood sugars will maintain a more even level, resulting in better sleep and better health in general. Because this conversion process happens in the liver, many people benefit from taking at night liver supportive herbs, such as milk thistle and dandelion. Many coffee substitutes include roasted dandelion, such as Dandy Blend, can be good bedtime beverages.
Stimulants such as caffeine from coffee, tea, sodas and various energy drinks can also cause chronic insomnia. Alcoholic beverages will initially relax you, but because alcohol is sugar you may awaken later as your body attempts to rebalance.
Stress will also keep you awake as you struggle to solve the world's problems or your own now that you have slowed down enough to focus on them. Studies have shown that up to 72 percent of those suffering from depression experienced insomnia prior to the onset of depression.
Nutritional deficiencies that can contribute to sleep disturbances include: B vitamins, protein and minerals, (especially magnesium), many resulting from an improperly functioning digestive system. When your digestion is functioning properly, your sleep patterns are likely to improve.
Our bodies tend to sleep on a regular schedule called the circadian rhythm. Irregular hours and shift work can disturb our sleep pattern as our body constantly tries to readjust.
Noises and light during the night can also disrupt our sleep. Studies suggest that night-lights can have this negative effect.
Suggestions for a better night's sleep include:
■ Try to avoid stimulating beverages or activities at night. Try dimming the lights and relaxing for a couple of hours before you go to sleep. Some studies suggest that we should not have any caffeine after 2p.m.
■ If you go to sleep on a set schedule, your circadian rhythms will support natural restorative sleep.
■ Keeping your body warm, especially your feet, will support falling asleep and staying asleep. Invest in a pair of wool or fleece socks.
■ Avoid use of sleeping pills, which will help you sleep but will disturb your body's natural cleansing processes. There are many natural sleep remedies that do not offer side effects.
■ Moderate exercise, which has been shown to improve sleep, causing you to fall asleep faster and sleep longer. A short (20 minutes) walk after dinner can help balance your blood sugar and help you sleep to boot!
■ Finishing your last meal two to three hours before you go to sleep is beneficial. A warm glass of milk contains a sleep-supporting amino acid called tryptophan, also found in poultry, nuts, yogurt and brown rice.
■ Avoid foods that act as endocrine disruptors, such as soy, which trigger hormonal imbalances that can manifest as insomnia.
■ Reduce your carbohydrate intake to allow blood sugars to maintain a more even level, resulting in better sleep and health in general.
■ Try a relaxing tea blend in the evening such as Fidnemed from Mountain Rose Herbs. It contains relaxing nervine herbs such as skullcap, valerian and hops.
■ Limit your computer time in the evening. We have learned from studies that the ”blue light” from your computer monitor may interfere with your normal production of melatonin, a hormone that sets the stage for your nights sleep.
Sleep is usually the first thing we compromise when our lives get busy. Try shifting that mindset and realize that your sleep schedule is just as important as everything else you do, and will have immense payoffs for your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.