Sleep problems are a growing issue. People are stressed out with their fast-paced lives. They drink more coffee and other caffeine-based drinks and they frequently drink too much alcohol. All of this is happening as we strive to deal with stress and adapting to the changing, challenging world around us.
The consequence of these behaviours is less good quality sleep and thus a lesser capacity to deal with all the new demands of our modern existence. So what do we do? More coffee, more martinis and more stress due to further lack of good sleep. This can easily become a vicious cycle.
Natural Remedies That Work
Fortunately there are a number of natural remedies and lifestyle modifications that can help. We fall asleep and stay asleep mainly because of Melatonin. We can certainly supplement with this natural compound, or take Tryptophan which first gets converted to Serotonin (thus helping prevent depression) and then to Melatonin. Vitamin B6 helps in this enzymatic conversion. Egg whites and Spirulina have the highest level of Tryptophan, contrary to the widespread belief that it’s turkey.
Another remedy, Magnesium is a natural sedative that relaxes nerves and muscles. It is also great for certain types of migraines including the migraines that commonly occur during the third trimester of pregnancy. These migraines may be associated with conditions called pre-eclampsia and eclampsia. Both conditions are associated with high blood pressure and protein in the urine. What distinguishes them is the presence of seizures in eclampsia. Magnesium is used in both cases to lower the blood pressure, prevent seizures as well as to relieve the headaches.
Valerian root on the other hand increases the level of the relaxing neurotransmitter GABA (this is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that has a relaxing and anti-anxiety effect on the brain) and when combined with Hops is very effective in inducing and maintaining good quality sleep.
Other great relaxing plants are Chamomile tea, Passion Flower and Ashwagandha. This last Ayurvedic medicine is an adaptogen. An adaptogen is a substance that brings balance (otherwise known as homeostasis) to the biochemical processes of the body. In this role, Ashwagandha decreases anxiety, helps relieve depression, increases energy and helps with adaptation to stress.
Finally, Chaste Tree helps with insomnia during menstruation and Pre Menstrual Disorder. English Lavender, used as aromatherapy, is very soothing. Dried Lavender flowers in a small sack can be placed under pillows to induce a warm transition to deeper sleep while at the same time providing very nice fragrance.
When To Eat Carbs
There is also a recent trend of eating carbohydrates only in the afternoon and before bed time for better quality sleep. This actually helps. Carbs increase the release of insulin, and insulin makes us drowsy. This is why it makes sense not to eat carbs in the morning or in the early afternoon, as it is usually during this time that we prefer to have mental clarity and high energy to perform the tasks at hand. However, eating carbs in the late afternoon to relax and to fall asleep easier is a double-edged sword. It will help us sleep, but the excess carbs will turn into fat while we are asleep. During this time, our metabolic rate drops and we are not using as much energy. Therefore the carbs we eat in late afternoon will not all be used as energy; some will get converted into energy stores, one of which is fat. Please also keep in mind that if you use this technique, confine yourself to complex carbs (such as whole wheat products). The sugars form these carbs will get digested and absorbed slower and will cause smaller insulin spikes. Thus, a smaller proportion of them will get converted into fat.
As a final note, excessive alcohol and excessive caffeine and/or nicotine, especially before bed time, hinders sleep, and will not help in getting the rest our minds and bodies need in this increasingly demanding and stressful world.