Most of us are dying for a good night sleep. This fact is not surprising as an estimated 50-70 million US adults struggle with sleep disorders. Approximately 9 million Americans take prescription sleep aids on a regular basis. Adults are more likely to use these sleep aids as they age with the greatest use being seen in those over the age of 70. Conventional medicine addresses sleep dysfunction via sleep aids that do not provide good quality of sleep. There are also many common side effects from these medications; sleepwalking and drowsiness the day after use has caused serious accidents to some users.
Sleep has many health benefits. These can be linked to the brain’s antioxidant functions as free radicals are removed during sleep. ATP energy, our body's energy currency, is regenerated during sleep, and stress hormones are also removed from the brain at this time. Sleep is a time that provides the body much needed rest and repair. It allows the brain to sort and store information, replace chemicals, and solve problems.
Side effects of sleep deprivation include, but are not limited to:
• Inability to focus, delayed memory/fact recall
• Weight gain
• Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and many other common lifestyle diseases
• Low libido
• Mood disorders
• Wrinkles, dark bags under eyes, poor skin condition
• Impaired judgment
• Inability to properly operate machinery or vehicles
HOW WE CAN HELP
Our medical and nutrition teams will work to identify what is causing your poor sleep. Several factors contribute to a disrupted sleep patterns. Some of the factors we address when helping you improve your sleep health include:
• Nutritional deficiencies
• Blood sugar imbalance
• Hormone imbalance
• Food sensitivities
• Medication side effects
• Toxic overload
• Environmental components
• Caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, or drugs
Our practitioners at Women’s Specialty Healthcare evaluate patient history, metabolic test results, and hormone panels to develop a personalized plan that will support more rejuvenating sleep and overall wellness.
Your sleep pattern, or circadian rhythm, is controlled by a cycle of hormones. Melatonin is the sleep-regulating hormone that is made in the pineal gland of the brain. It is converted from the amino acid tryptophan, to serotonin, then to melatonin. There are several lifestyle changes that can help you optimize your circadian rhythm.
1. Avoid sleep aids at night and stimulants during the day. Prescription and OTC sleep aids provide low quality sleep and side effects are dangerous. While supplemental melatonin is popular, its effectiveness as a sleep aid is questionable because of its interference with natural production. Getting a variety of animal and plant protein sources in your diet will provide you with the amino acids necessary to make these hormones. Caffeine can stay in your system for 14 hours. Reduce consumption as much as possible and avoid it after morning hours.
2. Support your liver function by avoiding sugar and alcohol. A healthy liver helps your body deal with changes in blood sugar. Extreme fluctuations in blood sugar are a major cause of insomnia and hormone irregularity. Alcohol, specifically, has a direct disruption to your sleep cycle, causing a decrease in the REM stages of sleep.
3. Don’t cut carbohydrates entirely. Your body’s store of amino acids in combination with carbohydrates increases serotonin production, thus enabling melatonin synthesis. Avoid nutrient depleted sources of carbs in bread, cereal and pasta, and emphasize those in vegetables and fruit.
4. Plan ahead. How much sleep do you need to feel your best? For most it falls between 8-10 hours. Work backwards from the time you need to wake up. Let’s say, I feel best when I get 9 hours of sleep. I have to wake up for work at 6. Then I need to turn my lights out at 9:00.
5. Soak up some rays. The more sun you get during the day, the more melatonin you produce at night. If you work inside, make sure to get at least 15-20 minutes of full sun exposure daily.
6. Get moving! Exercise increases brain function. Exercise sessions do not need to be long to have benefits. Try short, high intensity interval workouts and take frequent breaks from sitting. Most of our patients report sleeping better with regular exercise.
7. Wind down with the sun. Our bodies know when to wind down, but our electronics aren’t so smart. Lights from lamps, TV, and computers emit blue light that inhibits the production of melatonin. Turn down the lights when the sun goes down. Get orange bulbs that block this blue light, and make your bedroom a no electronics zone.
8. Give essential oils a try. Many people find relaxing herbs, such as lavender, improve their ability to fall asleep. Lavender can be taken orally, applied to the skin or used as aromatherapy. Ask us about Young Living Essential Oils, sold in our offices.