One of the few musts that everyone needs is sleep, but one third of adults in the United States actually don't get enough of it. Below are ways to support your sleep and how to create better sleep habits to improve your well being.
What makes sleep so critical to overall health?
Sleeping contains two different cycles: Rapid eye movement (REM) and Non-REM (NREM). NREM sleep is how we sleep the majority of the night,and results in lowered heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, etc. REM sleep is typically the period of time we dream; however, a study released in 2017 showed that dreams can occur in NREM sleep as well.Some individuals have compared sleeping to a dishwasher cycle for the brain where it cleans itself of toxic metabolic byproducts. What a reason to make sure that everyone get the best sleep they can.
Lack of sleep can also affect an individual on a genetic level. Insufficient sleep alters gene expression and influences inflammatory balance, brain function, and neural plasticity. It also changes gene transcription responsible for regulating the circadian rhythm thus compounding the effects of sleep deprivation.
50-70 million Americans suffer from some form of trouble sleeping, thus creating a need for over the counter medications and prescription only medications. Many of these medications are not without serious side effects so its best to go over options with a medical professional.
Individuals can struggle with sleep anxiety or just worrying about the idea of trying to fall asleep at night with the fear that they will be unable to. Many individuals don't realize that lifestyle choices can impact sleep or produce better sleep.
In this new technology era many individuals look at some type of screen a majority of the day whether it be a computer, cell phone, or television. In a society of raising costs, other individuals neglect sleep in order to continue to providing for themselves or those who depend on them.
Practicing good sleep habits can make a large impact on returning to a normal sleep pattern. Ideally, an individual will want to aim for 8 hours of sleep per night. Here are other great ways to improve your sleep.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Have a relaxing nighttime routine (that does not involve screens).
- Do not eat or drink within 2 hours of going to bed.
- Stop screens (phones, laptops, television) for 1-2 hours before bed.
- Avoid alcohol or stimulants in the evening.
- Get regular exercise and have daily exposure to natural light first thing in the morning.
Nutrients and Herbs to Support Sleep
While learning to implement these sleep hygiene habits, nutrients and herbs can offer support. Below are a few of the most common and popular ingredients in sleep products. Most of these herb or roots are added together to improve each other's effects.
Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain at night/ darkness. It is created through the serotonin pathway. Melatonin primarily supports the natural sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is non-addictive, has a short half-life, and helps people fall asleep. It is beneficial because it does not have a negative feedback to the natural production of endogenous melatonin.Individuals who struggle with sleep including those with jet lag or sleep issues associated with shift work may benefit from melatonin.
Tryptophan – Tryptophan which many of us know from turkey, can cause sleepiness. Tryptophan is a precursor of serotonin, and serotonin is a precursor to melatonin. Similarly, 5-HTP is used because it is the derivative of tryptophan and the direct precursor to serotonin and subsequently melatonin. 5-HTP is generally dosed at 50-100 mg, while tryptophan is usually dosed at 500-1000 mg or more.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea leaves. It helps support relaxation and is ideal for people who are looking for quality sleep. L-theanine promotes a relaxed feeling and decreases beta brain waves which stimulate an excited state. L-theanine is not a sedative but promotes good quality sleep through reducing anxiety.
Valerian root has been used for centuries as a known herb for sleep. Valerian binds to GABA A receptors in the brain. The volatile oils can also inhibit degradation of GABA, keeping it around longer in the brain. GABA acts as an “inhibitory neurotransmitter” and acts to increase feelings of relaxation and calmness. Healthy levels of GABA promote and protect sound and restful sleep.
Skullcap is from the mint family and supports a calming and relaxing effect on the body. It can be used throughout the day in lower doses to support nervous system balance, or in higher doses in the evening to support normal healthy sleep. If you are feeling wired but tired, many herbalists recommend this.
Lemon balm is a lemon-scented herb from the mint family used for its calming effects and to support relaxation and healthy sleep. In some studies there is benefits for cardiovascular support.
Magnolia affects the GABA A receptor and supports healthy sleep. Magnolia bark has been shown to help modulate cortisol production and therefore is used in nighttime formulas to support healthy HPA axis function and sleep.
Passionflower is a gentle herb for sleep issues, though best used in combination with other herbs. It binds to GABA A receptors and may be helpful for people feeling stressed with their daily life that are affecting their ability to sleep. This herb can also be used throughout the day to help support calmness and relaxation.
These herbs and roots are often combined in formulas to work together to support sound sleep. All of these substances are considered safe and effective. Individuals may experience different effects as each person has different needs.
Dosing will depend on the individual but oftentimes it is best to take with dinner as it can take 3 to 4 hours to show an effect on cortisol. An individual will want to attempt different dosing schedules to see what works best for them.
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