Every night millions of people around the world struggle to fall asleep or to stay asleep. For some, insomnia is just a temporary state but for others it's a chronic problem that's affecting their concentration, mood, energy and it definitely reflects on their complexion, beauty and accelerates their aging process.
The National Sleep Foundation formed an expert panel comprising eighteen leading scientists and researchers to update the official sleep recommendations. The panelists reviewed over 300 current scientific publications over the span of two years and came up with recommendations on how much sleep is appropriate for each age group.
The recommendations were as follows:
Newborns (0-3 months) need between 14-17 hours of sleep each day.
Infants (4-11 months) need between 12-15 hours of sleep each day.
Toddlers (1-2 years) need 11-14 hours of sleep each day.
Preschoolers (3-5) need 10-13 hours of sleep each day.
School age children (6-11) need 9-11 hours of sleep each day.
Teenagers (14-17) need 8-10 hours of sleep each day.
Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each day.
Older adults (65+) need 7-8 hours of sleep each day.
Factors that may affect a good night's sleep:
Sometimes it's as easy as taking an Epsom salt foot bath or diffusing some essential oils such as lavender or chamomile to relax and get a good night's sleep, while it's a little bit more complicated at other times. Below are some tips to help you try figure out the reason behind your sleepless nights.
Elevated stress is one of the reasons many people can't get quality sleep and/or suffer from insomnia. One of the main stress hormones that our body produces is cortisol. Cortisol should be at its peak levels in the morning to help us stay awake and motivated then it gradually decreases to reach its lowest levels at night so that we can relax, calm down and have a good night's sleep.
High levels of cortisol at night may result in a 'tired but wired' feeling where a person feels really tired but still can't sleep. Therefore, addressing any adrenal issues and managing cortisol levels is crucial while trying to get rid of insomnia.
Some of the reasons that may contribute to high levels of cortisol include over exercising, nutrient deficiencies, kidney or liver disease, increased sugar intake, higher than normal levels of estrogen, among others.
Things you can do to help balance your cortisol levels include:
- Fish oil (Omega3) supplementation. A PubMed study shows that cortisol levels were 'significantly blunted' among volunteers who were given fish oil for three weeks.
- Supplementing vitamins B5 and C, as well as adaptogens such as ashwagandha and rhodiola may also help balance your cortisol levels.
- Removing caffeine from your diet or at least keeping it to a minimum since it increases the production of cortisol.
- Booking a yoga class! Research indicates that practicing yoga can reduce cortisol.
- Decreasing your intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates, while increasing your intake of healthy carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, fermented grains and sprouted legumes.
The serotonin-melatonin connection:
When the sunsets, the pineal gland is 'turned-on' and starts to produce a hormone called melatonin. When melatonin levels rise in the blood, around 9 pm, we begin to feel less alert and more sleepy. Melatonin stays elevated in the blood for about twelve hours then declines to its lowest level in the morning around 9 am.
As mentioned above, we need melatonin to feel less alert and more sleepy, however, there's a caveat here. The pineal gland can only produce melatonin in the dark, which means that artificial indoor lighting can prevent the production of melatonin if it's bright enough. It's always recommended to stop using your smart phone or laptop two hours before you sleep, turn off the wireless connections throughout your house and sleep in complete darkness.
Many people who suffer from insomnia opt for melatonin supplements, however, this is not really recommend as the extended use of melatonin supplements creates a kind of dependency and by time our pineal gland stops producing it on its own. According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, Harvard Medical School researcher and author of ' Why isn't my brain working?', if melatonin supplements help you sleep, that's an indication that your insomnia is serotonin-related.
Facts you need to know about serotonin:
- Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which is often called the 'happy molecule' for its role in helping us maintain a positive mood.
- Low levels of serotonin are linked with depression.
- Ninety-five percent of the serotonin in our body is produced in the gut.
- Although foods such as walnut, banana, pineapple and kiwi contain serotonin, they can't increase the level of serotonin in our brain as it can't cross the blood-brain barrier. (1)
- Contrary to the common belief, eating protein will not increase serotonin in your brain instead it will decrease the levels of both tryptophan (the precursor of serotonin) and serotonin. (2)
- On the other hand, research shows that eating a carbohydrate-rich, protein-poor meal increases brain levels of tryptophan and serotonin. This means that you need to eat your carbohydrate and protein meals separately.
According to Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet, the best strategy to increase your brain tryptophan and serotonin is to eat a healthy carbohydrate snack twice a day before or several hours after your protein meal. Examples of a healthy carbohydrate snack may include a bowl of oats, raw vegetables with hummus, dried or fresh fruits or a slice of sourdough bread with pure fruit spread.
Other foods that have been proven to increase serotonin include:
Dark chocolate. (3)
Fish Oil (Omega 3). (5)
Supplements that are needed for the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin and subsequently to melatonin are vitamins B6 and B9 (folate).
Magnesium is a very important mineral that is involved in around 300 biochemical reactions within our body. It plays a key role in breaking down sugar in our digestive system, regulating cholesterol, maintaining a healthy thyroid and creating DNA.
Unfortunately, blood tests can't measure the accurate levels of magnesium as 1% only of the magnesium in our body circulates in the blood while the rest is inside the cells.
Sufficient levels of magnesium are needed to produce GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes calm and sleep. In one study, older adults were given 500 mg of magnesium or a placebo. The magnesium group had better quality of sleep and showed higher levels of renin and melatonin, two hormones that regulate sleep.
Magnesium comes in different forms, including tablets, sublingual and transdermal (applied topically on the skin). One of the best forms to ensure absorption is the transdermal form (magnesium oil) as it bypasses the digestive system.
Vitamin d deficiency:
Although vitamin d is a free vitamin that is available to everybody upon exposure to the sunshine, a staggering number of people are deficient in it. Vitamin d affects more than 2000 genes in our body and deficiency may be linked to health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, cancer, autoimmune disease and much more. Furthermore, Research shows that vitamin d deficiency correlates with poor sleeping patterns as well.
Luckily, it's easy to reverse vitamin d deficiency through supplementation or frequent exposure to the sun. Naturopathic doctors suggest we keep our levels at around 70-80 ng/ml so if you're suffering from insomnia check your vitamin d levels and get some sunshine!
Things to remember from this post:
1. Elevated stress may lead to insomnia.
2. Fish oil (Omega 3) may balance cortisol levels.
3. Melatonin supplementation may lead to dependency.
4. It is best to boost melatonin levels through its precursor, serotonin.
5. Dark chocolate, turmeric, fish oil and fermented food help boost serotonin levels
6. Magnesium and vitamin d deficiencies may lead to insomnia.
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