Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important aspects of health. Like many things in life, we still do not understand why we sleep and yet just know that it is important. Many people have theorised that the purpose of sleep is to physically rest, rejuvenate and repair. However, increasingly research seems to point to the fact that when we sleep naturally, our brain is not dormant and actually reviews and processes all the information gathered during the day, some of which we discard and some of which we store into memory.
How much sleep do we need?
Although there is not a rule of thumb for the duration of sleep, it is generally accepted that most adults should get between seven and eight hours, whilst nine hours seems to be the average requirement for teenagers. Almost everyone occasionally suffers from short term insomnia for diverse reasons such as physical overload, stress, jet lag, anxiety and perhaps even a change in diet. We all know that when we don’t get enough sleep, it affects our performance and wellbeing the next day.
How sleep deprivation affects your health
Sleep deprivation is very common and it is estimated that fewer than four out of ten people get sufficient shut eye on a daily basis. Our body clock is designed to sleep at night and to stay awake during the day. Sleep deprivation sends conflicting signals, which then play havoc with the way in which our bodies work.
Insufficient sleep has a major impact on the stress hormone cortisol. Excess cortisol levels have been linked to numerous concerns within our bodies through a variety of mechanisms including being responsible for causing inflammation and for affecting some major hormones. An example is the fact that insufficient sleep may increase the risk of diabetes. Researchers point out that this could be due to the fact that since the brain is fuelled by glucose, the body tends to search out for glucose by increasing the tendency for carbohydrates and glucose laden food.
Due to the increase in carbohydrate intakes, ongoing sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, which we all know puts a burden on the circulatory systems of our bodies. Our cardiovascular system is completely reliant on the provision of oxygen and vital nutrients from the adequate circulation of blood.
Numerous studies indicate that aside from causing weight gain, sleep deprivation can affect the ability of the body to lose weight. Aside from gaining more weight when sleep deprived, the ability to lose weight becomes very difficult. Studies indicate that people who were trying to lose weight were more likely to shed the extra pounds if they slept for six to eight hours every night.
Lack of sleep is also responsible for the ageing of skin. The sleep hormone melatonin is a powerful antioxidant helping to protect the skin, cells and the entire body against free radical damage.
When we do not get sufficient sleep, our immune system is highly compromised. The link between sleep deprivation and immunity is well documented. In one study, participants who slept less than seven hours were three times more likely to catch a cold or an infection than those who slept eight hours or more.
We all know that lack of sleep causes us to become irritable and stressed as well as being unable to concentrate. Our performance simply goes down. Even more frightening is that sleep deprivation can exacerbate existing conditions, a notable example being gastrointestinal tract disorders such as IBS and constipation.
How to improve your quality of sleep
Numerous studies indicate that trying to catch up on lost sleep simply does not make up the ‘sleep debt’. It is, therefore, very important that we take charge of our everyday lives in order to ensure that we do not wake up feeling tired. Here are some suggestions that may aid restful sleep.
Take a warm bath: I normally recommend adding a small amount of Life-Flo Magnesium Gel into the bath since magnesium is an excellent muscle relaxant. Magnesium in this specific form also gets absorbed transdermally through the skin into the bloodstream where it facilitates sleep through chemical pathways in the brain. Additionally, when you take a warm bath, your body temperature increases and as it gradually cools melatonin is released.
Set a time to go to bed and try to stick with it: Ideally, you should not start working late nights on computers or playing games as your mind will not be able to switch off. The adrenals, and many of the other systems in our bodies, recharge and recover between 11pm and 1am so it is essential that you are asleep by this time.
Avoid bedtime snacks: Eating or snacking on food, especially grains and sugar, will raise your blood sugar levels and hinder sleep. Additionally, when the sugar levels in the bloodstream drop, this may wake you up and probably inhibit sleep. Eat a high protein snack or meal a few hours before bedtime, which will provide L-trytophan, which is required for melatonin and serotonin production.
