Stop Counting Sheep, 5 Nutritional Strategies to Support Sleep

A lot of us tend to take a good night sleep for granted. We have no problems with drifting off as soon as our head touches the pillow. Did you know that this is not the case for many people? In fact, some studies have suggested that insomnia could affect as much as 58% of the population. In our clinic, insomnia and other sleeping disorders are a major reason for coming to see a Naturopath.

If you’re having problems with sleep, rather than taking pharmaceutical drugs that can often lead to dependency, why not try some of these simple, nutritional, strategies.

Start taking a Magnesium Supplement

Magnesium deficiency is one of the most common mineral deficiencies. Not surprisingly, magnesium deficiency has been also been associated with both:

  • problems falling asleep, and,
  • light sleeping or constantly waking up during the night.

If you’re one of the many people that suffer from restless legs at night, magnesium supplementation is a good way to prevent this.

While the best sources of magnesium include leafy green vegetables, often reversing a magnesium deficiency requires the use of supplementation. In medical studies 200-300mg of Magnesium for 1-2 weeks resulted in improvement in sleep behavior.

Magnesium also plays an important role in nervous system function. For some particularly sensitive people, taking a magnesium supplement at night may exacerbate problems getting to sleep. Try to take magnesium supplementation in the morning and at lunch time rather than in the evening or right before bed.

Take a 5-HTP or Tryptophan supplement before bed.

One important class of chemicals involved in regulating sleep are neurotransmitters. Many pharmaceutical sleeping and anti-depressant medications work by altering levels of your bodies neurotransmitters. Two of these neurotransmitters that are widely used in promoting sleep are serotonin and melatonin.

In your body, serotonin and melatonin are produced from the dietary amino acid, or protein, tryptophan. If you have inadequate levels of tryptophan, your body will not be able to manufacture these neurotransmitters. This will lead to problems with sleep. Serotonin and melatonin deficiencies affect both your ability to get to sleep, and the overall quality of sleep.

There are many dietary sources of tryptophan including:

  • cheeses, particularly harder cheeses including swiss and parmesan,
    • some algae and seaweed products,
    • whey protein.

While soy beans and soy products are high in tryptophan we don’t typically recommend the use of soy products due to their highly allergenic nature.

Tryptophan supplementation is normally in the form of 5-HTP. In this form it is more readily converted to serotonin or melatonin. When using a 5-HTP supplement it is important to take these away from protein rich meals which can interfere with uptake.

The sale of Tryptophan and 5-HTP supplements in Australia is closely regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. If you feel that you would benefit from 5-HTP supplementation, talk to our Naturopath.

Take a B complex vitamin supplement daily

While you might normally think of the B Vitamin group as hang over medicine, they also are important in ensuring a good nights sleep.

  • Choline is needed for the production of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine improves your ability to maintain sleep and helps to prevent external stimulus from waking you up.
  • Vitamin B3, or Niacin, functions in the same way as benzodiazpans and has been shown to have a mildly tranquilizing activity. Vitamin B3 also assists in the bodies natural production of serotonin.
  • Vitamin B12, or Cobalamin, has been shown to improve the quality of sleep by increasing production of melatonin, but also, when B12 levels are sufficient, our melatonin levels naturally reduce in the morning to help waking up.

While it is possible to obtain B complex vitamins from food sources, we regularly find people are deficient in one of more of these. A good quality B complex supplement is an important addition to the diet of anyone who is experiencing problems sleeping.

Much like Magnesium, B vitamins are used in energy production. It is important to take B vitamins in the morning, or at lunch time.

Support Optimal Liver Function

Both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Herbal Medicine place great emphasis on the role of the liver in sleep. We 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.

The impact of toxicity on liver function and problems sleeping cannot be underestimated. If you are having problems sleeping talk to our Naturopathic team today for more information about our detoxification programs.

Drink Herbal Teas in the Evening

If you enjoy a cup or two of herbal tea before bed, you are not alone. Increasingly medical research is verifying that many of the herbs used in night time, or sleep teas, are very useful in promoting a good night sleep.

If you’re not sure which herbs to try, some well researched examples include:

  • Ginkgo biloba – shown to increase the quality of deep sleep, particularly if using anti-depressants,
  • Passion Flower – helps to prevent disturbances during the night by sedating the central nervous system,
  • Valerian – helps with falling asleep and with overall quality of sleep.

It is important to obtain good quality teas that have used therapeutic grade herbs to obtain maximum benefit, particularly when sleeping problems are serious.

A Word of Warning

Sleep, is a vitally important part of maintaining health. During sleep our body not only performs scheduled repair and maintenance, but it is also the time in which our body replenishes important hormones and helps to improve immune system function.

If you’re having problems getting to sleep, or problems maintaining sleep, it’s important to talk to a Naturopath. Sleep disorders are a major feature of many, serious conditions, including adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome.

For more information on sleep you are invited to our next Free Wellness Wednesday Workshop, “Sleep, a Vital Weapon in Disease Prevention.”