By: Dr. Keith Kantor
Sleep is truly the best medicine for overall health and optimal vitality. It is unfortunate that getting adequate sleep is the most underutilized health strategy. Quality sleep is often replaced with less impactful activities like watching late night television, or endless catching up on work and poor stress management. When it comes to achieving optimal health, 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night is essential. We often do not correlate nutrition and lifestyle habits with chronic poor sleep but it is a major influence over your sleep quality.
There is endless research available that shows a direct relationship of poor sleep and health complications. It truly only takes one night of poor sleep to negatively affect metabolism. Insulin levels and carbohydrate metabolism are negatively affected the day after one poor night’s sleep, resulting in excess fat storage and decreased fat burn according to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
The diet the day after a poor night’s sleep typically consists of consuming excess carbohydrates, unhealthy “comfort foods” and caffeine looking for quick energy sources. One day of poor sleep will not develop serious metabolic disorders and disruptions; the problem is many people have learned to live off of low quality sleep for months, years even decades. The result is major medical problems, including disrupted metabolism, leaky gut syndrome, excess fat storage, contributing to increased risk for diseases like:
- Sleep Apnea
- Type 2 diabetes
- Adrenal Insufficiency
- Insufficient thyroid
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- Neck and Back Pain
- Brain Fog
Unfortunately there isn’t one solution to improve sleep that works for everyone. Finding the best solution for you has everything to do with understanding and addressing what causes those sleepless nights to begin with. The best way to approach improving quality of sleep is to make small changes and approach it with a trial and error mindset.
Here are some specific holistic strategies to try along with your recommendations from the sleep center:
Limit Caffeine, after 12:00pm caffeine includes coffee, pre workout supplements, tea, and certain sodas.
Slow down to reduce stress, answering e-mails and catching up on work off the clock will not make you more productive, try to unplug from your professional commitments when you are at home winding down, set boundaries. This will clear your brain and only make you more productive when you are at work.
Stress management is the key to successful sleep. If you are stressed, then excess cortisol (the body’s stress hormone response) will be produced putting the body in a state of “fight or flight.” This is a normal and healthy response for a short term period when you need excess adrenaline; the problem arises when the production is chronic due to reoccurring stress.
Excess cortisol suppresses melatonin (the sleep hormone) and serotonin (the good mood hormone) production, reducing the ability to get uninterrupted sleep while putting the adrenals in a state of fatigue and exhaustion if cortisol production is high for a long period of time. Most people wake up and cannot go back to sleep between the hours of 2am and 6am due to adrenal insufficiency. Some ways to cope and repair include engaging in meditation, yoga or simply incorporate activities that bring joy into your everyday life like crafting or playing games.
Nutrition has a major influence on stress and sleep. It is best to fall asleep on an empty stomach to allow your body the ability to repair and rest without having to concentrate on digesting food. Meal timing is important but food choices are also just as important. A diet that is rich in heart healthy fats, abundant vegetables, fruits and quality protein that are close to its most natural state is best. A processed diet that is full of preservatives, chemicals, sweeteners and dyes can in itself stress the body and have a negative influence over sleep and stress levels. A healthy balanced diet keeps the insulin and blood glucose levels stable which helps keep the mood stable and the mind sharp reducing a negative stress response.
Shut off the television an hour or two before bedtime. The light from the television affects your body in much the same way that daylight does, think about how bright the casinos are in Las Vegas, they want you to be wide awake at all hours of the day. Also, most TV shows are not relaxing and they may raise your levels of stress hormones, which is one of the worst things you can do for your body at night. Read a book, take a bath or just take some time to relax. Over time this will reduce the amount of tossing and turning you do while trying to fall asleep.
Ensure you are getting quality nutrients from food and supplementation. Magnesium has been shown to help restless leg syndrome in addition to a core supplementation program of multi-vitamins, fish oil, and probiotics. If the body is deficient in any nutrients, sleep quality will be affected. Aim to consume at least 5 servings of vegetables and some fruits daily; the optimal servings per day are 9-11. Consume a balance of protein (eggs, fish, poultry, beef), heart healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, an nut butters), and antioxidant rich foods like vegetables and some fruits.
Consider supplementing with 5-HTP, this is a precursor to two important hormones melatonin and serotonin. If those hormones are depleted it will be difficult to fall asleep and could cause excessive sugar and carbohydrate cravings.
Aim to have a cool, dark and quiet bedroom. Noisy gadgets and bright lights from clocks or baby monitors can interrupt quality sleep and affect your overall health over time. Wear a sleep mask and ear plugs if you cannot tune out even the softest noises.
Be consistent, we push our kids to adhere to a specific bedtime, why don’t we do the same discipline for our own health. The best window of time to sleep is between the hours of 10pm-6am; this correlates with the body’s natural rhythm and natural light patterns, sunrise and sunset.
Improving sleep quality may take away from the hours that you are awake during the day but the mental clarity and increased energy will be worth it for the hours that you are awake.
The Endocrine Society. One Sleepless Night Can Induce Insulin Resistance in Healthy People. Science Daily 5 May 2010 (http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2010/05/100505091632.htm)
University of Hafia. Artificial Light at Night Disrupts Cell Division, Research Shows. Science Daily. 20 April 2010 (http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2010/04/100412095542.htm)