With all the conflicting health information out there and real people (like you) needing REAL, PRACTICAL advice, its time to cut through the rubbish to give you the REAL Facts on Sleep – what is it? Why we need it? How do we get it?.
We used to think that sleep was a passive state when the brain ‘shuts down’. We now know that its anything but! The body and the brain just take on different roles, so it is vital that you allow this process to happen each night!
What is Sleep?
There are two main stage of sleep – Non Rapid Eye Movement stage (NREM) – which is then divided into 4 substages. Basically, these are the stages from when we are in that half-asleep stage until deep sleep.
Then we have the Rapid Eye Movement stage (REM) where is our dreaming state – did you know that during this stage our mind is super active, but our body is semi paralysed – stopping us from acting out of dreams!
Throughout the night we cycle through these 2 main stages every 90 minutes or so, but in general, most of deep sleep is in the first 13 of the night and the dream state is closer to the morning.
So you can start to see how finding out which part of the night you struggle to sleep is important! Then we know which stages of sleep you are deficient in!
Why Do we Need Sleep?
Hooly dooly, this could do with a blog post all on its own! But because we are all used to digesting short snippets of info, lets dive in:
- repair and maintenance – sleep is when our cells repair and turnover – you are able to heal from illness, wound healing and general maintenance of the body on a physical level.
- Hormone balancing – Fav topic for me! I could bang on about hormones all day! If your hormones are out – so are you! When we have restorative sleep, its a someone has hit a ‘reset’ button on our hormone system,
- Brain adaptation – basically we take all the thoughts, feelings, learning and things that we have seen and experienced throughout the day and ‘store’ it away in long term memories and knowledge ‘banks’. We would literally go crazy if we didn’t have the opportunity to do this for too long.
- Gene expression – I can see people glaze over when I start to talk about this too much – so I’ll be brief – the genetics we are born with have the ability to heal or hinder our health, every night when we sleep we allow our genes to ‘do their thing’ – btw, we now know that we can ‘hack; genetic expression with certain nutrients and herbs – so super exciting and a very new area!
How Much Sleep do I Need?
As with everything related to health, there are certain guidelines – which we are to look at, think about, and swiftly adapt to what we need!
age: 6- 13: 9 – 11 hours per night
Teens: 8- 10 hours per night
Adults: 7 – 9 hours per night
Personally, I an not ‘firing on all cylinders’ on only 7 hours, I know that I need about 8-9 to be feeling great. What about you?
as mentioned, and as with all areas of health – it is vital to tune into what it is that YOUR body needs. I promise you, this is the pathway to health.
Types of Insomnia:
Transient: Lasts for less than 4 week sad is usually due to being excited or stress about something (we view this as circumstantial).
Short Term: has been going on for around 4-5 weeks (you are really starting to feel rubbish) and can be due to ongoing stress, medical conditions, mental health issues and medications (e.g statins, certain classes of anti-depressants, and blood pressure medications).
Chronic: Not sleeping or trouble sleeping every, or most nights for more than 6 months. This can be due to all of the above as well as hormones imbalances (especially cortisol and melatonin – where the ‘sleep’ and ‘awake’ hormones are all muddled up!)
As mentioned, not sleeping not only impacts your quality of life (nice talk for wanting to kill everyone around you and feeling rubbish all the time), but it also increased systemic inflammation and increases your risk of chronic disease.
Its so important to get on top of, luckily this is something that can happen really easily working with me!
So What Is Stopping me from Sleeping?
Im so glad you asked! This is one of the most important questions you can ask!
There are tons of sleep medications out there. You can pop a pill, knock yourself out (admittedly you will feel incredibly groggy the next morning) and do that night after night.
This will NOT address the case of your insomnia.
We need to think about your inability to sleep as a whisper from your body to you.
What is your body whispering to you?
