Sleep…specifically my pillow used to be my most favourite thing to look forward to when I was in my young adulthood. It was such a serene time to just lay in bed, fall asleep and wake up feeling amazing. There was also a time when I would wake up feeling groggy and would mentally have to yank my still sleepy body to get out of bed.
When was the last time you woke up – almost jumping out of bed feeling amazing and ready to take on the day? When was the last time you fell asleep right away or rather quickly when in bed and stayed asleep all night long (without the use of medication or other sleeping aid tonics)? When was the last night you had good quality, felt amazing in the morning, slept 7-8hrs? sleep?
Do but consider what an excellent thing sleep is…that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.
Are you deprived of good quality sleep?
Go through the list below and see if any of the following apply to you? If you want to know a little more, have a click on each question.
Napping has its time and place. Wonderful for children who are developing and growing, good for new mother’s and father’s who may have their sleep schedule revolving around their newborn. If you have jet lag, your circadian rhythm may need some time to adjust … so a nap here or there is okay.
Having a dark room to sleep in is essential for the production of Melatonin. The darker the room the better. melatonin does not only allow you to sleep better, it is an amazingly powerful antioxidant – and a great fighter of cancer. Even the slightest bit of light will affect your melatonin production.
If your room in not 100% pitch black, it is very beneficial to sleep with an eye mask! No light will interfere with your melatonin production and you will have a more restful sleep and feel better in the morning. Choose a soft eye mask that holds to your head well.
If your body is in perfect balance it should take you 20 minutes or less to fall asleep each night (This is without the use of medication).
Sometimes this can be an easy fix, you might be dehydrated and a glass of water will keep you go back to your restful slumber, however, it can also be your hormones, diet, stress level or perhaps your legs just won’t stop moving. With these later problems, the solution is not a sleeping pill it’s a little more than just that – but in the end, you will feel amazing!
What you eat before going to bed has an effect on how well you will sleep and on what you dream. You don’t need to always have bad dreams, you can make good dietary changes – which will be discussed below – to help you have wonderful dreams.
Pregnancy and old age – in some respects – have a different reason as to why an individual may need to go to the washroom in the middle of the night. If you are anyone else, it is most likely that your body is a little off balance (though perhaps if it happened just that one night you went out late with friends or you drank a bit too much water or tea before bed). If your circadian rhythm is balanced your digestive system will start shutting down for the night so that the bodies energy can be focused on fixing up and restoring the rest of the body.
Sleep apnea is a big problem these days, just because you have it does not mean that you need to go on living without sleeping well. There are ways of making sure that you have many restful nights of sleep.
Restless leg syndrome or Nocturnal Myoclonus though they can be insufferable they can also be made livable and do not need to interrupt you while you are either going to sleep or whilst you sleep!!
Some medications may disrupt hormones, leach out vitamins and minerals from the body as well as add additional stress to organs. All of this can make it harder to sleep. Find out what vitamins and minerals you may be lacking, what organs any symptoms need extra attention and work with your health practitioner to understand what interactions your medication can have with other products.
Though they may seem like a godsend they only add around 20 minutes of extra sleep to your night, moreover, they place additional strain onto the body, this overtime will throw systems off balance and will cause even more dysregulation with your circadian rhythm.
Sleep affects how you function throughout the day, don’t get enough of good quality sleep and you won’t be the best you can be. You may feel more irritated, you may have difficulty formulating ideas, have a feeling of confusion, over time you may begin to experience depression.
Do you wake up feeling amazing, energized and with a hop in your step. Don’t say you don’t want to … it is an amazing feeling and you will want nothing more after that. Your body needs time to rest, even if you don’t think it does and it will let you know in time (aka you will not feel your best).
People who are sleep deprived often have difficulty deciding on the right words to use – difficulty formulating sentences, they have problems with working out ideas and do not do well in coping with situations that change rapidly and dynamically (Holford, P., 2007).
