Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for our health and well-being. The foundation to this is having a supportive and comfortable bed. It is also of growing interest the natural remedies that are available to help enhance sleep. We spoke to Helen Ridge, founder of Alive Natural Health, a qualified Naturopath and Nutritionist, to get her insights into sleep and some tips on how to get a good night’s rest. Helen develops health and wellness programmes; she takes a modern approach to a healthy lifestyle, infusing evidence-based practices with traditional therapies.
When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, you don’t typically think of your body’s hormones. Sleep allows many of our hormones to replenish so we can enjoy the benefits of optimal energy, along with boosted immunity, a balanced appetite and an increased ability to adapt to stress. Hormones also control many of the body’s processes including: growth, development, reproduction, stress response, metabolism and energy balance; so replenishing our hormones is important for a healthier life.
Understanding the connection between hormones and sleep may help improve our sleep and overall well-being. For example, when we are stressed, we release the hormone cortisol, which makes us feel alert and ready for action. It’s been found that this hormone tends to be higher in people with insomnia. If we get less sleep than normal, our levels of prolactin may also get out of balance and we can wake up with a faded immune system, difficulty concentrating and carbohydrate cravings.
There are many reasons people have trouble sleeping – from poor sleep hygiene (eg, poor choice of pillow, an old or unsupportive mattress, or a room that is too cold or warm) to shift work, from caffeine to anxiety, medical conditions and breathing disorders (such as sleep apnoea).
Whatever your reason to want to improve your sleep, below are some tips for ensuring peaceful and restorative sleep.
Watch the sunset or walk under the stars to remind the brain and pineal gland that’s its time to rest, repair and sleep. The pineal gland resides in the brain and produces melatonin, a hormone that modulates our sleep patterns and our sleep/wake cycles. The melatonin hormone is released with darkness and tells our body it’s time to sleep. This is why bright light before bed (including the blue light from our mobile phone) can affect our sleep and stop the release of melatonin.
For centuries, cultures around the world have turned to essential oils in their ongoing quest for wellness. My top essential oil scents for sleep are: lavender, cedarwood, vetiver, angelica and chamomile. Cedarwood essential oil supports the healthy function of the pineal gland, which as mentioned above, releases melatonin. Try mixing this scent with lavender and rub it onto the bottom of your feet before bed. You can also add essential oils to a soothing bath, or you could make your own homemade linen spray (water plus a few drops of your favourite calming essential oils) and spritz it onto your linen.
Simply taking a hot shower or bath before bed will help you to relax and boost your melatonin levels. Or, indulge with a calming, candlelight bath, adding Epsom salts for relaxation. Epsom salts contain magnesium sulfate, which are absorbed through the skin. This replenishes magnesium to increase relaxation and aids serotonin production, which in turn improves sleep. Insomnia is a common symptom of magnesium deficiency and people with low magnesium often experience restless sleep, waking during the night. Magnesium will help aid deep, restorative sleep.
Tart Montmorency cherries contain high levels of phytochemicals, including naturally occurring melatonin. This results in improved sleep quality, while powering your antioxidant capacity. One study published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2012 revealed consumption of tart cherry juice concentrate improved sleep duration and quality. Tart Montmorency cherry concentrate can be taken in supplement form and is best taken for at least one month.
Recently, sleep expert Dr Ramlahkan revealed how you can get to sleep in just minutes by hugging. The act of hugging another person or yourself, releases hormones in our brain, such as oxytocin and serotonin, which help us to feel good. Dr Ramlahkan said the comforting gesture helps us to “feel safe” and could be the key to getting the recommended 7-8 hours sleep per night. Dr Ramlahkan added “simply place your right hand under your left armpit, and place your left arm over your right arm, with your hand gently but firmly resting on your right shoulder. Focus on breathing deeply, relax and you’ll be asleep”.
Sleep disturbances caused by hormone imbalances can be tested using functional pathology. These test the pattern and metabolism of cortisol, as well as your melatonin levels and your sleep profile. Understanding the connections between hormones and sleep may help improve your sleep and well-being.
Abbot, J. Chemical Messengers: how hormones help us sleep. The Conversation. 2015 Sept. https://theconversation.com/chemical-messengers-how-hormones-help-us-sleep-44983
Burkhardt S, et al. Detection and quantification of the antioxidant melatonin in Montmorency and Balaton tart cherries (Prunus cerasus). J Agric Food Chem. 2001 Oct;49(10):4898-902.
Howatson G, et al. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr. 2012 Dec;51(8):909-16. doi: 10.1007/s00394-011-0263-7. Epub 2011 Oct 30.
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