The Modern Epidemic- Sleeplessness
Insomnia may be one of the most common complaints in this day and age. Life moves very swiftly today: between job commitments, social engagements, and upkeep of home, family and self there just does not seem to be time to put in a solid eight hours of rest.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. More that 50 million Americans don’t get enough sleep. Given the absolutely vital role sleep plays in overall health, there’s definitely something wrong here.
What Is Insomnia?
The topic of sleep deprivation is a surprisingly complicated one. Under strict definition, insomnia is considered to be a period where one has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, with lingering exhaustion upon waking.
That alone sounds terrible, but the underlying causes- pain, stress, medication, unstable environment- all compound the unpleasantness. Make no bones about it, lack of sleep is a real medical problem and deserves specialized medical attention.
Long-term insomnia can spawn a host of troubles. Not only does it impair judgement and cognitive abilities, it is associated with an array of ailments including high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and heart disease to name a few.
Obviously, sleep deprivation is a real problem- but it can be improved. Regular exercise, limiting caffeine/tobacco/alcohol intake, good sleep hygiene, and a proper diet all help to restore the balance of sleep.
Maintaining Good Sleep Hygiene
‘Sleep hygiene’ refers to the habits we develop about sleep and around our places of rest. It is paramount, for example, that a bedroom is exactly that and nothing else: reserved solely for sleep and sex, with no other activities allowed.
This includes screens of all types! No televisions, no laptops, no iPads, and especially no phones! A room properly maintained for sleep will be neither too warm or too cold, and the bed should be sufficiently large enough and comfortable enough to relax in.
Only soothing noises should be heard in a bedroom- soft music or a white noise machine both can help with achieving a relaxed state. And while a large evening meal is detrimental to a deep rest, a light snack is often just the right thing to ensure a proper sleep of an adequate duration.
Eat to Live, Eat to Sleep
As stated before, alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco should be avoided in the late afternoon and evening as all these substances can alter the body’s ability to reach the deepest levels of sleep.
There are, however, many wonderful, healthy foods that assist with a good night’s sleep.
1.Vitamin B6 Foods
Vitamin B6 is one of the many vitamins that help the body to utilize energy. In particular, Vitamin B6 is important because it is required to make the hormone melatonin, which helps to regulate sleep.
Lots of natural sources are rich with Vitamin B6: fish (especially tuna, salmon, and halibut), tart cherry juice, bananas, chickpeas, and fortified cereals.
It would seem there may be some value in a warm glass of milk before bed. Calcium rich foods have long been valued for ensuring better sleep quality. Calcium is also important in the synthesis of melatonin in the body.
Don’t be afraid to branch out from that glass of milk though- yoghurt and deep green leafy vegetables are also fantastic sources of calcium. For added benefit, calcium is instrumental (along with magnesium) in preventing restless leg syndrome and muscle cramps.
Calcium is also instrumental in maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm- your innate ability to sleep an appropriate amount of time, and wake at approximately the same time every day. Routine is key with sleep; calcium helps to reinforce that schedule.
Partnered with calcium, magnesium promotes muscle relaxation and prevents cramping, as mentioned above. Studies have shown that people with diets low in magnesium have greater difficulty staying asleep. Whole grains make a solid contribution here, as do bananas, almonds, and spinach.
4.Herbal Supplements and Teas
As with any dietary supplement, it is best to consult the experts- doctors or pharmacists- before experimenting with herbs. Some may be beneficial, but some may also have adverse reactions with certain medications. Get smart experienced help (especially if you’re tired, it affects your judgement)!
That being said, a few herbs have traditionally been used to help with sleeplessness. Lemon balm, a citrusy-smelling member of the mint family, has been effective with treating mild cases of insomnia, especially when paired with the herb valerian.
Supplements are available at pharmacies and health food stores- but make sure that you have experienced, honest help to ensure you get a quality product with consistent benefits. Camomile has also been widely used as a sleep aid in the form of a tea to great success.
Keep in mind that people with ragweed allergies should never take camomile tea; it belongs to the same family and can potentially cause an extremely unpleasant allergic reaction. Caveat emptor (buyer beware)!
5. A Carb/Protein Combo
Tryptophan, famous for the post- Thanksgiving turkey coma, also has a role in sleep regulation. Present in many proteins, it typically does not cross into the brain unless paired with a carbohydrate.
It is thought that carbohydrates cause an insulin spike that allows uptake of tryptophan into the brain, resulting in a pleasantly dozy feeling. Where a light snack is optimal right before bedtime, good options would be a small sandwich with lean turkey or chicken on whole grain bread, or pairing almonds with a piece of fruit.
If you’re noticing crossovers in food groups here, good! There are many great food combinations that assist with restful sleep that also assist with whole body health.
In the end, sleep is much, much more important than we give it credit for. Far from being a weakness to be ignored, sleep is practically a superpower: it keeps us young, helps us to store memory, repairs our body, and relaxes our minds.
Compound that with the alertness it brings and the ability to avoid accidents and mishaps, the idea of forty winks rises up to a whole new level of importance. That importance only becomes more apparent as more discoveries are made.
Modern diet researchers are conducting ongoing studies on the importance of sleep- in the not so distant future, sleep may be as important a factor in a healthy diet as calories or protein content. And that, I believe, will be a very good move for people everywhere.