Many people underestimate the importance of sleep - nobody can live without it, we need it every day and yet most people are deficient in it. Nearly two thirds of people in the UK have problems regularly getting a good night’s sleep, while about one in three may suffer from chronic insomnia. With prescriptions for sleeping pills now at an all time high, we may be facing an unprecedented epidemic of sleep problems, yet an interesting new study has found that around half of the effect of sleeping pills could be due to a positive placebo effect1. Being armed with the nutrition know-how to improve sleep naturally is more important than ever before.
Why we need sleep at all is still one of life’s great mysteries, but what we do know is that:
• Regularly getting a good night’s sleep is absolutely vital for long term optimal physical and mental health.
• Ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk of chronic health problems and can also affect how well you think, react, work, learn and even get along with others.
Getting Your Brain into a Calm State
One of the keys to a successful night’s sleep is to get your brain into a calmer rather than a revved up state before bedtime. Some nutrients are particularly useful at supporting a calm, relaxed state and can help to contribute to restful sleep.
Brain-calming nutrients for successful sleep…
- Magnesium – Often referred to as nature’s tranquiliser, magnesium is the key nutrient for sleep and yet worryingly, is also one of the most deficient. Poor soil and extensive food processing methods now mean that we are facing widespread deficiencies of this important mineral. Adding extra magnesium daily can help to relax and calm the whole system, getting you into the perfect sleepy state before bedtime.
- L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid, present in virtually all plant and animal proteins. It is used by the body to make serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that is crucial for healthy sleep. Low levels of serotonin can lead to a disruption of circadian rhythms and restless sleep.
- L-theanine – A little known amino acid found in large quantities in tea, particularly green tea, theanine has scientifically been shown to increase relaxing brain waves. Best taken in supplement form rather than in tea, to avoid the stimulating effects of caffeine and ideally a couple of hours before bed, theanine helps to reduce mental and physical stress and can help to promote relaxation and harmony.
- Lactium® (Milk Protein Hydrolysate) – Milk Protein Hydrolysate is the unique ingredient in milk responsible for its calming effect on babies. With known anti-anxiety properties and free of side effects, this innovative supplement is proving to be a useful natural sleep aid, particularly useful for individuals suffering from mild stress and anxiety.
- Vitamins B6, B12 & folic acid are important nutrients for promoting a sense of calm and for healthy balanced sleep too so make sure you are getting optimal levels in your diet.
- Hops have been used traditionally for centuries because of their calming, sedative effects and may be a useful herbal support for those struggling to wind down before bedtime.
In addition, to encourage regular and high quality sleep, experts advise2:
• Maintain a regular sleep and wake pattern, seven days a week.
• Avoid daytime naps, as these can disturb the normal sleep / wake pattern.
• Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and even chocolate too close to bedtime. Alcohol, may initially help you to get to sleep, but can disrupt sleep later on, with a stimulating effect as the body begins to metabolise the alcohol.
• Exercise can promote good sleep, although vigorous exercise is best in the morning or late afternoon, and relaxing exercise, like yoga, or t’ai chi may help to promote relaxation before bedtime.
• Avoid eating large meals before bedtime as well as new foods that you haven’t tried before such as spicy foods.
• Ensure plenty of exposure to natural light in the daytime to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. This is particularly important for older people who may not spend as much time outside as children and adults.
• Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine, which may involve a relaxing bath with a couple of drops of lavender essential oil. Sticking to a routine is important for promoting healthy sleep habits.
• Keep your bed for sleep. If you’re struggling with sleep problems, it's not a good idea to watch TV, listen to the radio, or even read in bed.
• Assess your sleep environment and make sure it is pleasant and relaxing, with a comfortable bed and that the room isn’t too hot or cold, or too bright.
1. Huedo-Medina TB, Kirsch I, Middlemass J, et al. Effectiveness of non-benzodiazepine hypnotics in treatment of adult insomnia: meta-analysis of data submitted to the Food and Drug Administration. BMJ. Published online December 17 2012
2. National Sleep Foundation www.sleepfoundation.org
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