By Elizabeth Pavka, PhD, LD/N
Though not usually called a vitamin, sleep is certainly vital to long term health. Are you one of the estimated one-third of Americans who experience extended periods of poor sleep? Did you know that long-term poor sleep contributes to many of the chronic illnesses Americans experience, because much of the healing in our body takes place while we sleep? Did you know that chronic poor sleep can cause depression and that depression can cause poor sleep?
Tips to help you go to sleep easier:
1. Eat your evening meal at least 3 hours before retiring, because eating too much food just before bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep. Caffeine can prevent people from sleeping well at night. Some people – especially postmenopausal women — are exquisitely sensitive to caffeine and even one cup in the morning can diminish sleep at night. Decrease or eliminate caffeine from every source including coffee, teas, sodas, and over-the-counter medications (read labels).
2. While regular exercise facilitates sleep, it’s better to exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime. Otherwise the energizing effect of exercise may diminish your ability to fall asleep.
3. Have a bed-time ritual, a wind-down time to relax your body and mind. For the last 30-60 minutes before you retire each night do the same activities: take a warm bath containing several drops of lavender oil, brush your teeth, change into pajamas, read an entertaining book, listen to some quiet music, do some gentle stretching, or a full body relaxation. Check out
4. In his book The Insomnia Solution: The Natural Drug-Free Way to a Good Night’s Sleep, Michael Krugman, founder of the Sounder Sleep System™, includes a 68-page chapter on how you can relax your body, calm your mind, and turn on your “sleep switch”.
5. Melatonin, a substance made by the pineal gland at night, can be taken as a supplement before bed to help you fall asleep. Melatonin is more effective for older people whose brain may not produce enough. Use the smallest amount that works for you, ranging from 0.5 milligrams to 3 milligrams.
Tips to help you stay asleep longer:
1. For some people, a small bedtime snack – including some protein — helps them stay asleep by stabilizing blood glucose levels.
2. Make your sleeping environment more conducive to a good night’s sleep. You sleep better in a completely dark room, so douse all the lights. Turn radios and alarm clocks with the red LED lights away from your eyes. Remove TVs and computers from your bedroom. Invest in a “white noise” machine that produces a steady background sound to block out your neighbor’s noise, the traffic outside, or the barking dogs. In cold weather the air in our homes dries out, so use a humidifier which adds moisture to the bedroom air and enhances sleep.
3. A cousin of tryptophan known as 5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, is converted into serotonin in the brain and aids sleep. Helpful amounts can range from 100 mg to 1,000 mg nightly before bed. Herbal combinations including passionflower, valerian root, chamomile and lemon balm facilitate sleep.
4. More than 300 prescription medications affect sleep quality. Ask your pharmacist if a medication you are taking may be impacting your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Before you resort to over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids, incorporate some of these food, lifestyle, and nutritional approaches.