I feel like I’ve written about sleep so many times over the period of being a naturopath, but it’s still absolutely relevant to good health and I’m seeing so many more people with disrupted sleep patterns struggling to get off to sleep or on sleeping tablets.
Are you burning the midnight oil, burning the candle from both ends, up half the night finishing off that presentation or watching just one more episode on Netflix? Well, it’s time to take sleep, one of the least expensive things you can do as an important aspect of your health routine.
I like to think of health as a pie, with each slice representing the aspects of our lifestyle that give you good health. Diet, exercise, sunlight, work, mindset, relationships, sleep, all being parts of my pie with key things you need to do that help to keep balance. Sleep is totally under-appreciated in our modern world as being important for health, but maybe if you aren’t going to bed early I can now finally persuade you to.
Let’s get this clear without sleep the body really can not function efficiently, you can pretend you can, a bit like the person who tells me that they work best under pressure and stress. It’s shown that this really isn’t the case, performance drops, and accidents increase. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to insulin resistance, so those of you struggling to lose weight should look closely at your sleeping patterns and start to bring them back in line and go to bed before 11 pm. You are more likely to want to eat unhealthy fats and sugary sweet foods and heavier carbohydrates the following day after a late night or one of disrupted sleeping patterns. It’s interesting that weight increases, and sleep issues have all increased since we are so sedentary, when we were more active we had fewer sleep issues. But now with sleeping pills being a billion pound industry worldwide, we do more sitting than ever in our jobs and less activity. Making movement a part of your day could be very helpful for those of you who are struggling to get off to sleep in the first place.
But most worrying in research carried out shows that sleep deprivation can lead to the cleansing process that the brain goes into at night, moving into overtime when we are deprived of sleep. A bit like a cleaner coming in and not only cleaning and dusting but then ramping it up and clearing out your house, the activity of the cleansing of the cells increases in ways that really isn’t helpful for long term good brain health. Astrocytes, which are there to help prune up the synapses that helps to with the wiring of the brain, were seen to increase their activity when deprived of sleep. Effectively they are breaking down the connections in the brain and the astrocytes are eating synapses because of loss of sleep rather than just for cleaning up purposes. Microglial cells are also shown to become more active with less sleep, this is implicated in Alzheimer’s Disease as well as other forms of neurodegeneration. I’m seeing increasing amounts of memory issues in clients, and sleep could be a way of aiding the resolution of this.
Often when we are struggling to get to sleep or are more stressed we turn to alcohol in the evening to help us relax, but this reduces REM sleep, so you are less likely to get the depth of sleep you need for recovery. Avoid drinking each night and ideally stop 90 minutes before bed if you are having a drink.
If you tend to wake between 1 am and 3 am this is the liver meridian time in the Chinese Medicine philosophy, considering what could be overloading your liver could be helpful, look at your diet, but also your hydration levels.
I know lots of you now are doing HIIT but doing this 2 hours before bed can affect your sleep, because at a time when you should be calming the body down getting ready for sleep you are waking it right up!
Valerian is a sleep-promoting herb that can be used for those suffering from insomnia or struggling to get off to sleep. Plant’s often have more than one variety, and valerian is no different with over 200 types. Given to soldiers during World War 1 for anxiety, in World War 2 it was used to relieve stress from air raids, this herb has been used though since Greek and Roman times, with Hippocrates even documenting its sedative use.
I feel we have forgotten these simple herbs which can be so helpful and be a good alternative from sleeping medications with their inevitable side effects.
Before turning to medications and supplemental products always look at what you are doing in the day that could be disrupting your sleep, we take in a lot of stimulants now often without realising it. Energy drinks, too much caffeine, too much sugar, late-night eating and being on devices until late are all a factor in keeping you up later and preventing you from sleeping.
You can buy Valerian as a tea or in tincture form Nutrivital Valerian a gentle mix suitable for use with no herbal knowledge from The Natural Dispensary. If you are overtired or are on a second wind trying to get back to sleep then this product potentially isn’t for you because it can wake you back up again.
Contraindicated with pregnancy, breastfeeding, sleeping medication, benzodiazepines, barbiturates or central nervous system (CNS) depressants, St. John’s wort, kava, and melatonin. Act sensibly please and try the lifestyle and dietary changes before introducing herbs.