Is sleep over-rated? I don't think so...

Dr. Brenda Gill
By Dr. Brenda Gill
March 19th, 2012

Sleep can be elusive for some folks. I always ask about a person’s sleep patterns, because, if they are not sleeping well, it can cause all sorts of imbalances in the body.  It is extremely important that people get at least 7-8 hrs/night uninterrupted sleep so the body can recover completely and optimize wellness.

  1. One of the essential steps is to try and go to bed at the same time everyday and get up at the same time everyday. The body really likes to be in a rhythm and therefore minimizes stress on the adrenal glands knowing what to expect. 
  2. Secondly, every hour of sleep before midnight is worth 2 hours after midnight. Again, this has to do with adrenal recovery. The adrenal glands are responsible to handle stressors throughout the day and react to them properly. Due to many people’s lifestyles, I find the adrenal glands are often compromised and/or imbalanced. The adrenal gland has 2 major parts- the cortex and the medulla. The cortex mostly releases cortisol to handle the stressors of the day. If there are too many stressors on the adrenal glands, the raw materials utilized to handle them are channelled to make more & more cortisol. Therefore, the other part of the adrenal glands-the medulla does not get what it needs and the result is an imbalance. The medulla is responsible to release DHEA, which is a hormone that helps to establish mood stability/proper sleep patterns/female hormones during menopause, regulation of stomach acid to break down food, as well as many other functions. So, if the medulla is not getting the raw materials, we start seeing telltale signs. Often a person has mood swings/irritability/anger/ lows & a hard time coping with stressors.
  3. One of the most important causes of sleep disturbances is various components in what we drink.

    • The one I most commonly see is coffee and black/green tea or Yerba Mate/Honeybush/Chinese or Rooibos teas. These are all acidic, which leach Calcium & Magnesium from the bones and can contribute to acid reflux/heartburn, but, are also stimulants, no matter when you drink them. Many folks say they only drink it in the morning, however, it is in the system for over 24hrs. This constantly stimulates the adrenal gland, which has to react to any stressors, so, it’s like revving a car at 3000 RPM all the time, eventually it has a hard time dropping down to 1200 RPM. Therefore, the adrenal sets at a higher rev, so to speak, and has a hard time settling at night, so you can get to sleep and stay asleep.
    • Coffee/black teaalso puts a big load on the liver, because of the naturally occurring toxins in them. When the liver is being over-loaded with metabolites/breakdown products/toxins, people usually wake between 1-3 AM & have a hard time getting back to sleep. I have many patients that come in and remark they wake up every night at 1:20 AM etc, so, I know the liver is being over-loaded for some reason. The liver generally can handle about 2-3 c/wk of coffee/tea, so try to have it on the weekends when you typically have less stressors on your plate or when you are out with a friend. For some, green tea can be more of a stimulant than coffee, so, note how it affects you.
    • Alcoholcan also affect sleep. Again, it puts a load on the liver to detoxify and because the liver is most active at night, you will wake if the liver is weak or over-loaded.   
  4. Other compounds that can affect sleep are thyroid preparations, oral contraceptives-birth contol pills, steroids (including inhalers), beta-blocker medications for the heart, so, if you are on any of these medications and sleep seems to be an issue, you may need to speak to your practitioner to possibly switch medications.
  5. Food can also affect sleep. Sugar & chocolate are stimulants for the adrenal, so, again, try to use these once in awhile, when you have few other stressors happening.
  6. Always be aware that any fast foods or refined/processed foods that have a myriad of chemicals also makes the liver work hard to de-toxify, so limit these as much as possible. Also remember that white anything-flour/sugar/pasta/rice/potatoes also act as stimulants because they release sugar into the bloodstream much more quickly than whole grained foods, so, again, act as a stimulant stressor and requires the adrenal to respond. 
  7. Another strategy that will help is to seek counselling to help you identify your stressors and learn techniques to handle them more effectively or use stress reduction techniques including biofeedback.
  8. Use support for the adrenal gland, which is one of the organs that is responsible for sleep. Consider supplementing with ideal levels of Vitamin C and a B complex with B5 is essential. Herbs that support the adrenal gland are Siberian ginseng, Withania, Licorice, Holy Basil, Nettles and some of the calming herbs such as Lemon balm, chamomile, hops and skullcap. We make an Energy tea for folks to help re-build the adrenal gland.  If you would like some, just drop into the office.
  9. Also consider using support for the production of serotonin that helps initiate sleep. One of the best ways to do this is to get sunshine or be outdoors for at least ½ hr per day, preferably during your lunch hour. The sunshine hits the back of the retina that helps convert raw materials to serotonin. Tryptophan is the main amino acid that is converted to 5 HTP in the body, which makes serotonin, so, 5 HTP is the supplement we use and is naturally high in turkey. It needs Magnesium and B6 for the conversion and is better taken with water.
  10. Low night time blood sugar promotes waking. Therefore, ensure adequate protein in meals, especially supper. There should be about the same amount of protein as carbohydrates(veggies/fruit/potatoes/rice/pasta).
  11. Regular exerciseimproves sleep and helps the adrenals handle stressors more effectively without over-reacting, therefore, include 40 minutes in a daily routine and being outside would be the best!!!!
  12. Restless legsis a common cause of insomnia and is sometimes a folic acid deficiency. This can be an issue in those not absorbing their foods properly and/or have a caffeine sensitivity. High sources of folic acid are green leafy veggies like kale, swiss chard, spinach, parsley, cilantro, beet tops or collard greens- thus the name- from foliage!!!
  13. A simple and effective short term solution is Magnesium glycinate.  This is a highly concentrated and absorbable form of Magnesium to help settle the system down and help start that sleep on the right path.
  14. Sleep apneacan also disturb sleep, not only the person with the apnea, but, their partners. One of the most common causes is being over-weight. So, maintaining proper weight for your height is important. Also, sinus & nasal congestion can often cause improper oxygen supply, so, doing a nasal wash on a regular basis will help.  Food sensitivities or environmental allergies are often the cause of restricted passageways. These should be identified and removed from the system.  Boosting the immune function so it doesn’t over-react to these triggers will also help. So, again, it is important to consider Vitamin C to minimize congestion.     

Brenda Gill is a naturopath practising in Rossland, BC.

Categories: GeneralHealth

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