Natural Remedies for Improving Sleep Why is Quality Sleep Important?
Although sleep is a restful time for us, it is a busy time for our bodies. It takes this opportunity when it is not digesting, walking, working, socialising etc. to heal and repair. While we are in the Non Rapid eye movement of sleep (deep sleep), body functions include;
- Tissue regeneration (healing and repairing)
- Muscle building
- Immune system function
- Fat metabolism
- Blood sugar and insulin regulation
- Conscious and unconscious mind communication
By contrast chronic poor sleep and insomnia leads to an increased likelihood of;
- Accelerated brain ageing
- Tissue degeneration
- Anxiety, depression, restlessness and moodiness.
- Poor concentration, decrease in attention and responsible decision making.
- Increases in cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure
- Gastrointestinal disturbances
- Development of metabolic syndrome and diabetes mellitus
A study of 153 healthy men and women, found that those who reported a mean of less than 7 hours of sleep per nightwere almost 3 times more likely to acquire a cold than were those with 8 or more hours of sleep.
The Phases of Sleep
Phase 1 – Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which consists of 4 stages.
- Stage 1 is a transitional stage between wakefulness and deep sleep.
- Stage 2 is a deeper sleep state the sleeper is unaware of the surroundings but can be easily aroused.
- Stage 3 is the first stage of deep or slow-wave sleep (SWS), which has both fast and slow brain waves.
- Stage 4, the second phase of SWS, consists mostly of slow waves. Stages 3 and 4 are considered the deepest stages of sleep, when waking the sleeper is difficult. SWS is considered a time of energy conservation and renewal. It is an anabolic state in which physiological repair occurs.
Phase 2 – Rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, in which dreaming occurs.
The cycle of NREM sleep followed by REM sleep repeats 5 to 6 times per night for a period of 90 minutes per cycle. The relative amount of time spent in NREM and REM sleep changes during the night. NREM sleep takes up more time at the beginning of the night, and REM sleep occupies more time in the final sleep cycle. The total amount and percentage of time spent in each cycle are species specific, but NREM sleep accounts for most of sleep in all animal species and in humans. These cycles are part of the daily sleep-wake cycle.
Natural Remedies for Improving Sleep Quality
- Stress – If there are things on your mind that are causing you stress try talking to someone about it, or write things down to get them off your mind. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, find some you tube yoga or guided meditations or join a class. Tai chi and chi gong are also great for unwinding the body and mind.
- Take a holiday. Sometimes we need to step away from life and reassess where we are.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages between 4-6 hours before bed. Caffeinated beverages include tea, coffee, cola. some non cola carbonated drinks, energy drinks. Chocolate and cocoa are also very stimulating and best avoided before bed.
- Get into good sleep habits
- Restrict time in bed to only sleeping (no reading, doing homework, or watching TV in bed).
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every night
- Avoid stimulating activities one hour before bed, such as – Computer, electronic games, watching TV or heavy work or study.
- Unwind before bed by reading, writing, doing a jigsaw, drawing a picture, playing cards etc.
- Comfortable, quiet, calm sleeping environment without bright lights
- Remove any clocks from the bedroom – watching the time can make the situation worse
- Get up out of bed instead of tossing and turning. If you know you are not going to fall asleep get out of bed and do some non stimulating activity such as reading a book in a not to bright light.
- Eat a healthy well balanced diet which includes plenty of protein. Insomnia may be the result of a food allergy or intolerance.
- If your waking at around 3am you need to seriously look at your sugar and refined carbohydrate intake. When blood sugars drop while we are sleeping our adrenal glands may spring into action and pump out some adrenaline as our blood sugars have gone so low we are going hypo.
- Exercising during the day improves the likelihood of sleeping at night, but avoid big workouts late in the evening as this may excite you too much and you may find it difficult to unwind. An evening stroll is more suitable.
- Get out into the sunshine and expose your eyes to sunlight, make sure your home is not too brightly lit at night time. The change from light to dark stimulates the release of melatonin, our sleep hormone.
Supplements and Sleep
- Magnesium is your best friend when it comes to helping the body and mind relax. Ensure you choose a good quality magnesium amino acid chelate or citrate. The dose should be at least 200mg.
- B vitamins will help some people sleep but will keep others awake, so it is good to experiment a little with these before bed.
Herbs and Sleep
A nice herbal tea before bed can be a God send. Here are some lovely calming herbs to include in your evening cuppa
- Lemon balm
A herbal tincture may be required if changing your sleep routine and following the guidelines above dose not change your quality of sleep. Speak to your naturopath about this.