From the category archives:

insomnia

Food for Sleep

by Ed

As Scott mentioned in his comment to my first post in the Sunday sleep series, eating too close to bedtime encourages insomnia. I’d like to go into a little more detail about food and sleep, today.

Going to bed on a full stomach will certainly disrupt your sleep, as well as your digestion. Eating sweets just before bed may help you get to sleep after the sugar rush slows down, but then the drop in blood sugar will disrupt your sleep later in the night.

So how can food help you sleep better? First I need to talk a little about brain chemistry. Melatonin, as I mentioned in my Sleeping in the dark post, is one of the most important brain chemicals for sleep. It is made from serotonin, an important antidepressant chemical, that helps us feel calm. Serotonin is made from tryptophan, an important amino acid we get from protein.Most protein foods have plenty of tryptophan, including beans, nuts and seeds. Other sources are oats and spinach.

One reason eating sweets helps you sleep is that the increase in insulin causes the body to extract the tryptophan, making it available for serotonin production. However, as I said, eating sweets will have negative effects in the long run.

Here are the steps to using food to help you sleep:

  • Eat plenty of protein and other tryptophan rich foods every day.

  • Avoid simple and processed carbohydrates, such as sweets, pasta and white bread.

  • Have dinner four to five hours before bed.

  • Have a carbohydrate snack about two hours before bed. This snack needs to be small and high in fiber and/or a small amount of fat, so it is released slowly in the blood stream. A small potato with the skin on, a half serving of oatmeal, or a slice of whole grain bread with butter are good options.

Eating this way will encourage serotonin production in the evening, leading to a peaceful sleep.

Sound Sleep

by Ed

Sound or the lack of it can affect your sleep. Certainly unusual sounds at night can keep you awake. We are comforted by what we are used to. Remember that movie, “My Cousin Vinnie”, the lawyer from New York, couldn’t sleep until he was in a noisy environment. I have a friend who needs a fan on in order to get to sleep. Which brings me to white noise. White noise is nondescript sound, like a fan makes, or a waterfall, or a radio between stations. For many people white noise is very soothing. It also masks other noises in the environment. You could put on a nature sounds CD, when you go to bed. Soothing music works for many people. I had trouble falling asleep as a child, probably because my parents gave me an extremely early bedtime. If they would put on one of my favorite records I could get to sleep more easily. In case you are wondering, my favorites for sleeping were Elton John, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, and Cat Stevens. Of course early Elton John was pretty mellow.

Sleeping in the dark

by Ed

We were designed to sleep at night, when it is totally dark. One part of the human body’s cycle is melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that helps us to sleep. The pineal gland, which produces melatonin is very sensitive to light, and shuts down production if there is any light. Even if you get up in the night and turn on the bathroom light, you will shut down production, probably for the rest of the night, because the pineal gland assumes that once it sees light, that it will be light for many more hours. Melatonin is only one part of the wake/sleep cycle that depends on light. The more time you spend in full daylight, during the day, and the more complete the darkness at night, the better you will sleep.

If you have a melatonin deficiency, it may be helpful to take a melatonin supplement or 5HTP, which is an amino acid that is converted into melatonin.

Fear not the darkness of the night, as it soothes you softly into sleep.

Chinese Medicine for Sleep

by Ed

Chinese Medicine has a broader view of insomnia than Western Medicine does. Rather than just giving you something to make you sleep, Chinese Medicine looks at why you aren’t sleeping. In order to do that we need to know more about your sleep problems, as well as other aspects of your health.

For instance, do you take a long time to fall asleep, or do you fall asleep easily only to wake up later? Do you wake up once and stay awake for several hours or do you wake up many times per night. Some people have dream disturbed sleep; they don’t remember waking up, but they have many vivid dreams and wake up feeling unrested.

So, today’s tip is to see your acupuncturist if self treatment is not working for you. More at home, natural insomnia cures, next Sunday.

How can you sleep?

by Ed

How can you sleep if your body is not tired?

Up until about 100 years ago, exercise was a major part of daily life. At the end of the day our bodies were tired, and we slept.

Another way exercise helps sleep is by using up the stress chemicals in our bodies. All day long we are having stressful events that flood our bodies with fight or flight chemicals. If we don’t fight or flee, it takes a long time for those chemicals to be dissipated. We lie awake at night, feeling wired. When you exercise, you burn up all of those chemicals.

Aerobic exercise is probably the best for burning up those chemicals, but all kinds of exercise helps you sleep. Weight training certainly tires the muscles. Power yoga styles also leave you nicely tired. And the more gentle, restorative styles of yoga are great for calming you down in the evening.

Do something every day, even if it’s going up and down the stairs a few extra times, or a walk to the mail box. Get an exercise ball to sit on at work, and bounce while you are thinking or talking on the phone. There are a lot of little ways to add more movement into your day. They add up. Still, you need to have a good solid work out several days a week.