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A Guide to Sleep Health

How Important is Sleep Health? 


 The importance of Sleep Health cannot be over estimated. Comprising 1/3 of our lives, sleep is responsible for much of our rejuvenation. The quality of our sleep is therefore important, particularly the deepest stages in which both immune function balance and repair of the body occurs.



Is Poor Sleep Quality Associated with Ill Health?


   Growing evidence suggests poor sleep may be associated with increased risk of many conditions including:


• Anxiety/ Depression.

• Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

• Diabetes and Obesity

• Fibromyalgia

• Heart Disease

• Hyperactivity

• Impotence

• Inflammatory Bowel Disease

• Low Back Pain

• Poor memory

• Road Fatalities

• Stroke



What is a Normal Sleep Pattern?


 Normal sleep includes various phases including initiation and remaining asleep. It should only take 15 minutes to get to sleep once you have committed to rest.  Normal sleep lasts between 7 to 9 hours for most people. It is best to go to bed at least two hours before midnight to ensure effective Growth Hormone Secretion during Stage 4 Non-REM Sleep and wake up no later than the light.


 Daytime sleep can also be a problem when it exceeds 30 minutes to an hour. In some cultures siestas are common with later evenings, yet this may be due to climatic factors. If day time sleep leads to poor concentration, poor quality of night sleep and unresolved fatigue it is generally inappropriate.



What are some Common Sleep Problems?


 Most commonly people suffer from either poor sleep initiation or frequent waking. The latter is often due to Restless Legs Syndrome, an inability to find comfort in bed coupled with frequent leg movements, however a poor sleep environment can be a simple enough reason for a lack of sleep.

 Sleep Apnea is a more serious condition in which breathing periodically stops during sleep. If you suspect sleep apnea (quite frequently experienced by heavy snorers) you should have it assessed by a sleep specialist.



What are some Common Causes for Sleep Difficulties?


 There are variable caused for difficulty sleeping which include:


• Brain neurotransmitter imbalances

• Nutritional deficiencies

• Shift Work

• Anxiety/Stress

• Lack of Exercise

• Food Allergies/Intolerances

• Stimulant Use

• Hypoglycemia

• Medications

• Alcohol and marijuana

• Poor Sleep Environment




Will Changing My Sleep Environment Help?


 There are many changes you can make to your sleep environment that can make quality sleep more likely.


 To begin with:


• Use your bedroom only for sleep and intimacy

• Reading is acceptable

• Remove all work

• Regulate temperature to between 19 and 21 degrees celcius

• Remove electromagnetic devices

• In particular remove the TV such that you can wide down without adrenalin rush crime shows and gloomy news stories

• Ensure a quiet dark environment (candle or fire light level is acceptable)

• Optimise natural morning waking light

• If you use an alarm, make it pleasant

• Make a pact with sleeping partners that no conflict enters the bedroom

• If food is entering your bedroom, question your dietary habits ( see below)



Will Exercise Assist? 


 Regular exercise is important in regulating sleep wake cycles. However it should be noted that exercise too close to bed may increase wakefulness making sleep initiation more difficult for some people. You may need to establish how close to sleep you can exercise by trial and error.


 Interestingly sleep immediately after heavy exercise can be effective in increasing Growth Hormone Secretion and aid in muscle recovery and immune function. Furthermore stretching exercises before sleep such as a short Yoga routine may reduce muscular tension and assist sleep.



Can Diet Make a Difference?


 Five aspects of diet can be important influences on sleep.


1. Stimulants such as caffeinated foods can affect sleep quality.

2. Alcohol and marijuana encourage sleep but affect sleep quality.

3. Foods rich in the amino acid, tyramine, found in a diverse range of foods (bananas, avocadoes, yoghurt, sauerkraut, red wine

              preserved meets, chocolate etc) can influence some people’s sleep.

4. Hypoglycemia during sleep hours can induce wakefulness

5. High fluid intake of diuretics can affect sleep through influencing toileting needs.


If you have poor sleep patterns we encourage you to trial a Low Stimulant Diet.



 Should I Lose Weight?


 If you have Sleep Apnea and, in particular, have a heavy set neck, losing weight may be of assistance.  




What about Shift Work?


 Avoid it if you can, but you do have a life after all. Achieving effective sleep can be difficult on shift work. Attempt to regulate the light when trying to sleep.



How about Stress Management and Relaxation?


 If you are anxious down regulating your stress response is very important to Sleep. Stress hormones are stimulatory and therefore prevent sleep. The manner in which you reduce your stress will be individual (see suggestions In Stress Management Section).

 Relaxation exercises (or meditation) during the day may help people to sleep, however your response may be individual when relaxation techniques are used close to sleep time. For some people relaxation may, in fact, increase wakefulness through rejuvenating the mind. On the other hand a relaxation technique during the day may be as effective as a power nap.



What Nutrients/Herbs May Help?


 There are many nutrients and herbs recommended for sleep and their use may depend upon the underlying neuro- or biochemical imbalance linked to ineffective sleep regulation. The following list is an overview however an effective nutritional sleep regime is best devised by a doctor or naturopath with skills in assessing Sleep Health.







   Various functions related to sleep-wake cycles (e.g. Neurotransmitter biochemistry, in particular, Serotonin synthesis and night conversion to Melatonin) and muscle relaxation, explaining its effectiveness for Restless Leg Syndrome (Elemental Mg 350mg twice day from chelated forms with associated B Group Vitamins, Taurine and Malic Acid)


Folic Acid:


   May also assist with Restless Leg Syndrome (400ug)




   Again, may assist with Restless Leg Sydrome


L-Tryptophan or 5 Hydroxytryptophan:


   Assists getting to sleep through Serotonin-Melatonin synthesis


GABA (or Glutamine):


    The neurotransmitter GABA regulates relaxation of the brain.




   Amino acid that acts as a brain neurotransmitter that encourages sleep


B Group nutrients:


   Supportive to restful sleep. Note, however, nsufficiency as well as excess B Vitamins lead to nightmares.


Fish Oils – EPA component :  


   Regulates the immune system by down regulating inflammatory messengers may assist with sleep


Valerian, Magnolia officinalis, Passiflora  incarnata, Hypericum perforatum


   Herbs used for sedative effects




What Can My Doctor Do?


 Review your medication. Thyroid stimulants, the oral contraceptive and beta blockers may influence sleep. Sedatives may initially be prescribed but are not a good long term option.