Healing with sleep
Sleep has been getting a lot of attention from the scientific community lately, and for good reason. Proper sleep occupies about a third of our lives, and nothing compares to that feeling of waking up after a long night of rejuvenating ZZZs. Now, thanks to new research, we have a better understanding of this nightly renewal process. When we sleep, cerebral fluid washes toxins from the brain. No wonder we feel clearer after a good long rest.
In fact, good sleep benefits nearly every area of health. On the other hand, poor sleep habits like insufficient sleep, sleeping during the day, sleeping with lights on or sleeping right after a huge meal or too much alcohol can increase the risks of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and numerous other conditions. Disrupted sleep patterns interfere with our natural biological clocks, or circadian rhythms, which in turn affect hormone balance, immunity, repair processes and more. Still, many people are running on less than enough sleep, compensating with sugar, caffeine and other stimulants — a true disaster for long-term health.
So what can we do to promote better sleep? I recommend a combination of approaches to help ensure the highest quality slumber. These tips can enhance our sleep and repair processes to help us wake up feeling great rather than fatigued and run down.
Herbs and Supplements
The best supplements for sleep include ingredients that help gently ease tension, while promoting physical regeneration during slumber. I recommend a combination of relaxing, non-habit-forming herbs: lemon balm, passionflower, honokiol extract from magnolia bark and lavender. Vitamin B6 and small doses of melatonin, about 0.5 mg, can also be very helpful.
Melatonin is a master antioxidant hormone that supports the circadian rhythm balance and promotes proper sleep and repair cycles. It’s produced by the pineal gland after the sun goes down. But when we sleep with lights on or work all night, melatonin production is impaired, putting us at risk for hormone-related illnesses, including certain cancers.
Targeted Chinese herbs support various organ systems to promote rejuvenating sleep. He Shou Wu supports the liver, kidneys, digestion and heart during sleep. Dan Shen reduces inflammation and promotes circulation and relaxation. Shi Chang Pu enhances mental clarity and relaxation while supporting better oxygenation during sleep.
When taken together 15 minutes before bed, these herbs and nutrients help to promote a gentle state of relaxation and drowsiness. Even better, they help optimize the body’s natural repair processes during sleep. They also work to support numerous other areas of health and longevity as well.
Foods for relaxation
Foods high in carbohydrates, certain minerals and amino acids such as tryptophan (the ingredient many people blame for their post-Thanksgiving lethargy) can also promote relaxation. Turkey is high in tryptophan and the body converts it to serotonin and melatonin for relaxation and deep sleep.
Lentils and bananas are good sources of tryptophan, magnesium and potassium for relaxation. Cherries are high in melatonin. Carbohydrate-rich foods such as potatoes, carrots and rice can also promote sleep when eaten before bed, especially for people with hypoglycemia. Don’t overeat before bed though: The extra effort to digest a big meal can detract from your body’s repair processes.
Exercise is another important way to achieve deep, restful sleep. Regular exercise, especially in the morning, helps balance your biological rhythms so you can fall asleep more easily at night. Another recommendation: Engage in regular meditation before bed. Meditation emphasizes a natural quieting of the mind through a focus on deep breathing and relaxes the nervous system for better sleep. During the dark winter months, many of us tend to sleep more. This is a natural response to the shorter, colder days; so don’t be afraid to indulge and get to bed earlier than usual.
Thanks to a growing body of research, good sleep is earning its badge as one of our most precious health resources. But like so many other important resources, sleep faces a growing threat from our fast-paced, high energy, electronic lifestyles. This means that when you unwind at night, it’s also important to unplug your technology as well — particularly in your bedroom. Studies show that using computers and watching TV before bed can disrupt melatonin production and lead to physical and mental imbalances.
Once you restore balance to your natural sleep rhythms, you’ll notice that other areas of health will soon follow. Sweet dreams!