Health

Got Insomnia? Ways to Improve Your Sleepless Nights

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Got Insomnia? If you are like the 35% of the American population that suffers from insomnia, chances are you may be one of the 10 million people to use prescription sleep aids. These sleep aid drugs come with a huge list of side effects, which may include: burning or tingling in the hands, arms, feet, or legs, changes in appetite, constipation, diarrhea, difficulty keeping balance, dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth or throat, gas, headaches, heartburn, stomach pain or tenderness, uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body, unusual dreams, and weakness.  Did you know that more than half of Americans lose sleep due to stress or anxiety, and that people who suffer from sleep deprivation are 27% more likely to become overweight or obese? Research indicates that people who are sleep deprived have lower levels of the appetite-regulating hormone leptin, which makes them hungrier, want to eat more and be at risk for weight gain. When sleep is hard to come by, always remember that there are many natural ways to catch those elusive ZZZ’s, and nutrition plays a key role in sleep and relaxation.

Calming food before bed

There are certain foods that people can eat which will help relax the mind and body and promote peaceful sleep. Small palm sized snacks with a bit of natural sugar can help – think a banana or a tea with honey stirred in. Sugars have a cortisol lowering effect – Cortisol is our stress hormones and should be at its lowest in the evening to allow for peaceful sleep.

On top of this do not go to bed hungry or dissatisfied, for this can also stop restful sleep. Do not hesitate to have a small snack before bed.

No Stimulants after 1PM

None if you are sensitive to stimulants. This means minimizing coffee, black/green tea, guarana, yerba mate, ginseng and chocolate. Many people have a stimulant sensitivity they are unaware of, and therefore many people can solve their sleep problems simply by cutting down on stimulating herbs and caffeine. This is usually as simple as cutting out on coffee but can also include stopping tea and chocolate which are both stimulants in their own right. Saying this some people are fine with caffeine in the morning and it is the afternoon shots of espresso that hinder sleep – no coffee or stimulants after lunch is a good rule of thumb for anyone.

Caffeine amounts in popular foods and beverages:

Brewed coffee (8 ounces) = approx. 100 to 150 milligrams

Brewed decaf (8 ounces) = less than 5 milligrams

Espresso (1 ounce) = 40 milligrams

Brewed tea, black and green (8 ounces) = approx. 50 milligrams

Red Bull (8.5 ounces) = 80 milligrams

Popular soda, diet and regular (8 ounces) = 25 to 45 milligrams

Chocolate (1.7-ounce bar) = 12 to 20 milligrams for popular brands

Caffeine amounts in over-the-counter medications:

Vivarin = 200 milligrams

No Doz = 100 milligrams

Excedrin = 65 milligrams

Less meat at dinner/evening

Red meat at dinner time or in the evening can have a pretty stimulating effect. Red meat is known to get the blood and adrenaline flowing. Having a meat free dinner every now and then can not only be economical and better for your cardiovascular health, but help you snooze better

Try and base meals on the following in the evening: beans, rice, whole grains, some fish or organic dairy. Having a lighter meal in the evening can also help people sleep. Remember the famous saying, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” Do not eat a heavy meal less than three hours prior to bed. Meals loaded with calories and fat excite digestion and can often leave people feeling uncomfortably full, cause heartburn or aggravate a hiatal hernia.

Have a hot drink

In the evening after eating, sip on a hot drink. This will not only promote digestion but calm the stomach and promote restful sleep. Stick to caffeine free varieties like peppermint, red bush, ginger and chamomile tea. Slippery elm bark is known for its calming properties and how it acts to repair the gut while you rest.

Mineral Rich Food

Some people find that upon introducing natural and mineral rich foods into their diets that sleep issues disappear. Some of the best are blackstrap molasses and sea salt, both of which are rich in many of the minerals Americans lack most in their current diets (especially magnesium which calms and relaxes the muscles). Other mineral rich foods include vegetables like okra, cucumbers, zucchini, and bananas.

