A Good Night's Sleep - Herbal Health

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Thursday, 3 October 2013

A Good Night's Sleep

The importance of sleep cannot be adequately emphasised. Current statistics put women at the top with regards to sleep disruption with 1 in 3 being affected by disrupted sleep or not being able to fall asleep. Regular lack of sleep has a profound impact on health and the long-term consequences can lead to depression, irritability, headaches, impaired reflexes, reduced mental alertness and physical tiredness amongst other symptoms. Sleep can be affected by a number of factors such as:
  • Anxiety & worry
  • Pain (various causes)
  • Illness (various)
  • Hot flushes & other menopausal symptoms
  • Hormonal fluctuations (may affect production of melatonin, an important component in determining the circadian rhythm/body clock of the body)
  • Mental illness eg. depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Stress
  • Other factors & outside influences eg. noisy neighbours, uncomfortable bed, partner who snores
  • Medication
  • Diet (quality of food and timing of meals)
Additionally, variable shift work has a negative effect on the body. A variable shift pattern does not allow the body to adapt sufficiently and this interferes with the natural body clock (the circadian rhythm). Consequently, hormones are disrupted and the body is in a constant state of change. It’s a bit like being in a perpetual state of jet lag which, on any long-term basis, is not beneficial at all to the body. The solutions to tackling disrupted sleep depends very much on the nature of the problem, establishing a cause and effect and deep-rooted issues which may require specialist help such as counselling for depression, specific help for emotional trauma etc… Some of the strategies could involve the following:
  1. Examining diet and lifestyle
  2. Adopting a holistic approach to the problem. Examine all aspects of: - Mind (mental well-being)
    -Body (physical well-being)
    - Spiritual well-being
    - Psychological well-being
    3. Other measures to relax & unwind
    4. Effective pain management
    5. Meditation, tai chi & other stress-busting measures

Other intervention eg: counselling, massage, hypnotherapy, reflexology etc…
Diet is an integral part of ensuring we get a good night’s sleep. Some of the foods to avoid and some foods that need to be increased are highlighted below:

Foods to avoid
Increase intake of these foods
Biscuits, cakes, chocolates & others foods that are high in refined sugars
Green vegetables except spinach
Coffee, tea, cola drinks, chocolate drinks & fizzy drinks (too much caffeine)
Lettuce (natural sedative)
Red meats, rich creamy dishes & cheese (high in protein & difficult to digest especially late at night)
Porridge (slow-release carbohydrate will regulate sugar and energy levels)
Spicy dishes, curry or oriental foods (can cause heartburn which will disturb sleep)
sunflower and pumpkin seeds (high in magnesium – will relax muscles, relieve stress and promote sleep)
Alcohol & tobacco (disrupts body processes and generally bad for health)
Wholegrain foods & other low glycaemic index (GI) foods (eg. wholewheat foods, brown rice, oats). These regulate blood sugar levels, calm & soothe the gut & nervous system.
Bacon, ham, sausages, sauerkraut, spinach & tomatoes (all increase adrenaline which will keep the body alert at night so that it is difficult to get to sleep)
Increase complex carbohydrates in wholefoods (eg. pasta) boosts serotonin levels which in turn promotes sleep. Serotonin is regarded as the body’s natural relaxant & antidepressant.
Cottage cheese, turkey, yoghurt, bananas & avocado (foods high in tryptophan which is the precursor to serotonin. This in turn promotes sleep.

Valerian tea is very popular with
those who have sleep problems
Lifestyle changes also need to be made in cases of stress, lack of exercise and other issues such as emotional trauma, depression, anxiety and worry. Examples of appropriate measures include:
Stress management – stress has a huge impact on the quantity and quality of sleep. Stress busting measures will not only address the physical effects of stress but also ensures mental and psychological well-being, which in turn will enable proper sleep. Good examples of stress management techniques are yoga, meditation, aerobic exercise, recreational pursuits, hobbies or simply socialising with friends. All are great ways to combat stress. This will restore efficient functioning of body processes such as hormone regulation which, if disrupted, has a profound and negative impact on sleep.
  • Exercise – regular, aerobic exercise is a great way to combat the negative effects of stress, depression or anxiety, all of which affect sleep. In addition to the physical and mental benefits of exercise, sleep will be more regulated as the body can become tired at regular times due to exercise and this will encourages a proper sleep pattern. A calm and relaxed body and mind will positively promote sleep.
  • Herbal help – many have sought relief from a range of herbal supplements, teas, herbal remedies and OTC preparations specifically designed to calm, soothe, relax and sedate the mind and body. Notable herbs include chamomile tea, hops, valerian, passion flower, lemon balm, Californian poppy, lettuce and St. John’s Wort amongst others. These are considered to be herbal sedatives and hypnotics, all of which promote sleep. Their advantage over prescription drugs is that they promote better attributes of sleep without the unwanted side effects such as feelings of grogginess the morning after. Before self-medicating however, it is strongly advisable that the true cause of sleep disturbances is correctly identified so that important issues such as depression, anxiety or emotional trauma does not go undiagnosed and effective treatment is sought. This will eventually have the effect of indirectly resolving any sleep disorders which may well be a symptom of these underlying problems.
Extracts from Modern Living, Holistic Health & Herbal Medicine (2011) by Yaso Shan. Published by Booklocker Inc USA. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Modern-Living-Holistic-Health-Medicine/dp/1609106393

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