A week of sleep deprivation can result in the alteration of genes in the body, specifically those associated with the circadian rhythm, sleep homeostasis, oxidative stress and metabolism. This further does damage by affecting biological actions that include chromatin modification, macromolecule metabolism, gene-expression management, as well as inflammatory, immune and stress reactions in the body (C.S. Moller-Levet, et al., 2013).
Sleep deprivation can also contribute to many other physical and mental ailments in the body and mind such as;
- low immunity
- brain fog
- memory loss/poor memory retainment
- cardiovascular disease
- liver/kidney dysfunction
- obesity/weight gain
- skin lesions
- DNA damage
(Perlmutter, D., 2013) (Greenfield, B., 2014).
Just because you are in bed for the recommended number of hours (see chart below) does not mean that you are getting the quality sleep you need to allow your body and brain to recover. Don’t allow your body to suffer and be strained by lack of sleep. Be proactive with your health by making positive changes to your sleeping habits.
Why is sleep important?
During sleep is the time when the body is able to repair itself – thus the better quality of sleep one allows for the better their body will function and feel. Hold back on sleep or place your body in such a position that it cannot sleep properly due to various factors (expressed later on in this article in ‘Stress, Drugs and Bad food’) and your body essentially begins to wear down (Junger, A., 2012).
As soon as your body does not get the adequate amount of good quality sleep it needs it begins to malfunction. Insulin resistance, hormonal dysregulation and increased risk of developing cancer are just a few of the issues that a sleep deprived body will face (Gedgaudas, N.T., 2011). Below is a chart that the National Sleep Foundation provides to outline how much sleep an individual requires.
National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Duration Recommendations:
|Age||Recommended||May be appropriate||Not recommended|
|14 to 17 hours|
11 to 13 hours
18 to 19 hours
Less than 11 hours
More than 19 hours
|12 to 15 hours|
10 to 11 hours
16 to 18 hours
Less than 10 hours
More than 18 hours
|11 to 14 hours|
9 to 10 hours
15 to 16 hours
Less than 9 hours
More than 16 hours
|10 to 13 hours|
8 to 9 hours
Less than 8 hours
More than 14 hours
|9 to 11 hours|
7 to 8 hours
Less than 7 hours
More than 12 hours
|8 to 10 hours|
Less than 7 hours
More than 11 hours
|7 to 9 hours|
10 to 11 hours
Less than 6 hours
More than 11 hours
|7 to 9 hours|
Less than 6 hours
More than 10 hours
≥ 65 years
|7 to 8 hours|
5 to 6 hours
Less than 5 hours
More than 9 hour
These are of course guidelines to sleep, there are numerous athletes for instance who may require upwards of 9-13 hrs of sleep a day. Most importantly even if you are in bed for the recommended 7-9 hours for an adult if the sleep you are experiencing is not of good quality it will not matter how long you sleep for your body will reap no benefit.
Good quality sleep should ensure the following;
- mandates how much an individual should eat
- regulates the speed of one’s metabolism
- manages and controls body size
- strengthens the immune system
- enhances creativity and intuitiveness
- boosts one’s ability to handle and manage stress
- increasing the ability to process and understand information
- allowing for the capacity to learn new information
- control and impact genes/genetic code
(Perlmutter, D., 2013).
Good quality, rejuvenating sleep is obtained by having a balanced circadian rhythm, which also requires the body to function optimally and in equilibrium. Sleep has been shown to be a preventative measure against Alzheimer’s Disease. When one sleeps the brain allows for cerebrospinal fluid to flood into the brain and make the channels between neurons accessible, resulting in the reorganization of neural networks and storing newly learned information and experiences. During this process, Alzheimer inducing plaque is also removed from the brain (Dow, M., 2015) (Greenfield, B., 2014).
If the cleanup of cellular garbage is not able to occur in the brain the mind will grow into a disorganized jumble. This overtime will have a negative impact on the rest of the body as it will affect the function of numerous organ systems (Greenfield, B., 2014).