Correct your lighting: The introduction of artificial lighting has definitely eroded our sleep. This is because many of us still relax in the evenings with bright lights which prevent the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Dim the lights in your bedroom and in your living room in the evenings or use candles enabling the production of melatonin.
Set the temperature: Ensure that the temperature in your bedroom is cool and no higher than 20 degrees Centigrade. The reason for this is when you sleep, your body temperature drops. Keeping the room cooler or hotter than this temperature can lead to an erratic sleep pattern.
A natural sleep remedy
The strategies mentioned above should be of great benefit in helping to achieve restful sleep however there are many times when our stress hormone cortisol is in abundance. Cortisol blocks the production of our sleep hormone and its levels must be reduced. An abundance of cortisol arises as a result of ageing, due to the lowering of female hormones as well as due to physical or emotive stress. Most of us would fit into one of these categories and hence it may be prudent to consider the use of Sleep Tight capsules which incorporate herbal extracts known to help promote relaxation and aid sleep. Included in the formula are:
Magnolia officinalis – magnolia has a long traditional use in the treatment of menstrual cramps, abdominal bloating and gas, nausea and indigestion. Japanese researchers have determined that ‘honokiol’, one of the active components in magnolia bark, has potent anti-stress and cortisol balancing effects. It is this cortisol balancing effect which may be of benefit in helping to achieve restful sleep. The magnolia extract in Sleep Tight contains 50% honokiol.
Oat Straw – also known as avena sativa, this herb naturally contains high amounts of B vitamins, minerals and other nutrients necessary for the proper function of the nervous system. Oat Straw also contains gramine, a compound which helps to relax smooth muscle and exert a sedative action on the nervous system.
Passionflower – used for centuries as a calming herb, passionflower may also help to reduce cortisol levels in the body. There are many constituents in passionflower that are currently unknown to scientists however it does contain a specific compound called harmine which has the ability to relax the mind and create a contemplative state.
Ashwagandha – this herb is often referred to as ‘Indian ginseng’, although it is not a true ginseng species. Ashwagandha is known for its tonic properties helping to enhance energy, support the immune system, containing anti-inflammatory compounds and for its anti-stress benefits. It has potent muscle relaxing properties and has numerous other benefits.
Tart cherries – rich in antioxidants and nutrients, tart cherries also provide relaxing magnesium and are a rich source of naturally occurring melatonin, our sleep hormone.
Hops extract – the Greeks and Romans used hops for helping digestion and for intestinal problems. It was much later, when hops were used a cash crop, it was discovered that hops also had remarkable sedative properties. Those collecting the flowers became tired very rapidly.
Theanine – the benefits of green tea are well documented and many people drink green tea for its relaxation effect. This relaxing property can be directly traced to a unique amino acid called L-theanine, found almost exclusively in tea plants. Research has demonstrated that L-theanine can create a sense of relaxation within 30 minutes of ingestion. It does so by enhancing the formation of another amino acid, which influences levels of dopamine and serotonin. Additionally, this amino acid stimulates the production of alpha waves in the brain which helps create a deep state of relaxation and conversely can aid concentration.
Magnesium – required for over 300 biochemical reactions within our bodies, magnesium is required for the manufacture of adrenal stress hormones and for its relaxing effects on nerve and muscle function. I have already mentioned the use of Magnesium Flakes in a warm bath previously and its inherent benefits.
The benefits of good sleep quality cannot be emphasised and lack of sleep cannot be recovered. It impacts on hormonal health, stress, affects concentration, energy and numerous other processes within our bodies. If you sleep well, you will be refreshed, recharged and more productive. You will be able to deal with the many health and lifestyle challenges we face these days. Often changes in lifestyle habits may have an impact, however supplementation can also prove to be invaluable to help achieve better quality of sleep. If you wish to have a solid foundation for health, sleep like exercise and proper nutrition is fundamental for your health and wellbeing.