Natural Solutions To A Good Night Sleep
By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
Roughly half of all Americans suffer from insomnia, and according to the National Center for Sleep Disorders, around 15% of the population deals with chronic insomnia on a daily basis. What’s more, the WHO (World Health Organization) considers shift-work or sleep deprivation the only non-substance carcinogen known to man. That puts a lack of sleep in the same class as cigarettes, asbestos, and other known carcinogenic chemicals!
Sleep is vitally important to help repair the body physiologically as well as psychologically. Physiological repair, such as building muscles, bones, tendons, joints and ligaments etc., occurs between the hours of 10 PM and 2 AM. During this timeframe, HGH (human growth hormone) peaks. You can think of HGH as your anti-aging hormone, consider getting maximal sleep as gaining $2000-$3000 of anti-aging treatment per month for free!
After your body’s HGH peak comes the mental repair. Between the hours of 2 and 6 AM the body psychologically regenerates, and neurotransmitters and other neurochemicals that help with mental health are recycled and repaired.
Cortisol and it’s Circadian Rhythm
The accelerated health risks for poor sleep
Studies have associated numerous health risks with a lack of good sleep. These include:
Increased risk of diabetes
An increased risk of cancer
Decreased immune function
Obesity and excessive weight gain
Poor physical performance
Slow mental acuity
It’s estimated that over $100 billion is lost each year due to the loss of productivity that a lack of sleep causes. Lack of sleep is also the leading cause of 100,000 vehicle accidents per year and the associated 1,500 deaths.
The major underlying causes of sleep deprivation:
17% of all US employees are shift workers who stay up working during the night instead of sleeping. If I can urge you to make one decision as an investment in your health, the first thing would be finding a job that allows flexibility to sleep during normal sleep hours. The research is very clear, the increased risk of chronic degenerative diseases and lack of performance will cost you more in the long run financially and physically.
Chronic stressors can be a huge underlying cause of sleep problems. This includes relationship stress, caffeine, chronic illness, infections, blood sugar imbalances, family stress, and hormonal imbalances. One thing that all stress has in common- whether it’s internal stress or external stress- is the increase of cortisol and adrenaline.
Knocking your cortisol and adrenaline out of balance puts a great deal of stress on your adrenal glands. Your cortisol rhythm at night is intimately linked to your melatonin rhythm (melatonin is your night time/sleep hormone). The more you push your cortisol and adrenaline out of balance, the more your melatonin will also be negatively impacted – and so will your sleep.
Stimulants such as caffeine can prevent you from getting to sleep on time. Caffeine has a half-life of up to eight hours, so be sure to consume your coffee or caffeinated tea before 2 PM in order to give your body enough time to metabolize the caffeine before your bedtime.
Certain medications can also interfere with sleep: antidepressants, corticosteroids, allergy medication, and blood pressure medication to name a few. If you are currently taking medication and also have a sleep problem, please look up the possible side effects of the medication you are taking to see if sleep disturbances are a potential side effect.
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Dr. Justin’s Top 7 Sleep Enhancing Tips
- Exercise daily. Burst training and resistance training can make a significant impact on your sleep. The right kinds of exercise can increase human growth hormone, which has the ability to blunt potential cortisol spikes and to increase your body’s repair.
- Pick relaxing teas, such as chamomile or sleepy tea, before bed. These types of teas contain particular amino acids, such as L-theanine, which help to increase certain neurotransmitters like GABA to help promote relaxation.
- For certain individuals melatonin can be a great choice. I recommend using a sublingual variety, which helps increase absorption as well as increasing activation time. However, melatonin may not be right for every single person. For some individuals, taking melatonin actually makes sleep issues worse! When this occurs there’s usually an underlying hormonal imbalance present.
- Many of my menopausal female patients have hormonal imbalances that need to be addressed. Low progesterone is a common cause of sleep deprivation and insomnia. Progesterone has a relaxation effect that occurs by opening the GABA chloride channels in the brain, and can have an effect similar to taking a Xanax– without the side effects. Running a female hormone test can help evaluate this imbalance as well as provide the specific dosing information.
- Buy a white noise machine or even download a white noise app- there are plenty available for free! White noise can be very helpful at blocking out ambient noise that could potentially wake you up throughout the night. If you opt for an app, please be sure to keep your phone in airplane mode while you’re sleeping (you should be doing this at night regardless). The EMF from your phone can disrupt your sleep and can even prevent you from getting into deeper phases of sleep!
- Eating a little bit of protein and fat within two hours of your bedtime can help stabilize your blood sugar and prevent cortisol spikes during the night. The suggestion may go against conventional wisdom in regards to eating right before bed, but low blood sugar throughout the night will cause your cortisol to go up, and that cortisol spike can disrupt your sleep and cause you to wake up. A little bit of protein and fat before bed can make a big difference.
