Sleep disturbances are one of the most common problems in Australia. Did you know that sleep disturbances affect 1 in 3 people?
So if you have trouble sleeping you are definitely not alone!
Insomnia can be defined as:
· Difficulty getting to sleep
· Staying asleep or
· Having non restorative sleep despite having adequate opportunity for sleep
· Together with associated impairment of daytime functioning
· With symptoms being present for at least 4 weeks
Some risk factors for insomnia include:
· Advancing age (45 years plus)
· Overweight and obesity
· Hormonal disturbances
· Poor diet and lifestyle factors
· Chronic disease
· Mental health issues
Why is sleep so important?
During sleep there are many physiological processes that occur in the body. Both hormone production and cellular repair takes place. There is tissue growth and repair occurring, energy is restored and hormones are released. Poor sleep even disrupts cortisol and insulin production so insomnia can then trigger a stress response, increase sugar cravings and predispose you to metabolic syndrome.
So what can be done to ensure you are getting an adequate night sleep?
As a first line treatment there are several dietary and life style factors to consider.
1. Avoid stimulants after 2pm. This includes caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, sugar and chocolate. As all of these substances are stimulating they stop the body from relaxing and make it nearly impossible to wind down.
2. Turn off all technology at least 1 hour before bed. This includes your mobile phone, computer, TV or other personal devices. The blue light these devices emit disrupts the body’s natural production on melatonin- our sleep hormone.
3. Make sure your bedroom is a peaceful sleeping environment. This means it should be pitch black, free from noise, comfortable in temperature, comfortable bed and pillow, free from disturbances from family members or pets. These eliminate outside causes of insomnia.
4. Exercise regularly. Exercise is so great when it come to sleep promotion as it exhausts you both physically and mentally so you can easily fall asleep. It reduces your cortisol levels so that stress isn’t keeping you up at night. It also enables you to keep to a healthy weight eliminating obesity as a cause of insomnia.
5. Exposure to natural light helps to enhance the body’s natural circadian rhythms. Try going outside first thing in the morning to get some sun and in the evening before bed to get some moonlight. This will allow your body to produce melatonin at the correct time.
6. Use meditation or relaxation practices before bed. You may have been wondering when I mentioned to switch off you devices 1 hour before bed what you would do in this time? This is the time for relaxation, so take a bath, practice meditation or deep breathing or relax in bed listening to soothing music. This will calm your nervous system, relaxing your body so you can easily drift into sleep.
7. Eat foods high in tryptophan, which support melatonin production in the body. These include turkey, chicken, lean red meat, pumpkin seeds, beans and hard cheeses.
8. Use herbal support and supplementation to reduce stress, enhance relaxation and regulate your sleep/wake cycle. Some essential nutrients to promote sleep are magnesium and B vitamins. There are many herbs with different actions that can help with sleep. Different herbs will be effective for different people depending on the cause of insomnia. A few include:
· Lavender- Calming on the nervous system
· Kava- reduces stress and anxiety
· Withania- calming on the nervous system, mood boosting and anti-anxiety
· Valerian- regulates circadian rhythms
· Hops- Helps maintain sleep in those with sleep maintenance issues.
· Zizyphus- calming and cooling so helps when hot flushes are keeping you up at night.
· Passionflower- calming on the central nervous system
· California poppy- has a sedative quality and also helps to reduce pain if chronic pain is contributing to insomnia.