Insomnia is defined as a person’s inability to fall asleep, stay asleep or a condition when a person wakes up too early. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that approximately 30% of people have insomnia and at least 10% of those individuals have symptoms such as fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances and decreased performance. I would predict this number to have risen over the past year quite substantially. I will also add that in my practice, I see a lot of athletes that certainly realize the relationship between poor performance and their quality of sleep.
If we look at the big picture, out of the 320 Million people living in the United States, we can assume that at least over 100 Million have difficulty sleeping. That makes this into what I call a “Poor Sleep Epidemic” and what I believe to be the most insidious and prevalent cause of poor health in our country. The reasons are massive in number, but I would suggest that the primary cause of insomnia is what we all know to be “modern day stress”. So what are some things we can do with our nutrition to reduce stress??
The first way is to utilize God’s natural resources from around the world and put quality nutrients into our body. This would mean eating high quality fish and lean meats, lots of green leafy colored vegetables and a reasonable amount of nuts and fresh fruit. I believe in total moderation when it comes to grains and actually limit my grain intake (rice, oats, barley, etc) to only about one or two servings per day. We also need to cut-out deep fried foods, reduce sugar in our diets, eliminate most if not all artificial flavorings and sweeteners and learn to eat in moderation. We can also take supplements that have been shown to reduce mental stress and improve the physical relaxation of our bodies. Since our mind seems to be the biggest expressed factor that most of my patients have the most difficulty “turning off,” I suggest that we utilize the key nutrients that have shown to be most effective at relaxation and take them about an hour before your bedtime. So here are a few nutrients that I would put at the top of my list of suggested vitamins, Minerals and Herbs:
- Melatonin: This natural hormone is mostly considered to help you go to sleep, not keep you asleep. It is regarded as the hormone that helps regulate your sleep and wake cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm. It seems to be especially good at getting you back into cycle after you experience jet lag. Your body uses about .5 milligrams per night so you don’t need to use very high doses to be effective (I wouldn’t suggest over 2 or 3 mgs). Some sleep specialists warn folks that perhaps regular use may “desensitize your receptors” and that perhaps that prolonged use may actually require your body to need to produce more over time to compensate. Other possible issues may involve Its interaction with blood thinners, immunosuppressants, diabetes meds and birth control pills. Therefore, you may be well advised to ask your doctor about use of this hormone, especially if you are taking any of these medications. In my opinion, the risks and benefits could certainly use more research but for now, melatonin seems to be a very good natural substance to help you to fall asleep, especially if only used for occasional insomnia.
- Passion Flower: A very good plant extract that appears to reduce stress and tension of the body.
- Valerian Root: Another good plant extract geared for muscle relaxation and improved sleep.
- Magnesium: A very good and important mineral that helps to relieve muscle tension and overall body relaxation. This is found in high concentrations in Flax Seed (ground) which I personally take daily.
- Chamomile Tea: An excellent tea for relaxation before bedtime. Use two or three bags per cup and be sure to bring water to a boil and steep for several minutes to retain all the natural oils in your serving. It has been around for thousands of years and appears to be at the top of most lists when it comes to providing wonderful relaxation 30 to 60 minutes before you retire.
- Chinese Skull Cap: Another great herb that helps as an antioxidant and to help regulate the overall health of your central nervous system.
- Kava: A member of the pepper family that has shown to reduce anxiety in some people. I would be a bit careful with this herb there have been some warnings that if combined with alcohol or other liver intensive drugs such as cholesterol meds that in combination, may over tax your liver. So be sure and consult your doctor before adding this herb into your diet.
- B vitamins such as B3, B5, B6 and B12: All very good for energy production and stabilization.
- Omega 3: The “good” essential fatty acids found in fish oils (EPA, DHA and ALA) and now Krill . They seem to help reduce inflammation, improve insulin sensitively and improve muscle growth. They also are on the list of good oils to help people maintain better sleep which most likely relates to their role in maintaining optimal functioning of our nervous system.
Of course, as I started writing about in the beginning of this article, there are many, many factors that affect sleep and produce what I am calling the “Poor Sleep Epidemic”. Another major factor in creating quality sleep involves the pillows and mattresses that we sleep upon. As a spine specialist for over 31 years, I have gone to great lengths to find the perfect materials that support and comfort your body throughout the night. Please look into my patented cervical pillows that keep your head and neck in the perfect alignment throughout the night at PILLO1.com and also see my new line of mattresses called JUSTSLEEPbeds.com. You will find that each will provide you with the optimal comfort and support to optimize the most precious resource of our health, good SLEEP!