One of the biggest complaints that I hear from my patients is insomnia.
According to the National Sleep Foundation 45% of individuals report occasional insomnia and 22% report it almost every single night. It seems to affect women more than men and can be responsible for all types of health related issues.
Sleep is when our bodies heal, and without proper amounts of it, our bodies can never function at their full potential. One study even showed how chronic sleep deprivation increases your chance of dying from all causes by 3 times.
To combat the negative affects of poor sleep, a strategy is necessary. There are several foods, nutrients, and activities you can implement into your life to improve your sleeping experience.
Top Foods for Insomnia
Foods high in tryptophan – This amino acid stimulates the production of serotonin, which helps with relaxation. Include turkey, chicken or tuna for dinner.
Complex carbohydrates – Carbohydrates also help with the production of serotonin, so try to include butternut squash or sweet potatoes into your dinner.
Foods high in magnesium – Magnesium is known as the “relaxation” mineral. Include green leafy vegetables, sesame and sunflower seeds, and oats into your diet.
B-vitamins – Organic meat, brewer’s yeast, liver and green leafy vegetables are high in B-vitamins. Consume foods high in vitamin B12 as your best sources.
Foods to Avoid
Caffeine – Don’t consume caffeine after noon or at all if you are having difficulty sleeping.
Alcohol – Stop drinking alcohol at least 2 hours before bed and drink in moderation.
Any potential food allergens – Food allergies can cause insomnia.
Sugar – Variations in blood sugar can cause insomnia.
High fat foods – Fat slows down digestion and may lead to indigestion at night. Limit fried foods before bedtime.
Optimizing Your Sleep Sanctuary
Sleep in complete darkness, or as close to it as possible. Even the tiniest bit of light in the room can disrupt your internal clock and your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin. Even the tiniest glow from your clock radio could be interfering with your sleep. This will help decrease your risk of cancer.
Close your bedroom door, and get rid of night-lights. Refrain from turning on any light at all during the night, even when getting up to go to the bathroom. Cover up your clock radio. Cover your windows—I recommend using blackout shades or drapes.
All life evolved in response to predictable patterns of light and darkness, called circadian rhythms. Modern day electrical lighting has significantly betrayed your inner clock by disrupting your natural rhythms. Little bits of light pass directly through your optic nerve to your hypothalamus, which controls your biological clock. Light signals your brain that it’s time to wake up and starts preparing your body for ACTION.
Keep the temperature in your bedroom no higher than 70 degrees F. Many people keep their homes and particularly their upstairs bedrooms too warm. Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is quite cool, between 60 to 68 degrees.
Keeping your room cooler or hotter can lead to restless sleep. When you sleep, your body’s internal temperature drops to its lowest level, generally about four hours after you fall asleep. Scientists believe a cooler bedroom may therefore be most conducive to sleep, since it mimics your body’s natural temperature drop.
Move alarm clocks and other electrical devices away from your bed. If these devices must be used, keep them as far away from your bed as possible, preferably at least 3 feet. Remove the clock from view. It will only add to your worry when you stare at it all night… 2 a.m. …3 a.m. … 4:30 a.m.
Avoid using loud alarm clocks. It is very stressful on your body to be suddenly jolted awake. If you are regularly getting enough sleep, an alarm may even be unnecessary. If you are used to watching TV or doing work in bed, you may find it harder to relax and drift off to sleep, so avoid doing these activities in bed.
Consider separate bedrooms. Recent studies suggest, for many people, sharing a bed with a partner (or pets) can significantly impair sleep, especially if the partner is a restless sleeper or snores. If bedfellows are consistently interfering with your sleep, you may want to consider a separate bedroom.
Top 5 Insomnia Natural Remedies
#1 Melatonin (1-3 mg half hour before bed)
Helps promote sleep, best used for a short period of time.
#2 Passionflower (500 mg before bed)
Helps relax the nervous system and doesn’t cause drowsiness.
#3 Valerian (600 mg before bed)
Is effective for insomnia, but may be a stimulant for some.
#4 Calcium and magnesium (500 mg calcium/250 mg magnesium)
These minerals work together for relaxation.
#5 Vitamin B12 (1500 mcg daily)
Vitamin B12 supports cellular function and a deficiency can cause insomnia.
Before bed read a relaxing book or spend time journaling to get everything off of your mind. I encourage people to have a “Electronic Curfew”. This is the time of night when you turn off all electronics to prepare for bed. You should have a curfew that is at least 1 hour prior to your desired bedtime.
Don’t change your bedtime. You should go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, even on the weekends. This will help your body to get into a sleep rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep and get up in the morning. According to your Circadian Rhythm the ideal time to sleep is between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am.
Listen to relaxing sounds. Some people find the sound of white noise or nature sounds, such as the ocean or forest, to be soothing for sleep. I always sleep with an ocean sound even when I travel. At home I have a sound machine and on the road I use an app on my phone.