SLEEP – Are You Getting Enough?

I have found that there are very few things in life that beat a lazy morning sleep-in with no alarm clock! Living a modern, hectic lifestyle, I find that sleep can be a wonderful restorative, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. The more we learn about sleep, the brain, and overall health, the more essential sleep seems.

Recent data shows that the average sleep time for adults is now under 6hrs per night. This same study suggested that adults need between 7 – 7.5 hours of undisturbed sleep to wake up refreshed!

The effects of lack of sleep on overall health are broad. Sleep is vital for the processes of learning and memory, cellular repair and brain development. On the flip side it has been found that poor sleep is:

  • inflammatory
  • increases the risk of cardiovascular, neurological, and metabolic problems.
  • impairs memory, destroys ability to focus and alertness,
  • slows cognition,
  • impairs your emotional ability to cope with life’s challenges.

Using MRIs scientists have been able to visually compare the brains of people who are sleep deprived with people who aren’t and can pinpoint the differences in brain structure!

I find sleeping problems regularly occur in patients, and, that by treating sleeping problems people get results more quickly. This is three tips I find have found really help.

Reduce Cortisol Levels

One of the biggest problems in getting to sleep is elevated cortisol levels. I often find when I check patients cortisol levels, that sleep problems and high cortisol go hand in hand.

The balance between cortisol and melatonin is the major influence in controlling our circadian rhythms. As cortisol goes up, melatonin production slows and you become more alert. It’s what your body does naturally to get you out of bed in the morning! Particularly if you wake naturally, before your alarm goes off!

It’s probably no surprise that stress can easily ruin this delicate balance. Constant stress from work, life, and relationships keeps cortisol levels elevated, disrupting melatonin production and, preventing and delaying sleep onset.

While one solution might be to increase melatonin via supplementation I have found the better approach being to support the adrenal glands and improve stress resilience.

High levels of cortisol deplete magnesium and supplementation is important during times of stress. Magnesium levels are found to be low in those who suffer from insomnia and this mineral has a well defined role in supporting the nervous system and as a muscle relaxant.

Allow 30 Minutes Between Screen Time & Bed Time

Much like stress, another cause of poor melatonin production is computer and phone screens.

As devices have gotten smaller, e-readers, ebooks, and Facebook have all made their way into the bed room. Facebook’s data scientists have said that it is the first screen many people look at when they wake up and the last one they look at before they go to bed. If you are more literary minded, Pew Research found that nearly 40% of people who read a book were likely to be reading an e-book.

The bright light and illumination of screens right before sleep is highly stimulating and disruptive to your natural circadian rhythms interfering with melatonin production.

I always recommend not taking your devices to the bedroom with you and allow 30 minutes between screen time and bed time.

Make Sure Your Liver Is Functioning Well

Both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Herbal Medicine place great emphasis on the role of the liver in sleep. I find this verified in the clinic and often see poor liver function or liver stress accompanying anyone affected by sleep disorders.

If you’re having problems sleeping it’s important to look at supporting liver function by:

  • Reducing or eliminating the intake of alcohol
  • Undertaking a detoxification program to help reduce toxic load
  • Reduce the amount of carbohydrates consumed in the diet
  • Taking a herbal liver support formula, with herbs such as milk thistle.

I really can’t stress enough the importance of having a healthy liver for good sleep.