We all love sleep and most of all we need sleep! And when we don’t get enough sleep, we start to feel lousy. Low energy, brain fog and even over-eating are results of not getting enough sleep.
So, what does sleep look like and why is it so important?
Why Rest is So Important
Let’s start by talking about the body.
The body is a system made up of other systems that all work together harmoniously.
When these systems work together our body is in homeostasis. Our body likes to be here. Everything operates with ease. As a result, you feel great!
Therefore, when you don’t feel great, that is a sign that something is out of balance and homeostasis has been disrupted.
This disruption has a domino effect, meaning more than one system will start to feel the disruption unless we bring it back to balance. If this balance is not brought back we continue down the path of other systems starting to fail and our state of ease moves to dis-ease. This imbalance is the cause of almost all diseases!
How Much Rest Do You Really Need?
When we talk about sleep, and what is impacted by a lack of, science shows that brain function, body weight, digestive health and muscle recovery are just a few examples.
The minimum amount of sleep that is needed is 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep. In a world of constant stimulus and stress, this can sometimes be hard to accomplish. However, anything less can be detrimental to your health.
What system is directly affected by poor sleep? The HPA axis and within that system, let’s talk about the adrenal glands.
If you are having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, there is a good chance that the adrenal glands and their correlating hormone cortisol are stressed and therefore not functioning properly. Cortisol has many purposes, but for this review we view it as a mild adrenaline which helps to wake the body up, ideally in the morning.
When this malfunction occurs, the adrenals eventually cannot provide the proper amount of cortisol to wake you up in the morning. So what do most people start their day with? Coffee! They need that shot of caffeine to get going because there isn’t enough cortisol to make it happen.
The problem with caffeine, is that this stresses the adrenals even more, not allowing the adrenals to recover. Therefore, resulting in poor quality sleep. Now you end up in this cycle of not sleeping well, grabbing caffeine and repeat.
Great, so what does this have to do with all the different symptoms you experience? Cortisol in ratio to its counterpart DHEA needs to be in balance because this balance affects the nervous system, all the metabolisms, detoxification pathways, thyroid function, inflammation and musculoskeletal health.
When this system is out of balance, that domino effect hits all those other systems causing symptoms and health issues in areas you may not even think are related. Like those headaches you never had before or your sudden allergy to beef.
What can you do to start recovering and get better sleep?
1. Stick to a schedule
Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same times to help your circadian rhythm get back on track. Our system, especially the adrenals, do most of their recharging between 10PM-2AM. However, those first two hours before midnight are twice as important compared to the two hours after midnight. in other words, the two hours before midnight are the same as four hours after midnight!
2. Watch what you eat
Pay attention to what you eat. Eat a low glycemic diet. Ups and downs throughout the day can disrupt your cortisol pattern which may translate to a rough night’s sleep. Alcohol can have the same effect, so be mindful about that glass of wine and how often you are drinking. If you are still having caffeine (which hopefully you see why you shouldn’t now) be aware that the effects can take up to 12 hours to wear off for some people.
3. Sleep in a bat cave
Sleep in a cold, dark room. Ideally, you want the temperature to be between 60-67 degrees. The body naturally wants to be cooler when initiating and staying asleep. Sleeping in an already cool room assists the body to fall asleep faster. Keep the room dark! Melatonin responds to dark or night. Therefore, if you have light coming into your room, this will prevent melatonin from being produced at high enough levels to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
4. Unplug earlier
Turn off all electronics 90 minutes before bed. For the same reason, you want your room dark, turning off electronics has the same effect. Most TVs, smartphones, and computer screens emit a blue light. What color is the sky? Blue. The correlation is that blue light inhibits melatonin production. I recommend using a program called F.Lux. This is a free program that will change the color of the light being emitted on your computer screen correlating to the time of day.
5. Try eating more carbs
Try eating carbs at dinner. I know that carbs get a bad name, especially at dinner, but they do increase serotonin production as well as melatonin. Both are needed to help the body relax and get ready for sleep. Now, don’t go having an ice cream sundae! Complex carbs like sweet potatoes or rice should do the trick. If you’re on a low-carb diet, you can try some simpler sugar carbs like a modest dessert.
Supplements are a great way to help initiate the sleep cycle and relax the nervous system. Magnesium is my favorite mineral. Magnesium has been shown to assist the body in relaxing and improve the quality of sleep. Over 80% of us are already deficient so I recommend this anyway. Try 400-600mg to start of a chelated form of magnesium. If you can find a combination of glycinate and taurate that would be best. Start with a minimum dose and work your way up as magnesium can have a laxative effect.
5-HTP is the precursor to melatonin so this would be a good one to start with as there won’t be a dependence of the body. Start with 50-100mg an hour before bed.
Melatonin is your last resort. Because this is a hormone, you want to be careful with how much you use as your body could become dependent and then no longer make its own. You don’t need much for a positive effect. Start with 1mg an hour before. More is not always better.
Rich Jacobs is a Board Certified Integrative and Functional Nutrition Practitioner who specializes in resolving gut, insomnia, low libido, fatigue and fat issues. He uses a holistic approach and functional lab work to identify root causes such as hormone imbalances or gut pathogens that could be impacting your health.