The circadian rhythm is your sleep cycle. It is part of your body’s clock, informing you when the best time to sleep and wake are. However, like any other system in the body, it can get out of balance.
Regulated by hormones, its efficiency is controlled by the health of the body – if the body is out of balance so will hormone production and in turn, the sleep-wake cycle will not perform as it should.
There are a few key players (hormones, neurotransmitters and amino acids) in the circadian rhythm;
An essential amino acid (meaning it cannot be produced by the body and needs to be derived from the diet) that is the precursor for serotonin. It is required for normal growth as well as balancing nitrogen levels in the body. It crosses the blood-brain barrier. It is helpful in the treatment of depression, nightmares, headaches/migraines, fibromyalgia and mood swings.
5 HTP or oxitriptan, like tryptophan, is a precursor for serotonin, however, unlike tryptophan, it is just one step away from the conversion of the hormone serotonin (and eventually melatonin). 5HTP is also helpful in the treatment of depression, nightmares, headaches/migraines, fibromyalgia and mood swing
This neurotransmitter is found within the brain, intestines and blood of the body. It is created in the raphe nuclei – found at the midbrain. Its manufacturing begins when tectum (also in the midbrain) is stimulated by light (deficiency in serotonin often occurs during months when there is less sun – winter months, as well as if the individual in questions spends a large amount of time indoors). Serotonin is a precursor for melatonin, which is the essential sleep hormone.
Secreted by the pineal gland located in the brain, this hormone is essential at regulating the circadian rhythm of the body. Good quality, healthy sleep is strongly dependant on the levels of melatonin in the body. Apart from balancing the sleep-wake cycle, melatonin is also essential in regulating metabolic action and behaviour as well as female reproductive health.
Melatonin is also an essential antioxidant that aids in the fight against cancer (prevention and recovery). If there any source of light in the room that an individual is sleeping in (and said the individual is not wearing an eye mask) an inadequate amount of melatonin will be produced. Over time this can become a severe issue in both depleting the immune system and depriving the body of good sleep.
Hormone the is responsible for the coordination and regulation of hunger, metabolism and the use of food as either fuel or fat. It controls the functioning of the hypothalamus, located in the brain, which is in charge of the bodies rhythmic activities (such as the sleep-wake cycle). When the diet is high in refined sugars, carbohydrates and bad fats (such as the Standard American Diet) leptin becomes less receptive in the brain and this disrupts many hormonal functions in the body.
Best known as the stress hormone, it is essential for the health and proper functioning of the body. However, when this hormone is out of balance it can cause serious problems in the body.
This steroid hormone is manufactured in the adrenal glands (when they become fatigued they can either over or under produce cortisol). Cortisol is essential for the strength, structure and functioning of bones, the nervous and immune systems, stress response as well as the breakdown and utilization of fats, carbs and protein in the body.
This neurotransmitter, which is manufactured in the adrenal glands is responsible for aiding the brain in both focus and the ability to solve problems. It is also essential for it aids in the dilation of the pupils (when it gets darker) which allows for the change of serotonin into melatonin.
When adrenals have fatigued the levels of norepinephrine are reduced. This subsequently affects the levels of melatonin and thus affects sleep quality.
All of these hormones, neurotransmitters and amino acids need to be in perfect working order so as to reap the full benefits of a good night’s rest. Where does one begin in the understanding of the sleep-wake cycle? It is important to remember that healthy sleep is reliant on melatonin stores, without them, proper sleep cannot be had. Let’s look at what a good quality sleep cycle should be like.
When cortisol increases in the body, melatonin production begins to fall. Cortisol begins to slowly build up again in the body when one is asleep until it reaches its peak, which is about the time that an individual wakes up between 6 and 10 o’clock. This is why one should feel energized, refreshed and alert when they wake up in the morning (Kharrazian, D., 2013). At this point your digestive system starts turning again – you get a natural increase of ghrelin (hunger hormone) and your heart rate increases (Greenfield, B., 2014).
