Chronic sleep debt may cause heart disease, obesity, stroke, or diabetes. Here’s how to get better quality sleep!
One of my favorite subjects to support people with is how to optimize your sleep and wind down from a stressful day – and share key supplements and practices to prepare the body & mind to relaxation.
My first piece of advice is to get on a regular sleep schedule every day and give your body the minimum number of hours needed for rest. Most humans thrive on 6-8 hours per night. If you get too little sleep, you got into “sleep debt” which is kind of like being overdrawn at the bank. Now, why is this concerning?
Studies have shown that chronic sleep debt may raise the risk of heart disease, obesity, stroke, and diabetes. Even more concerning, researchers have found that, under certain conditions, disturbed sleep can alter the expression of your genes. Now, when it comes to sleep debt, the amount of sleep you need will increase if you’ve been depriving yourself.
Brain health, cognition, attention span, memory, and motor skills are also all affected by chronic sleep deficit. Now, the good news is that there ARE specific foods and nutrients that have been shown to improve both relaxation and sleep:
This specific varietal of cherry is high in melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone secreted at night by the pineal gland in the center of our brain to help regulate our circadian rhythms. There’s also a phytonutrient in cherries with anti-inflammatory effects on par with drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen.
Not only are almonds good for your heart because of their magnesium content, but also since they contain tryptophan and melatonin to help your body relax and help you sleep.
Each tasty bite of banana contains melatonin and serotonin to make you sleepy, as well as magnesium (see a theme here?) which is a natural muscle relaxant and helps to calm the central nervous system.
Commonly known as 5-HTP—is a compound made naturally in the body. 5-HTP is created as a by-product of the amino acid L-tryptophan. Our bodies don’t make L-tryptophan naturally—we absorb this essential amino acid from the foods we eat.
So, how exactly does 5-HTP work? 5-HTP helps the body to produce more serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating mood and sleep-wake cycles. Healthy levels of serotonin contribute to a positive mood and outlook and also promote restful sleep.
Serotonin also plays an important role in many other of the body’s functions, including digestion, appetite, and pain perception. Serotonin influences sleep and sleep-wake cycles in many ways, and scientists continue to make discoveries about how this important neurochemical affects our sleeping and waking lives. One important way serotonin affects sleep and bio time is through its relationship with the “sleep hormone” melatonin.
Melatonin is made from serotonin in the presence of darkness. (Remember, melatonin production in the body is triggered by darkness and suppressed by exposure to natural and artificial light.) Healthy serotonin levels are essential for maintaining healthy melatonin levels—and both serotonin and melatonin are critical to sleep and a well-functioning bio clock. With its ability to increase serotonin, 5-HTP supports a neurochemical process that can enable high-quality sleep and keep the body’s bio clock in sync.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) was discovered in 1950 and has since been recognized as the dominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. I like to call it the "chill" neurotransmitter as GABA's main benefits are calm, relaxation, and stress reduction. Think of it this way, GABA is the opposite of your excitatory neurotransmitters (i.e., adrenaline). Excitatory neurotransmitters in excess can lead to anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness.
Taking a GABA supplement can be beneficial in helping you get not only more sleep per night but a deeper, more regenerative sleep cycle. The deep sleep stage of our sleep cycle is also known as delta sleep. This is a vitally important stage because it’s where much of the highest-quality sleep occurs. It’s especially important because this is when the body decreases both cortisol (the stress hormone) and inflammation.
Also known as the “master mineral,” magnesium participates in an astonishing number of chemical processes in the body. It’s found in high concentrations in cacao, pumpkin seeds, avocados, cashews, tofu, lentils, beans, bananas, and dark leafy green vegetables. Magnesium helps to reduce stress, promote calm in the nervous system, improve blood flow to the heart (and other organs) and assist with deeper sleep. Another big benefit is magnesium helps strengthen bones, as it assures the strength and firmness of bones and makes teeth harder. Most notably, adequate magnesium is absolutely essential for absorption and metabolism of calcium.
Kava is a small shrub grown in the Pacific islands, mainly Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, and Hawaii. Islanders have used kava plants for centuries in social rituals, religious ceremonies and for medicinal purposes. The root and stump of the plant are ground down and made into a natural beverage. When consumed, the effect of the active ingredients in the kava plant is psychological and physiological relaxation.
The active ingredients in kava root, kavalactones, affect the brain’s limbic system. Within the limbic system is the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for regulating feelings of fear and anxiety. The kavalactones in kava have been shown to bind to the receptors in the amygdala, and this is thought to be the reason why kava calms the mind and generates feelings of an improved sense of wellbeing – perfect for getting to sleep.
Chamomile is an herb that has been used for centuries, dating back to ancient Egypt, to treat a number of issues. More recently, in 2009, there was a study funded by the Center for Natural and Complementary Medicine that reviewed the effectiveness of chamomile tea in patients who were diagnosed with anxiety. Long story short, this herb was found to reduce stress and anxiety.
But what about sleep? Well, if you’re anxious or stress do you think you’re going to sleep well? Probably not! This is why it’s recommended that you drink a glass of this tea before bedtime to help relax your body.
Passionflower is a climbing shrub native to the tropical parts of the United States that produces a beautiful, delicate flower that develops into a large, fleshy fruit. Traditional herbalists enjoy a number of passionflower benefits, using it, for example, as a sleep aid, especially when patients complained of restlessness and interrupted sleep due to exhaustion.
Recent clinical trials using passionflower show it is also one of the most valuable and effective herbal anxiety remedies in addition to its usefulness in improving sleep and treating insomnia.
I also want to quickly share my top lifestyle practices and bio-hacks for improving your sleep hygiene. Here we go:
- Stop using electronic devices at least 1 hour before bedtime
- put up blackout shades in your bedroom
- use blue blocker glasses
- use lavender essential oil in a diffuser
- unplug all your Wi-Fi enabled devices in your home
- use a grounding blanket, which mimics the same energy current as standing on the bare earth
- take Sunwarrior's Nighttime Bundle with Hemp and Ionic Magnesium to help calm and nourish
With the right foods and conscious supplement usage, combined with some of my top sleep hacks, you’ll be set for some seriously sound snoozin’ in no time!