“Sleep is your life-support system” - Matthew Walker, Sleep Scientist
Sleep is vital for our physical and mental well being. It is an essential component of human health that impacts our learning, memory, immune system, stress management, motor skills and even our genetic code! Every living organism on the planet needs sleep, yet millions of us suffer from a lack of it and experience adverse knock on effects in our day to day life.
According to sleep specialists, it is the quality of sleep that matters, not so much the quantity. But what does quality sleep actually mean? According to Bruce Forman, PhD, a Florida-based psychologist, quality sleep happens when our brains and body experience a healthy balance of both REM sleep and non-REM sleep. In this scenario our sleep is restful and restorative and we wake up feeling refreshed.
When we sleep, we experience four different sleep stages. These are cycles of about 90minutes, and are important to our health in equal measure. The first stage is known as non-REM sleep, a light sleep where we doze off. We then slip into another light sleep in the second phase, moving into a deep sleep in the third phase, commonly known as slow-wave sleep, where your brain waves are about 10 times slower than normal. This is where our body repairs and our immune system strengthens. We then reach the final stage of the cycle, our deepest sleep yet. In this stage we experience Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep where we start to dream and our brain activity is almost as busy as when we are awake and alert. According to Ruth Varkovitzky, Phd, licensed clinical psychologist, REM sleep “helps with consolidation of learning, memory as well as emotional processing”.
Getting good quality shut eye can be a real challenge for many people. Our modern day lives present physical and emotional stresses from a multitude of inputs such as work, family life, travel, medical issues and over-stimulation from technology. This stress and anxiety can significantly impact the quality of our sleep.
So how can we make sure we are getting quality sleep naturally? Try all our suggestions in our previous article "The Importance of Sleep."
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MEDITATION, SOUTH BATH & BINAURAL BEATS
Meditating before bedtime is a wonderful way to properly unwind. The health benefits of meditation are well known to reduce stress, pain, anxiety, whilst improving concentration, memory, and sleep. If you are new to meditating we recommend downloading the app “Headspace” or trying “Soundbaths” and “Binaural Beats”.
Sound baths are sessions of different instrumental sounds that elevate you to a state of inner peace. Try listening with headphones before bed to Sound Bath, or attending a live sound bath session in your neighbourhood at the end of the day.
According to Deborah Weatherspoon, Phd, in Healthline Magazine, Binaural Beats are considered auditory illusions operating on frequencies less than 1000Hz with a difference in tones no more than 30 Hz. Binaural beats in the delta (1 to 4 Hz) range have been associated with deep sleep and relaxation. Those in the the theta (4 to 8 Hz) range are linked to REM sleep, reduced anxiety, relaxation, as well as meditative and creative states. The Binaural beats in the alpha frequencies (8 to 13 Hz) are thought to encourage relaxation, promote positivity, and decrease anxiety whilst the Binaural beats in the lower beta frequencies (14 to 30 Hz) have been linked to to increased concentration and alertness, problem solving, and improved memory.
A small study (19 people) reported by Psychology Today found a 68% increase in DHEA, a 97% increase in Melatonin and a significant reduction of Cortisol after exposure to Binaural beats. These three hormones are essential to sleep and well-being.
You can find Binaural Beats Playlists on Spotify.
Olly Sleep Supplement, $14.00 at Olly.com; ZZZZ's Sleep Supplement, $29.00 at Formnutriton.com; Netflix's Headspace Guide to Sleep at Netflix.com; Prescription Ambien, consult your physician at Ambien.com; Melatonin Time Release 5mg, $25.00 at Amazon.com; OTO CBD Botanical Seltzer, £11.00 at Otocbd.com; Lord Jones CBD Gummies, $50.00 at Lordjones.com
SUPPLEMENTS TO AID QUALITY SLEEP
Disclaimer: Always consult your doctor before using any supplements.
Melatonin is a natural hormone found in the body that helps control sleep cycles and our internal body clock. Melatonin levels naturally rise in the evening, signalling your body to prepare for sleep, and fall in the morning when it is time to wake up. According to Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., C.B.S.M., “Less is more”, with the recommendation to take 1 to 3 milligrams two hours before bedtime and keep the lights low and the temperature cool for optimal sleep results. This can help with short term insomnia and shifts in bedtime related to jetlag or work schedules. It is advised to stop after a week if your sleep is not improving, and if it is, the recommendation is to use it for no more than one to two months.
Can you use melatonin with children? Experts generally agree that more research is needed. However, serveral studies indicate that children with sleeping difficulties fall asleep quicker and for longer periods after taking melatonin.
Are there any sideaffects? Short term use of melatonin has relatively low side effects with the most common one being drowiness, headaches and dizziness whilst children can experience dizziness and increased bed wetting. There is not enough research to know the long term effects.
