March 8-14th is Sleep Health Awareness week. Sleep is a foundational element for your physical and mental wellness. In this article, I will be sharing why it’s important to get quality sleep. What are some common causes for disrupted sleep and what nutrients and foods supports sleep?
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
There is no simple answer to this question. The amount of sleep for an average healthy adult (18-65) is about 7-9 hours, older adults need about 7-8 hours, but individual need is dependent on your age, activity level, sleep quality, and your current state of health. A good way to check whether you could benefit from getting support for sleep is by tracking your sleep pattern over 1-2 weeks, and asking some of the following questions:
How do you feel when you get up in the morning? Do you feel motivated to get up, or does it take some time for you to feel awake?
Does anyone complain about snoring or restlessness?
Do you feel sleepy during the day?
How much caffeine do you need to get through the day?
What Happens To Your Body When You Sleep?
Important renewal and repair occurs when your body goes into the deeper stages of sleep. Here are some benefits of deep sleep:
Neuroscientists found that brain cells are more effective at getting rid of toxins while you sleep compared to waking hours. This is because much of the brain’s cells are used to engage with the outside world. Recent studies suggest beta amyloid, a main component of amyloid plaque associated with Alzherimer’s, decreases as we sleep and increases as we stay awake.
Harvard Mental Health researchers found that sleep disruption is not just a symptom of mental health issues, but can be a key contributor to mental disorders. Sleep disruptions affect the levels of cortisol, adrenaline and neurotransmitters in the body, which affect cognitive function and mood balance.
Research suggests deprived individuals are more likely to overindulge in sweet, salty and fatty foods. Even worse, sleep deprivation even just for a day can alter our perception of hunger by decreasing leptin (satiety hormone) and increase ghrelin (hunger hormone) levels.
Your immune system produces chemical messengers called cytokines while you sleep, training your immune system to protect the body from cancer and other infectious diseases.
While you are asleep, your liver is hard at work clearing toxins from our body. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine’s Body Clock, you should be ideally in deep sleep during 2-3 am as the liver does the cleansing.
During sleep, our blood vessels dilate and our heart rates slow down. These processes are very restorative for the cardiovascular system.
Performance & Energy
Deeper stages of sleep (stage 3+4) help to reduce physical and mental fatigue and provide your body with renewed energy. Not being able to get quality sleep might make you feel drowsy when you wake up and foggy during the day.
What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep
What Causes Disrupted Sleep: Let's Get To The Bottom
From my experience working with clients, there are a few reasons people have trouble getting quality zzz’s.
Can’t Fall Asleep
Adrenal function affects how much stress hormone is produced and when. When the body is in the adrenal alarm stage, our body copes by over-producing stress hormone cortisol. This explains why some people get a second wind in the evening and find it hard to quiet their minds for bedtime.
This type of sleep disruption is caused by artificially changing the body’s circadian rhythm, a natural internal schedule that regulates our sleep/wake cycle. Shift work, working or engaging with electronic devices till bedtime can be extremely disruptive to this inner clock.
Waking Up In The Middle of Night
My clients often fall into one or both of the following categories:
- Our brain is vigilant in protecting us from blood sugar dips while we sleep. Reactive low blood sugar at night is something our brain can detect and sends signals such as adrenaline and cortisol to wake us up at night.
- Adrenal health is another factor in sleep maintenance. Stress can disrupt our body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, causing the body to have high levels of cortisol at night. Clients often feel tired and wired when the adrenals won’t allow the body to calm down.
Foods That Help You Sleep
When it comes to having a good night sleep, your body needs these nutrients to support sleep hormone production
Vitamin B3 helps with mitochondria energy production, allowing our cells to turn food into energy more effectively. When needed, this vitamin gets converted to 5-HTP, serotonin and melatonin which has a significant impact on mood and sleep.
Good food sources of B3: Chicken, turkey, salmon, lamb, organic wheat germ and brown rice
B6 produces raw material for sleep hormone melatonin and feel-good hormone serotonin.
Good food sources of B6 include sunflower seeds, turkey, salmon, sweet potato and spinach.
Inositol is important for sleep maintenance as it helps to balance blood sugar and promote feelings of calmness due to its ability to repair cell membranes and impact neurotransmitters in the brain.
Good food sources in inositol: eggs, quinoa, wild rice, chickpeas and lentils.
Having a meal with complete protein supplies the body with raw building blocks for 5-HTP which will get activated with the B vitamins to become the sleep time hormone, melatonin.
Good food sources of tryptophan: chicken, turkey, salmon, lobster, white beans, oat bran, buckwheat, non-GMO organic tempeh or tofu
Natural Supplements That Help You Sleep
It's commonly known as the sleep hormone but it also provides antioxidant protection for brain cells. Take this at least 30min before you sleep and try 1mg at a time to find what’s the right amount for you. The right dose should not make you feel groggy in the morning.
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter which reduces the chatter between your nerve cells, providing relaxing effects. Research suggests people with chronic insomnia have about 30% less GABA in their brains.
Valeriana Officinalis helps to increase GABA levels in the brain and also has soothing actions for pain that’s related to tension.
Chamomile is great for digestion, immune, pain and also acts on the GABA receptor complex in the central nervous system.
This mineral is ‘nature’s tranquilizer’ and its relaxing benefits for the muscle and mind are maximized through the bisglycinate form.
Making sleep a priority is key to your well-being. Hope this article is informative. If you would like to discuss more one-on-one please see me information below.
Disclaimer: This article is written for informational use only. Please seek medical advice from a qualified healthcare practitioner to determine what is the best course of action for you.
Tahlia Sage is the founder of Tahlia Sage Wellness and a partner of Healing House Natural Wellness, and instructor at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition.
Her coaching practice helps clients achieve their wellness goals by embracing functional foods and healthy lifestyle changes. Tahlia’s own health challenges and weight issues prompted her to pursue an education in nutritional science and holistic nutrition. Tahlia empowers her clients to regain balance with easy, concrete steps.
Disclaimer: If you are pregnant or suffer from any illness, please seek advice from your healthcare provider regarding safe exercise practices. This article is for information purposes only.