- Give yourself at least one hour before bed to wind down. Turn off the TV, tablets, computers, phones, etc. and pick up a non-stimulating book instead. Engaging in meditation and prayer before bed can be very helpful as well. It doesn’t have to be complicated- a simple meditation is simply counting backwards from 10 to 0 with all of your attention focused on your breath, not the problems and stressors of yesterday or tomorrow. Engaging in prayer- especially focused on gratitude and all that you have to be thankful for in your life- can provide a natural neurotransmitter and hormonal boost that can set you up for a great night sleep!
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Causes of Insomnia and Sleep Solutions
By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
Around half of the population reports difficulty falling asleep. 1 in 3 adults will suffer from insomnia at some point in their life, and only 31% of high school students report getting a full 8 hours of sleep on an average school night. We are living in a time of more sleep disorders and accidents caused by tiredness than any other point in history, today we are going to explore some of the reasons why our nation has trouble sleeping, and what we can do to reverse this growing epidemic.
THE “WHYs” BEHIND OUR SLEEPLESSNESS
There are many factors responsible for the sleep issues many of us face. Certain medications come with side effects that make it hard to sleep, as can regularly drinking caffeine later in the day. Interestingly, both eating too late and not eating enough at night can both cause trouble sleeping. Exercise, video games, and even reading lively books raise your heart rate and can make it hard to wind down at night. However, stress is one of the largest causes of sleep trouble. Worrying about commitments, scheduling, places to be and things to do all have a serious effect on sleep.
CONSEQUENCES OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION
Chronic sleep deprivation is so common in our modern day and age that they symptoms often go unnoticed, or have been normalized. However, there are several adverse effects that go much further that just ‘feeling tired.’
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Sleep loss has been shown to affect a variety of neurocognitive, psychological, and physical functions, including:
- Memory loss and difficulty with memory recall
- Increased inflammation
- Lowers the immune system
- Impairs driving
- Impairment of glucose control
- Activating the sympathetic nervous system (which decreases the movement of the large intestine, causes sweating, weakens digestive ability, raises blood pressure, and activates the fight-or-flight response!)
- Lapses in cognition
- Impacts mood negatively
- Decreased motor function
Have you heard of “sleep hygiene”? Sleep hygiene is comprised of several strategies that, when implemented into your bedtime routine, set the stage for a great night’s sleep:
- Avoid consuming alcohol, coffee, caffeinated tea, and other stimulants at least 4-6 hours before bedtime. Ideally, limit these beverages to a 12 pm cutoff time, as caffeine can stay in your body for up to 12 hours!
- Use blackout curtains and cover up any sources of light. This means no light-up clocks and taping over any lights that might blink during the night.
- Keep the bedroom cool: your temperature drops a few degrees during the night. Having a cool bedroom, the mid 60s is an ideal temperature range, will help you wind down.
- Avoid working out before bed: while exercising during the day will help you get great sleep that night, working out in the evenings will cause an endorphin boost that makes it hard to fall asleep.
- Avoid blue light at night: Blue light emitted from most light bulbs, tablets, phones, TVs, computers, and other electronics signals to your brain that it’s time to be alert. Think about it: the sun gives off light in the cool spectrum during the day, and the sunset is warm. So are fires, which is the only source of light our ancestors would have seen after sunset! If you have to look at a screen at night, there are applications that limit the blue spectrum your device emits, and there are also blue-blocking glasses you can wear for even more protection!
SUPPLEMENTS FOR SLEEP
- GABA: This amino acid calms your brain activity, which leads to full body and mind calmness. It reduces anxiety and helps relax your body for sleep.
- Tryptophan: Another amino acid, tryptophan is useful in treating anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders.
- Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces when it’s time for bed, so it shouldn’t be used on a nightly basis. However, if you’re trying to retrain your sleep cycle (whether it be because of a move to a different time zone, or starting a new job that requires you to go to bed earlier), melatonin can be very useful.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is actually responsible for regulating GABA and melatonin levels. Taking magnesium can help your body regulate its sleep-wake cycle. It’s also a muscle relaxer, meaning it helps both your mind and your body to relax.
- Holy basil: This adaptogen, also known as tulsi, reduces stress and helps you wind down.
- Lavender: Used in a tea or as an essential oil diffused into your bedroom, lavender is a calming herb that sets the stage for sleep.
Sleep hygiene is just as important as other forms of hygiene, such as brushing your teeth and taking showers. Getting enough sleep ensures you are ready to tackle everything the next day has in store and makes you healthier! If you are still having trouble falling asleep, there are a variety of natural supplements to help you wind down.
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