Updated: Sep 5, 2021
Sleep is one of the most basic things we do in life. Sleeping well, however, can be a struggle. Sleep affects your energy level, mental clarity, comprehension, memory, mood, stress, hormones, inflammation, blood sugar, and the growth and repair of your body. Many people do not realize that sleep also affects your ability to properly absorb nutrients and lose weight. While the pharmaceutical world has tried to come up with a plethora of solutions for disrupted sleep or insomnia, it comes at a cost. Many of these pharmaceutical solutions tend to be habit forming. Thankfully, there are other solutions to help your body have a restful sleep that do not involve potentially harmful chemicals. The last thing you want is to create more problems while trying to fix one. Part of your nutrition journey begins with getting a better night’s rest, so that your body is able to absorb all the nutrients you are giving it.
Ways to restore quality sleep:
Sunshine: Getting 10 to 15 minutes of daily sun exposure, especially in the morning, helps to adjust your circadian rhythm. Often for those who find it difficult to sleep at night, restoring proper circadian rhythm will restore proper sleep times. Daily sun exposure will help to reset your circadian rhythm and also reset your naturally occurring melatonin release. Melatonin is a neurochemical that is released from the hypothalamus in the brain which helps to bring about sleepiness after the sun sets. Try taking a morning walk to wake up the senses. You could walk to your local coffee shop for some fresh brew. You could take a quick stroll through your neighborhood, or walk the dog. I personally like to enjoy my bowl of morning oats out on the balcony, just watching the city.
Movement: Movement has many benefits, including improved sleep duration and quality. Studies have shown that a 10 minutes of physical activity provides both physiological and psychological benefits. Current recommendations by the American Heart Association suggest about 20 minutes of exercise daily. Regular exercise supports your overall health as well as weight loss. Regular aerobic exercise (cardio) done no later than an hour and a half before bedtime can help you fall asleep faster and improve REM sleep (deep sleep).Physical activity can include anything from doing chores around the house, gardening, walking, hiking, dancing, running, yoga, swimming, cycling, or strength training. Find something you love and move your body!
Sleepy Teas: Herbal teas like chamomile, passionflower, valerian root, lavender and magnolia bark can help to induce a calm and relaxed state helping you fall asleep. There is also the ritual aspect of drinking a cup of hot tea at night. Rituals like this help train the body to know when it is time to wind down and get ready for some Zzz's. Herbs do not directly induce sleep, they have anti-anxiety and calming properties that help relieve some of the mental stress. Getting to sleep easy can be hard when you have a million thoughts racing through your mind leaving you anxious and alert. These herbal teas also have anti-inflammatory properties which help to further support your body by creating a more calm environment for improved digestion and absorption so that you can get the most out of your nutrition.
Lavender: Lavender has been used as a medicinal and therapeutic remedy since the Middle Ages for insomnia, anxiety, and mood disorders. The active components of lavender are linalool, linalyl acetate and lavandulol, camphor and a few others. Many of you may have already heard of the benefits of lavender and even used it as a natural remedy for sleep issues or anxiety. There is science behind lavender's long standing reputation and human studies support the benefits of lavender in ameliorating sleep disturbances, anxiety and depression. Lavender can be used topically on the skin, as aromatherapy oils, or even ingested as an encapsulated oil preparation. I personally enjoy the scent of lavender and use a dilution topically on my skin. I apply it to my wrists, temples, and forehead throughout the day when I notice myself tense up or get anxious. For bedtime, I also have a homemade lavender spray. I spray a few spritzes over my sheets before I get into bed at night. The scent helps to relax me as I do my bedtime meditation to calm my brain before drifting off to sleep. You can also get creative and try cooking with lavender! There are a variety of dishes that pair well with a touch of lavender, from sweet ( lavender, lemon & white chocolate) to savory (lavender herb baked chicken).
Magnesium: Magnesium Glycinate specifically helps to relax muscles making it easier to fall asleep, especially for those that feel tense, exhausted and wired at bedtime. Magnesium Citrate also helps in this way, but with an added digestion benefit that can help keep your bowel movements regular. From a nutrition aspect, magnesium is found in a wide variety of foods. Oats, buckwheat, avocado, banana, beans, cashews and pumpkin seeds are great sources for magnesium. These magnesium rich foods also provide lots of other vitamins, minerals and fiber that help to provide anti-inflammatory benefits and support your body. You can check out my Black Bean Hummus Recipe to get your dose of magnesium.
I hope that by incorporating a few of these simple tips into your daily routine, you will support your body and mind with more fulfilling sleep. Sleep is essential to detoxing the brain, resetting hormones and restoring the body to balance. Sleep is the foundation for your health. Exercise and a healthy diet will not be effective until proper sleep hygiene is in place. You got this!
* Always consult with your doctor or certified nutritionist to clarify what dosages are right and safe for you and to avoid any potential interactions with prescription medications.*
Aida Sadeghi, MS, CNS
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