When was the last time you fell asleep within minutes, and woke up feeling rested? At least 60 million Americans experience sleeplessness to a point that they seek support from a medical provider. In fact, sleep concerns in the U.S. add up to an estimated $16 billion in medical costs each year.
Stress, physical health, medications, and menopause are common underlying factors. Psychological factors are among the biggest culprits. You might not realize how strongly your mood and stress during the day affects your sleep performance. This is a two-way street, as sleep also impacts mental health.
Whether you are having trouble falling or staying asleep, consider these lifestyle changes:
Support daytime relaxation and stress management with any of the following strategies:
· Guided relaxation
Turn off the TV at least 1 hour prior to bedtime. Also avoid looking at bright computer or mobile device screens.
Exercise regularly, but avoid exercise within 4 hours prior to bed.
Turn your bedroom into a “sleep sanctuary” that is quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature.
Eating for better sleep
Sleep depends on proper neurotransmission-the communication between neurons in the brain and nervous system. To support these delicate systems, your diet should contain plenty of leafy greens, fiber and protein to provide the amino acids, vitamins and minerals that the brain needs to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Foods to eat
Kale, spinach and other dark greens
Cold-water fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, trout)
Nuts, seeds and whole grains
Foods to avoid
Caffeine-containing beverages after 2:00 PM
Refined carbohydrates and sugars
Keep in mind that eating a large meal close to bedtime may cause you to toss and turn. On the other hand, not eating enough may cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. Keep a diary as to when you eat and how well you sleep to help determine what works for you.
Supplements that provide the building blocks and cofactors for neurotransmission can also support and balance neurotransmission for restful sleep.
Magnesium supports normal biorhythms and sleep patterns. It is one of the first minerals to be lost during food processing, and one of the first to leave the body during everyday stress. A dose of 200-300 mg magnesium glycinate or citrate before bed supports sleep onset and duration through the night. Several weeks may be needed to take effect.
Glycine is an amino acid and neurotransmitter that starts working right away. Try 3 grams within 30-45 minutes before bed.
5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin that is often useful for sleep support when taken 30-60 minutes before bedtime at a dose of 50-200 mg.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, part of the body’s built-in clock known as the circadian system. Studies demonstrate enhanced sleep onset and sleep quality. 1-3 mg is usually ideal, but more is not always better. Just 0.5 mg can promote sleep onset within 30 minutes.
GABA is another calming neurotransmitter that helps brain cells “calm down” as a prelude to a normal sleep cycle. During the day, it can help with stress management and mood without causing drowsiness. For sleep support, mix 500-750 mg with one cup of water. Drink half 30 minutes prior to bed, and if you awake in the night, drink the remaining half.
L-theanine is a unique amino acid that promotes mental and physical relaxation within about 30-40 minutes after consumption. It does not cause drowsiness, but like GABA, it can create a calm mental state conducive to sleep onset.
Studies show that sufficient sleep duration is essential to keeping a positive outlook on life, maintaining focus and mental acuity, and even keeping your appetite in check. More importantly, studies show that proper sleep protects the heart, blood vessels and keeps your metabolic health in check. If you have a child who is also struggling with sleep, it may be smart to begin sleep training with them to try and crack the bad habit before it compounds. For yourself, however, with this holistic diet and lifestyle approach, you support both mind and body and help you stay on the path to total wellness.
Michael Brown, ND