Magnesium is a nutrient responsible for over 300 processes in our body. It plays a role in muscle and nerve function, is involved in regulating blood pressure and blood sugar, and even helps build bones and DNA. It is also thought to help you sleep better! According to the Sleep Foundation, additional magnesium plays an important role in sleep regulation, and lack of magnesium can negatively impact sleep. Common signs of magnesium deficiency are muscle weakness and tiredness, poor sleep quality and insomnia. Anxiety and depression also correlate with low magnesium levels, and both anxiety and depression can contribute to insomnia. Foods rich in magnesium are almonds, spinach, soy milk, peanut butter, avocado, eggs, milk, yogurt and bananas. It is recommended that supplements are taken 30 minutes before bed (up to 310 milligrams a day).
CBD & CBN
CBD is one of the most studied cannabinoids, commonly used to reduce chronic pain, anxiety and as a sleep aid. It is a cannabinoid derived from hemp, and unlike the cannabinoid THC, CBD does not have psychoactive properties and does not create dependency or risk of abuse. According to the Sleep Foundation, when it comes to the dosage, it is difficult to get it right for the best sleep benefits. Research has shown that too little can be stimulating, whilst a lot can be sedating. In general it is thought that CBD has positive results with reducing anxiety, and the anxiety associated with insomnia. There are currently numerous studies being conducted on the impact and effectiveness of CBD and insomnia, as well as CBD and other medical issues. In time, we will be able to access how important this cannabinoid might be.
CBN is also a non psychoactive cannabinoid that comes from the breakdown of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC. It generally does not produce a high and is commonly marketed as a sleep aid. Often called “the sleepy cannabinol”, it is touted for helping you drift off to sleep faster and get you a long and restorative sleep without the grogginess associated with sleeping pills. CBN is believed to specifically bind with our CB2 receptors, which are expressed throughout the body (CB1 receptors are just in our brains). According to Dr Jaclyn Tolentino DO, a Parsley Health Los Angeles physician, that binding is reported to produce a pain-relieving effect which “may account for its reported benefit as a sleep aid”. Sleep HIll, a cannabis research and technology company report that 2.5mg to 5mg of CBN has the same level of sedation as a mild pharmaceutical sedative, with a relaxed body sensation similar to 5mg to 10mg of diazepam. However, sleep specialists caution that CBN must be taken in accordance with your sleep disorder, for example, it should not be used to treat sleep apnea.
Both CBN and CBD come in a variety of forms, from gummies to oils, tinctures, creams, lotions, capsules and pills. Regulation of CBD and CBN is limited and more research must be done to determine the exact effects it has on other physical and mental health concerns.
There are many more sleep-promoting supplements. The following list may promote quality sleep, but still require more scientific research.
- L- Theanine: This is an amino acid found primarily in green and black tea and some mushrooms. It is most known for helping people relax, reduce stress, insomnia and ease anxiety. L-theanine promotes relaxation and facilitates sleep and boosts levels of GABA and other brain chemicals.
- Lemon Balm: A member of the mint family and considered a calming herb. It contains chemicals that seem to have a sedative and calming effect, helping reduce stress, anxiety and insomnia; it might also reduce the growth of some viruses. Lemon balm is present in many sleep supplements, you can take it in oral capsules and tables in doses from 250mg - 500mg or in a tea form.
- Tryptophan: This is an essential amino acid that may help improve sleep quality. One study reports that doses as low as 1 gram per day may help you fall asleep quicker.
- Ginkgo Biloba: This is a natural herb that may help reduce stress, enhance relaxation and promote sleep. Studies recommend taking around 240mg 30-60 minutes before bedtime.
- Valerian Root: Valerian is a tall, flowering grassland plant in Asia and Europe that is commonly used in sleep-promoting supplements to improve sleep quality and sleep disorder symptoms in some people. Whilst there have been multiple studies conducted on the Valeriana officinalis, not all studies have shown Valerian root to be effective, and some have uncovered a number of side effects. Although considered fairly safe, the main side effects are headaches, dizziness and stomach problems. Mores studies are needed on the safety of long-term use.
- Lavender: Can be found on almost all continents, generating a soothing fragrance from its purple flowers that are believed to enhance sleep. Some studies show that by simply smelling lavender oil before going to sleep may be enough to improve sleep quality. It is recommended to take as aromatherapy, although you can ingest lavender capsules, but this may create stomach aches.
PRESCRIPTION SLEEP AIDS
If none of the above natural sleep aids work, it might be time to consult your doctor about a sleep aid like Ambien or Lunesta. You can also consider getting an evaluation at a sleep medicine center that is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
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