Our view is that, for the majority of people, problems with sleep reside in the body not in the head, or that’s where it starts.
What you eat and what you do during the day affects how you sleep at night. Here are some of our top recommendations to help you set the stage for good sleep.
- Milk– Sometimes we have to look back to go forwards and not so long ago it was routine to make warm milk or milky cocoa for children before bed. Just because it tasted nice? Well, no, because it helps sleep! There are several ways in which milk is conducive to sleep:
- milk peptides, (chains of amino acids found in milk) have a sedative effect on the brain and induce sustained sleep patterns. These peptide bind to the same receptors in the brain (GABA-A) receptors as benzodiazepines (but without all the side-effects!).
- the milk sugar, lactose, like all sugars, lowers adrenaline. Adrenaline causes mental alertness. Lowering adrenaline is good because you don’t want mental alertness at night!
- milk contains anti-stress minerals, calcium and magnesium, that benefit cellular energy production and keep the compensatory stress hormones low.
- the natural protein and fat content of the milk helps to maintain blood sugar.
- calcium also keeps parathyroid hormone low as parathyroid hormone rises where there is a deficiency in calcium. Parathyroid hormones increase inflammation and stress hormones.
- Raw Grated Carrots – sounds like a strange thing to be able to help with sleep but it’s because of the unique raw fibre in a raw carrot, which reduces endotoxins that are formed by bacteria in the gut. Because endotoxins interfere with the way cells make energy, a cellular energy deficit can cause a compensatory release of stress hormones which then cause wakefulness. TOP TIP: add a little olive oil, cider vinegar and salt to the grated carrot to enhance their effect.
- Carbohydrates – It’s a surprising fact but our brain needs just as much energy during the night as during the day. The cells in our body also require a supply of fuel through the night. When we sleep we use a form of stored sugar, known as glycogen, to meet our energy needs and maintain balanced blood sugar levels through the night. When this reserve runs low, our adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol to scavenge for energy in other body tissues. And what is the side effect of adrenaline at night? Mental alertness (and, if you’re unlucky, a racing heart too). That’s right, just when you don’t want it! Our stress hormones are responsible for waking us up. Eating adequate carbohydrates during the day which are then stored as glycogen in the liver can help prevent this from happening. Carbohydrates include root vegetables, fruits, fruit juices, lentils and grains. Not eating enough carbohydrates during the day can spell disaster for our sleep at night.
- Honey – honey is a simple carbohydrate that can be easily added to hot drinks to help keep the stress response low during the day or night. For sleep, it can be very beneficial to add a heaped teaspoon to a strong cup of chamomile or another sleep tea. Because preparation for sleep should really begin in the day, for people who are having a really hard time sleeping, a strong chamomile (2-4 teabags per cup) with a heaped tsp of honey should be taken mid-afternoon and early evening. Another sleep drink should be taken before bed.
- Protein – due to high grain, fast-food diets, protein deficiency is common place. Protein is needed by the liver to metabolise hormones, including thyroid hormones but a frank protein deficiency can also cause an increase in cortisol. Cortisol spikes at night correlate to periods of wakefulness. Cheese, eggs, fish, soaked and cooked lentils, well-cooked mushrooms, and red meat once or twice a week are good ways of boosting protein in your diet.
- Salt – don’t forget to add salt to your food. You may need more than you think! The most recent research suggests that you need between 1 and 1/3 to 2 and 1/3 teaspoons of salt per day for good health, varying with individual needs and symptoms. But salt can be very calming on the nervous system and help sleep because low sodium in the blood can induced the release of adrenaline. With the pervasive advise that low salt diets protect against heart disease, which has been proven wrong by the research detailed in this book, low salt diets are contributing to the insomnia epidemic.
- Daylight – it is essential to get as much daylight as possible as not getting enough can cause less melatonin, your sleep-signalling hormone, to be produced at night. Try to schedule in as much exposure to daylight as you can. Look up at the sky and absorb the brilliant spectrum of light!
- Chamomile – an ingredient in chamomile, apigenin, actually binds to the same receptors in the brain as benzodiazepine drugs. People don’t appreciate how helpful this herb can be because they don’t make it strong enough! We recommend 2-4 teabags per cup with a heaped teaspoon of honey. This can be taken mid-afternoon, mid-evening and again half an hour before bed, but make it a short cup before bed! You can make your own tea using my recipe.
- Lavender – this aromatic herb is relaxing and antispasmodic on the digestive system when taken internally. The essential oil of lavender makes a beautiful pillow drop for night time or you can infuse your whole house with this calming essential oil using an essential oil diffuser. The olfactory nerve, where smells are detected, affect us physically and psychologically, producing a calming effect.
- Epsom salt baths – Epsom salt baths are a perfect way to relax. Add 2-3 mugs per bath (you can buy economically and in bulk online). The magnesium in the salts is absorbed through the skin and is one of our most important destressing minerals. For an added relaxing effect, add a couple of drops of a lavender essential oil.
- Blue-light blockers – If like most people, you read from screens in the evening, then you will want to invest in a pair of blue-light blocking glasses. Blue light effectively blocks melatonin, our sleep hormone, from being secreted by the pineal gland. Melatonin is a hormone of darkness and blue light is a mid-day light spectrum. The benefits of these glasses, worn anywhere from mid-day, when using the screen, can be huge.
- Activated charcoal – activated charcoal, taken before bed can really help sleep (CAUTION – must be taken two hours away from medication. Consult your doctor first if you take prescription drugs. Read here for a full explanation of the benefits of activated charcoal and for cautions). It sounds odd but it’s because activated charcoal adsorbs toxins from the bowel, these same toxins which can interfere with metabolism, glycogen storage, cellular energy and also cause systemic inflammation. Bragg’s is a brand we would recommend. There is no evidence to suggest that activated charcoal shouldn’t be taken daily but we personally recommend taking for a week or two and then having a break of a couple of weeks and starting again, if you are finding it useful.
Sophie & Sarah
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Photo by Harshal S. Hirve on Unsplash