Cortisol production from that point tends to taper down (if everything is functioning optimally) until it has reached its lowest point right before bedtime. At this time several amino acids, neurotransmitters and hormones are set into gear. Norepinephrine as the day grows darker increases pupil dilation so as to allow for more light to enter into the eye. This action stimulates the conversion of serotonin into melatonin in the pineal gland (Kharrazian, D., 2013) (Dow, M., 2015). If cortisol levels are too high (as a result of stress, diet or drugs) serotonin will not be able to bind to receptors in the brain resulting in less melatonin secretion (Dow, M., 2015). Furthermore, high cortisol levels also prevent the release of growth hormone (essential for repairing the body) leading to premature ageing (Holford, P., 2007).
At around midnight is when melatonin production hits its peak, and allows leptin to enter the hypothalamus – from where it stimulates the thyroid to upregulate thyroid function. This hormone is essential for metabolism and weight control among other things (Greenfield, B., 2014) (Perlmutter, D., 2013). At this time cortisol also begins to slowly rise. When one sleeps, it is cortisol’s job to break down glycogen in the liver so as to provide the body with energy in the form of glucose (Kharrazian, D., 2013). With this action, the cycle begins again, with cortisol surging around 6-10 o’clock waking the individual up and beginning a new day.
Stress, Drugs and Bad food – turning back your C.R.Clock
Think carefully about the last day that you felt truly well, a day that did not feel the strain of fatigue. If it was this morning or yesterday did you consume foods high in sugar, caffeine and other artificial stimulants? Such substances are incredibly stimulating and hide the feeling of fatigue – though you may need to constantly supply your body with such stimulants in order to get through your day (Fuhrman, J., 2011).
Stress can be unavoidable, the way one reacts to it can be. Keeping stress and angry with you will make it hard to fall asleep and keep a well-functioning sleep cycle. An hour or more before you go to bed, begin to pull away from work and begin to bring yourself into a calm state of being. Keeping stress with you increases cortisol levels in the body, this begins a long journey of unbalanced hormones and even more stress and the individual will now have to deal with being tired a great deal of the time (Greenfield, B., 2014).
Although caffeine may allow you to go through life with less sleep and still function as a human to some degree, it hinders deep sleep and over time the effect speeds up the ageing process and increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol (Fuhrman, J., 2011).
The negative side of caffeine
- inhibits glucose metabolism
- increases insulin resistance
- advanced heart disease problems
- promotes overeating
Sleeping pills, such as Ambien (aka Zolpidem) are prescribed daily to aid individuals suffering from insomnia. However, they are only supposed to provide short-term treatment and do not fix the underlying issues of insomnia (Gaby, A.R., 2006). There are many side effects to taking sleeping pills, such as; hallucinations, depression, impairment of driving ability – even the morning after taking the pill, anterograde amnesia, may cause death and does not aid in rebalancing the circadian rhythm (Dow. M., 2015).
Alcohol places a strain on your body, particularly your liver. There may be a grey zone of okay quantity however for the most part ‘If you don’t drink, don’t start for your health’. As your body slows down during sleep and repairs are being made alcohol can have a hand in inhibiting this activity. Moreover, instead of wake up feeling great, you often wake up feeling sleepy and sluggish, perhaps even a little bit tipsy. The consumption of alcohol can also impair sleep quality often individuals either do not get enough sleep or simply not enough good quality sleep (waking up frequently at night) (Greenfield, B., 2014).
A sudden drop in glucose levels during the night as you sleep can cause you to wake up. The feeling that one might get right after breakfast or lunch especially if that meal was high in sugar and carbs. This is an example of blood sugar imbalance and insulin insensitivity (Murray, M.T., & Pizzorno, J., 2012).
