Monthly Archives: January 2015

Sleep – One of the Four Pillars of Health

sleeping woman -blog imageMy last blog was devoted to the four crucial components for good health – diet, exercise, sleep, and mental outlook.  I’ll look at each one in a little more depth, and sleep seems a good place to start.  If you’re not getting proper sleep, life is just not going to be as good as it can be, full stop. The fact is, you cannot be completely healthy if you don’t get good sleep. There is some wiggle room as far as how much sleep an individual needs but the amount of sleep you need is what’s important. It is probably going to be between 6 – 8 hours per night.

Lack of energy, fatigue, and brain fog are bad enough, but these are not the only problems associated with lack of sleep. Poor sleep can lead to depression, pain, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and even more. Lack of sleep causes our bodies to secrete too much cortisol, which is very serious in the long term. When we sleep, our bodies rejuvenate on a cellular level and our brains “flush out” and reset. Sleep is crucial to our health and it is not possible to be healthy without getting good sleep consistently….at least, much more often than not.

For chronic problems with sleep, the cure can take time and seem very elusive. This is true for any chronic health problem and generally requires some lifestyle changes. For starters, we must go to bed and get up at the same time every day. When first starting to do this, it may seem difficult because you may not be sleepy at night, or you may be very sleepy when it’s time to get up. But persevere….it will help your sleep in time.

Also important: turn off all devices (including TV) at least an hour before you turn in. The blue light emitted by these devices is stimulating to your brain and it does ot allow the body to produce enough melatonin, which is a very important hormone that signals our bodies to get sleepy.

Almost all experts agree: use your bed for only sleep and lovemaking. Do not bring work, mail, games, etc. to bed with you. If you want good sleep consistently, follow this advice.

Create a bedtime ritual, which can be anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour or so. It can involve your bedtime ablutions (teeth brushing, face washing, hair combing), or be more elaborate such as a warm soak with essential oils, lighting a candle, meditation, stretching, or writing a list with tasks for the next day so you don’t have to trouble yourself with thinking about these things.

Many people have been helped by regular meditation, massage, hypnosis, and acupuncture, and also by getting more exercise (early in the day; not right before bedtime!). If your problem with sleep is long standing, it pays to commit to taking steps to resolve it. It can be trial and error to unravel the problem because there are so many causes for insomnia…. so be patient. If these “sleep hygiene” pointers have no effect, you may want to consider supplements. This approach should be handled with a light touch, however. Though there are some tried and true natural sleep problem remedies, many supplement companies have jumped on this bonanza and are marketing questionable products. Here is an overview of some of the supplements available for sleep issues:

GABA: Study results can be read in PubMed; also in ANH-USA database. There is some debate whether GABA can cross through the digestive system and remain intact enough to offer real benefits, but the good news is there doesn’t seem to be adverse effects from taking this. Try combining with Niacin if it’s not effective on its own for you. There is good empirical evidence that it does work for some people, so it is worth a try.

Theanine: Can be supplemented but also found in green tea. This is why green tea has a relaxing effect, despite the fact it contains some caffeine. Start with a low dose; remember organic substances do not have the “knock out” effect of pharmaceuticals, so don’t over supplement with Theanine.

Kava Root Extract: This is good for chronic anxiety. (Nutrition and Healing, October 2013).

Lavender Oil: (Lavandula angustfolia or Lavandula officinatis) Lavender has shown in studies to slow the activty of the nervous system (University of Maryland Medical Center, USA). No reported negative effects, bust just a few drops is all you need. Splash out too much of this lovely substance, and it could have a stimulating effect on the nervous system!

Magnesium: This should be in a chelated from (citrate, ascorbate, orotake, glycinate). Good documentation from many sources that magnesium has a natural muscle relaxant effect, and is soothing to the nervous system. For problems with sleep caused by tension or overactive nervous system, take 400-500 mg. Only reported negative effect is some people can get diarrhoea from the citrate form.

Valarian: This has been used for anxiety for a very long time. 300-400 mg. is probably needed; take note that many commercial brands do not have enough of the active substance, so read labels. As in most herbal remedies, I think a liquid tincture is most effective.

Melatonin: I though long and hard before including melatonin, because there is some dissent whether this is a healthy supplement. Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally in the body, based on the cycles of light and dark and your circadian rhythms. The argument is that modern life has blurred the cycles of light and dark with the use of so much artificial light, so supplementation may be necessary for some people. The other side of the argument is that the body stops producing melatonin efficiently following prolonged supplementation, particularly in doses that are high (higher than 3mg.)  Most articles I have read state a person is not at risk of dependence if the dose is not higher than 1 mg. Also, melatonin’s main benefit is when the circadian rhythms are seriously out of sync, as in jet lag. So, for short term use when travelling between time zones, a higher dose is effective and safe. This is probably about 7 days or less at the higher doses (+3mg).

Tryptophan: I almost did not include this at all, and do not recommend it. I did include it to encourage all who read this to explore further before supplementing with Tryptophan. There have been some serious side effects recorded, and some quite dangerous. I do not recommend this and would not take it until more conclusive studies are done. (Read