Other foods and habits to incorporate:

Melatonin has gotten a great deal of attention in the past few years because this hormone controls the body’s circadian rhythm — our internal 24-hour clock that tells us when to sleep and when to wake up. As we get older, we produce less melatonin, which may account in part for insomnia in older adults

Walnuts for Melatonin

Raw nuts such as almonds and walnuts are an excellent choice for healthful, filling snacks. Nuts are not only rich in healthy oils, zinc, selenium and vitamin E, but they also provide a mix of protein and carbohydrate, making them a good option for the carb-conscious eater looking to lose weight.

Research from the University of Texas Health Science Center, published in the September 2005 issue of Nutrition, found that walnuts are a source of melatonin (a hormone that helps maintain the body’s circadian rhythm). In addition to improving sleep, melatonin also offers antioxidant protection. Walnuts just might be your secret weapon against sleepless nights, as well as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular illness.

Dark Chocolate

Although cocoa has been touted as healthy because of its antioxidant properties, most of us experience guilt when we give in to our cravings for rich, delicious chocolate. But who says we can’t indulge a little and improve our health at the same time? This tasty treat boosts our endorphins and also contains tryptophan, a building block of serotonin — important for sleep and combating stress. Chocolate also contains the brain chemical phenylethylamine, known to promote our feelings of attraction, excitement and love.

But new research shows yet another chemical is involved in the happy little high we get from chocolate. Chocolate influences anandamide, a chemical that targets our brain much the way the active ingredient (THC) in marijuana does. Chocolate contains this anandamide, as well as two chemicals known to slow the breakdown of this neurochemical. This this might work by prolonging the action of this natural stimulant in our brain. Chocolate is also one of the richest dietary sources of magnesium. Magnesium is a natural sedative, which can greatly improve sleep. A deficiency of magnesium can result in difficulty sleeping, constipation, muscle tremors or cramps, anxiety, irritability, and pain. Other foods rich in magnesium are legumes and seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, wheat bran, almonds, cashews, blackstrap molasses, brewer’s yeast, and whole grains.

Powerful Whey Protein Isolate

This powdered supplement is the most bio-available source of protein we can get, making it a great addition to smoothies and shakes. It is a source of tryptophan, which can help raise serotonin (which is essential for good sleep). Your liver loves whey protein because it offers a concentrated source of glutathione (which helps the liver remove foreign chemicals from the body, such as drugs and pollutants). Whey has also been proven to promote fat loss, preserve muscle tissue, enhance immunity, aid insulin sensitivity and support recovery after exercise.

Chia: The Seed with Natural Anti-inflammatory and Hormonal Benefits

Chia is a gluten-free, ancient grain that can be added to just about any food. Chia stabilizes blood sugars, manages the effects of diabetes, improves insulin sensitivity and aids symptoms related to metabolic syndrome, including imbalances in cholesterol, blood pressure and high blood sugar after meals.

This wondrous little grain is also abundant in the minerals magnesium, potassium, folic acid, iron and calcium — many of the minerals that are essential for healthy sleep. It’s a complete source of all essential amino acids and bio-available protein, and contains high amounts of tryptophan, the amino acid precursor of serotonin and melatonin. On a per gram basis, chia is touted to be the highest source of omega-3 in nature — with 65% of its total fat is from omega-3 fatty acids, as well as the highest source of fiber in nature. It may sound like we should all be savoring chia every day, although it actually has very little taste — yet another fantastic feature that makes it so easy to blend with other foods.

Valerian root is an herb believed to have a calming, relaxing effect on the body. It has been used for centuries to treat insomnia, mild anxiety and restlessness. The exact mechanism of action is unknown. However, it may act as a depressant to the central nervous system to produce a mild tranquilizing effect. As with melatonin supplements, first speak with your personal physician to find out if it’s an appropriate option — and certainly first try the other sleep inducers discussed above.

Regular exercise can increase your odds of getting a good night’s sleep. Do avoid exercise within three hours of going to bed, as this will most likely boost alertness and have a negative effect on sleep. Studies have shown that exercising more than three to six hours before going to bed has the most positive effect on falling asleep and staying asleep.

Sources: National Sleep Foundation, Better Sleep Council, Gallup Polls, Institute of Medicine, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, US Surgeon General’s Office

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