Sugar before bedtime can make it very hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. Moreover, one has the potential, when they do fall asleep to have very bad dreams. If one is already experiencing sleeping problems they are also probably experiencing cravings for sugars, sweets and carbs. It is by no means easy but by dialling back on the processed sugar and carbohydrates and filling up on good fats, fibre, protein and lots of veggies blood sugar over time can be balanced and insulin can begin to be more receptive (Gedgaudas, N.T., 2011).
There are a lot of things you can do naturally to improve your sleep quality. Oftentimes fixing imbalances in your body, such as bringing balances to your hormone levels will do wonders to your quality of sleep, ability to fall and stay asleep. Deficiencies in the body such as various B vitamins, Magnesium or zinc can make it harder to have a restful nights sleep. Herbal teas and tincture before bed can ease you into sleep and are far better and less taxing on the body then sleeping pills.
This wonderful calming neurotransmitter can assist in making one feel a greater sense of relaxation and happiness. When GABA runs low in the body an individual can begin to feel anxious, depressed and/or tense, this over time can result in difficulty with sleeping. GABA aids in moderating breathing and heart rate to the point where the muscles can relax (Holford, P., 2007).
Recommended dosage – 500mg x 2 day
UPDATE: Though GABA does aid in calming the body, when taken as a supplement the molecular structure is too large, making it impossible to pass the blood-brain barrier. If you do experience a calming effect after taking GABA it can be a sign of Leaky Brain. Many alternative health professionals are now using GABA supplementation to see if their patients respond, thus indicating that the blood-brain barrier may have become permeable. This can also be an indication that the intestinal lining is also permeable (Kharrazian, D., 2013).
This direct precursor for serotonin is a great way to both balance mood and great healthy sleep. Aids in increasing REM sleep by approximately 25%, as well as deep sleep (Murray, M.T., & Pizzorno, J., 2012). May aid certain individuals into dreaming in colour (Holford, P., 2007).
Recommended dosage – 100-300 mg x 1 day // 30 to 45 min prior to bedtime
Although a powerful antioxidant, that aids in the fight of cancer and jet lag, if taken too often it can cause issues with the bodies production of melatonin. If this supplement works incredibly well at putting you to sleep it is a direct indicator that your body is low in melatonin stores. Further down the line, this issue can indicate that perhaps serotonin production is poor (very common with women with high estrogen) (Kharrazian, D., 2013).
This supplement is good to take if you are trying to boost your immune system or as an alternative to a sleeping pill. It is important to work on the root causes of sleeping problems instead of using a band-aid for the solution. 8 mg+ over the course of a period of four days has been shown to influence changes in the hormone serotonin (Murray, M.T., & Pizzorno, J., 2012).
Recommended Dosage – 1-3 mg x 1 day //before bedtime
This is a fantastic supplement and sleeping aid, especially for individuals who experience restless leg syndrome. In today’s high strung, high-stress society magnesium is often depleted from the body (It is also often lacking in food). Powdered magnesium citrate in some warm water before bed (30 min) is a great way to relax the nerves and the muscles (Lipski, E., 2012).
Follow the instruction on the package/container (approximately 2 tsp, however for starting out it is always good to start with one tsp and work your way up, it may be that the single tsp does the trick to put you to sleep). A powder is best for absorption. I really enjoy the product Natural Calm and find that it works great for putting me to sleep and relaxing me during an airplane flight.
Vitamin B6 (or Potent B Complex)
A deficiency in this vitamin can result in an individual not being able to recall dreams. There can be a severe strain on the nervous system as well (Holford, P., 2007). B6 is also essential for the natural secretion of melatonin in the body. Without it, little to none will be produced and sleep deprivation will get worse.
Recommended Dosage – 200 mg x 1 day
One of the most deficient nutrients in the body today it is essential to make sure that the body receives an adequate amount of zinc. Zinc also aids in allowing individuals to recall their dreams (Holford, P., 2007).