Typical causes of insomnia:
- diet/lifestyle – caffeine intake, alcohol, drugs (recreational and prescriptive), smoking
- Your circadian rhythm – are you are shift worker? Is your stress our out control? (back to this pesky hormones)
- Menopause – about 30-40% of menopausal women has problems sleeping (please ladies, you DO NOT to grin and bear this!)
- Menstruation – we need more sleep during ovulation and often have insomnia during our period
- Mental health conditions – anxiety, depression, dementia and PTSD to name just a few
- Pain conditions – arthritis, fibromyalgia and good ol’ heartburn to name just a few again
We want to find the TRUE CAUSE of the insomnia – get you to sleep AND get your vibrancy back!
Now we are into the juicy stuff….
What Can I Do?!
Basic sleep hygiene:
- No screens after 8:30pm – gasp! If you want to improve your melatonin levels (the sleepy hormone) then you need to reduce that light going into your eyes.
- Make sure you room is cool and dark (not pretty, but hang a big thick blanket over your window if you need to for the night hours)
- Writing before bed – two things that I get patients to often – 1/ write your to do list for tomorrow (only spend about 2-5 mins doing this) and 2/ spend about 2-5 minutes journaling the worries that keep you up at night.
- Please DO NOT try and make this perfect. a couple of minutes on scrap piece of paper is better than stressing about the perfect ‘journalling setting’
- Clean fresh sheet – because, lets face it, nothing feels better!
- Magnesium baths – your nanna has the right idea with the epsom salt baths. Magnesium is VERY absorbed via the skin and a 20-30minute soak (in a not too hot) bath will relax you.
- Restorative yoga – this can be as little as a 10 minute you tube video. Don’t over think it, just roll out the mat or lay out some blankets, stretch and breathe (and then your body will switch from the ‘lets go’ mode to ‘rest’).
These are things that WILL make a big different to your sleep and hormone balancing!
Foods for Sleep?
Im all honestly, it is better to work out what foods are going to work for YOU, but in general we want to eat foods that are high in tryptophan (which is shuttled down a pathway to be converted to melatonin).
Tryptophan foods – turkey+++, other animal proteins, brown rice and quinoa (healthy options!)
magnesium foods – crackers with almond butter, caocoa hot chocolate – 1 cup fo warmed almond milk, 1 tsp of raw cacao powder and a couple of drops of stevia liquid (oh heavenly!).
Herbal Teas for Sleep
Herbal teas (good quality and at a therapeutic dose) are a beautiful way to improve your sleep (and other areas of your health at the same time!)
Some herbs to consider:
- chamomile, valerian, lemon balm, passionflower, kava, lavender (a beautiful purple colour too!) and the lovely withania (which naturopaths refer as as a ‘hug in a bottle’ when in liquid form).
How to get it right? make sure that you are using a good quality loose leaf tea (you can get them from health food shops, or online) and nearly boiling water.
Most tea bags are using about 1/2 the amount of leaves you want! SO make sure you are using about 2 tsp of dried herb for your one cup of water. You want it nice a strong!
There are amazing herbs that us naturopaths in strong liquid form (tinctures) that are specially tailored to you.
I realise that you can buy these on the shelf and online, but to get it right for YOU, its important to have them professional prescribed.
e.g Did you know that when we use Valerian as a tincture, it can either send you off to sleep, or have a ‘paradoxical’ effect – basically the opposite – it can keep you awake!
So you can see how important it is to get it right.
This is the same for supplementation. Please. Don’t waste your time, money and health (yes, alot of supplements can and do have adverse reactions when self-prescribed). It is better to be able to ‘hand it over’ to a qualified naturopath who can prescribe you want you need.
I hope to see you in clinic soon (remember this can face to face or via Skype) to help you sleep (this improving every other area of your life), in the meantime, implementing all the tips mentioned WILL make a difference.
Its time to listen to that whisper that you body has, that is trying to tell you something, before it becomes a scream.
Big love and lots of restorative sleep!