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Sleep solutions

Problems sleeping can affect your body and mind in negative ways. Rude Health magazine looks at the role food, lifestyle and supplements can play in aiding sleep

We all know sleep aids muscle repair, sharpens memory, improves energy levels and promotes immunity,” says Jill Bell from health store Well and Good in Midleton, Co Cork. “Many people are aware that poor sleep can increase the chances of getting heart disease and diabetes, but we are careful not to tell customers this, as thinking about it can lead to stress and anxiety and even worse sleep issues.”

“Sleep is a very common problem for many people,” says Lucy Kerr from health store The Good Earth in Kilkenny. “Your body heals and repairs during sleep, so getting a proper night’s sleep is vital to our overall health. Every part of our body benefits from a good night’s sleep including your organs resting and body tissues repairing.”

Why we can’t sleep

“An anxious, worried mind can break up a sound sleep pattern,” says Jill Bell. “Relationship problems, poor health, concerns about children and above all these days, money worries are on the increase and can’t easily be put to bed.”

“There are many reasons people might have sleeping issues,” says Lucy Kerr. “These include electronic devices before sleep, stimulants such as caffeine before bed, less time to have a bedtime routine, recently had a new baby, anxiety, menopause and pain.”

Age and sleep

“Sleep problems can affect people of any age,” says Lucy Kerr. “They can often just be short term, but many people struggle with sleep issues long term, so finding ways to help is really important.”

“Sleep issues can arise at any age, as parents of babies know too well,” says Jill Bell. “Older children can develop a fear of falling asleep which requires lots of reassurance and maybe a flower or gem essence remedy for support.”

Melatonin and sleep

“Melatonin is a hormone which helps to regulate the circadian rhythm, and when this rhythm is out of sync the sleep pattern is disturbed,” says Jill Bell. “While melatonin cannot be bought off the shelf in Ireland, juice from sour Montmorency cherries is a useful go-to as it contains significant amounts of the hormone which are safe to absorb. Remember Granny’s advice about a warm drink of milk at bedtime? Not just an old wives’ tale, but scientific sense as milk is another good source of melatonin.”

Bedtime routine

“Social media at bedtime can be a thorny problem,” says Jill Bell. “It’s sensible to avoid technology use for an hour before bedtime. Have the room dark, silent and cool, and keep to a regular bedtime to train the brain to be ready for bed and relaxation.”

Good sleep habits

Lucy Kerr recommends, “Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants in the hours before bedtime, a relaxing bath before bed with some essential oils such as lavender, some calming yoga and stretches and some deep breathing before bed to help calm your mind and body.”

“There is no doubt that exercise aids sleep,” says Jill Bell. “Being outside in touch with nature, either going for a hill walk, working in a garden or just sitting on a beach in the fresh air are precursors to a sound night’s sleep. Deep controlled breathing is known to alter the amygdala, the part of the brain which deals with controlling emotions including stress.”

Food and sleep

“Bananas, figs, nut butters and yogurt are high in tryptrophan which promotes sleep-inducing melatonin,” says Lucy Kerr. “Oatmeal and slow-releasing carbohydrates prevent you waking from lower blood sugar. Teas such as chamomile, lemon balm, passionflower, or valerian can help sleep.”

“Some people can’t wake up without their coffee,” says Jill Bell. “But for some a drop of caffeine after lunch means a bad night’s sleep to come.”

Foods rich in B vitamins such as oats can support sleep, and foods containing the amino acid tryptophan such as fish, chicken, cheese, eggs, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and turkey can also help.

Magnesium and sleep

“Magnesium is a mineral that is involved in many different functions in our body, one of which is acting on the system in our brains responsible for making us calm down and switch off,” says Cobus Botha, a naturopath and medical herbalist with Coyne Healthcare. “Magnesium is a GABA agonist, that means that it binds to and stimulates GABA receptors in your brain. The GABA receptors slow down your racing mind and help induce a state of relaxation. Without adequate levels of magnesium this system will not function properly and so instead of settling down to rest your brain will keep firing. Clinical trials have shown that magnesium supplementation helps people fall asleep easier, stay asleep and have a better-quality sleep which of course leads to feeling better during our waking hours.”

“Magnesium as a massage lotion containing lavender and chamomile used at bedtime can be very soothing for both adults and children,” says Jill Bell. “Magnesium glycinate is useful for people who suffer from restless legs and painful night cramps.”

Herbal remedies and supplements for sleep

Ashwagandha – an adaptogenic herb that reduces stress and can promote better sleep by supporting the adrenal glands.

Avena sativa – (oat) drops or hop based tinctures taken as drops 20 minutes before retiring can help you get off to sleep.

CBD – a calming natural compound derived from the cannabis plant. Small doses can help reduce daytime sleepiness and relieve insomnia.

Chamomile – has a calming effect. Lovely used as a tea with some honey before bed. Also available as a food supplement.

Lemon balm – as a tea it can be relaxing.

Lavender – relaxing effect on the mind. Add a few drops to your bath or a few drops in your diffuser in your room before bed, or on your pillow.

Lemon balm – comes as a tea as well as a food supplement.

L-theanine – an amino acid that is an effective relaxant and can help with anxiety, especially taken with lemon balm, it doesn’t leave any drowsiness in the morning.

Passionflower – known to reduce stress and anxiety which can be helpful for sleep issues.

Valerian root – a tincture can help some bad sleepers and won’t make you feel groggy in the morning.

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