Recommended Dosage – 30 mg x 1 day
Food and Drink
Salt and Water
Without salt, the body would not be able to function properly. It is essential for so many functions in the body, sleep being one of them. Salt aids in regulating sleep and is a natural hypnotic.
How to take it: Place a few grains of Himalayan Salt or Celtic Sea Salt on your tongue and after drinking a full glass of water (this cannot be done without water). This is a natural sleep aid (Batmanghelidj, F., 2008).
A glass of organic, grass-fed/pastured milk can be very beneficial as a sleeping aid. Milk is a source of both B6 (required for melatonin secretion) and tryptophan (precursor to melatonin). (Holford, P., & Colson, D., 2010).
Herbals that are both nervine relaxants and sleep tonics will aid in relaxing the body and mind as well as getting rid of tension and promoting good sleep.
Chamomile, Valerian and Passionflower teas work wonders at placing the body in a calm, relaxing state before bed (Hoffman, D., 1990). An equal combination of Hops, Valerian, Passion Flower and Spearmint drunk throughout the day at a cup at a time is a great way to ease the body softly into a relaxed state ready for sleep (Tierra, M., 1998).
Baths are incredibly relaxing, turn down the lighting or light a few candles and your hormones will start secreting, relaxing the body and placing the individual in a perfect position to go to bed. Add in some Valerian or lime blossom tea with a tiny bit of oil (coconut, olive, almond) into the mix and the benefits of the herbs will seep into your skin (Hoffman, D., 1990).
Essential Oil Blends
Herbal oil blends are wonderful to either add to a bath, place in a diffuser or lightly sprinkle onto your bed and pillow. Oils from Clary Sage, Chamomile, Lavender and Mandarin are very sleep stimulating and relaxing.
It may happen an individual has a hard time sleeping as a result of built-up anxiety. If this is the case an essential oil blend with Ylang Ylang, Frankincense, Geranium, Vetiver, and Lime can relax the mind and thus the body. This will aid in bringing about sleep. It can also be either applied to a bath, in a diffuser or sprinkled onto the bed and pillow.
Three sprays of Rescue Remedy are a godsend for anxiety at bedtime. If I am lying awake for far too long, I ask myself, am I in need of water, the washroom or am I anxious. If it is the latter I grab my bedside rescue remedy spray and in a few minutes, I am asleep.
Exercise throughout the day aids in improving the well being of an individual as well as improving sleep quality. It is best when partaking in vigorous physical activity to do so in the morning and afternoon, leaving the evening open to relaxation as the body begins to tier and get ready for bed (Murray, M.T., & Pizzorno, J., 2012).
Prior to bedtime partaking in a gentle walk outside, or a gentle low impact activity such as yoga or tai chi (making sure that the lighting is ambient and relaxing) can aid in both releasing tension and anxiety as well as getting the body ready for sleep.
When one wakes up in the morning it is important to expose yourself to light, do this by walking outside, sitting in the sun to have your morning tea or coffee or perhaps doing some gentle yoga or tai chi exercises as the sun goes up (Dow, M., 2015).
Batmanghelidj, F. (2008). Your Body’s Many Cries for Water. United States: Global Health Solutions Inc.
C.S. Moller-Levet, et al., “Effects of Insufficient Sleep on Circadian Rhythmicity and expression Amplitude of the Human Blood Transcriptome”. Proceeding of the National Academy of Science 110, no. 12 (March 19, 2013). Online available at PubMed.
Dow, M. (2015).The brain fog fix: reclaim your focus, memory and joy in just 3 weeks. London: Hay House.
Fuhrman, J. M. (2003).Eat to Live. Boston: Little Brown and Company.
Gaby, A. (2006).A-Z guide to drug-herb-vitamin interactions improve your health and avoid side effects when using common medications and natural supplements together. New York: Three Rivers Press.