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Sleep Hygiene Part 2
As discussed in Part 1, we further the process toward proper sleep.
The Dangers of the Nightcap
Generally, eating well will help with your sleep. If you stuff yourself with garbage and lie down, you shall wake up and feel awful. If you eat acidic food or things that induce GERD you are also likely to wake up with indigestion roughing up that work you have done to sleep properly. Eat clean and separate your last meal form bedtime by 3 hours or more to allow for digestion.
Limit or avoid alcohol entirely! Sorry, but drinking alcohol is NOT helping your sleep. Similar to anti-anxiety drugs and sleep aids, alcohol increases GABA receptors in the body signaling to the brain to calm down and eventually limiting consciousness.
You JUST SAID it doesn’t help with sleep??? You’re right, I did say that, because it doesn’t induce sleep, but limits consciousness and temporary anxiety. It is semantics I know, but you can be unconscious and not asleep right? Ever get a head injury? Have you been in an accident? “Blacked out from binge drinking??” If you have, and I hope you haven’t, you have likely woken up groggy or sick. It is because you just lost consciousness and did not sleep. Or you slept but didn’t enter deep restful sleep.
You do not reach stage 3 sleep as often, or frequently and sometimes NOT at all with alcohol. It takes as little as one drink to do this and one week to eliminate the effects of alcohol on your sleep quality. It is a dose-effect, but it takes as little as one drink to interfere with your sleep quality, but the more drinks, the worse the effects.
As far as “relaxing you,” goes, yes it does bind to anti-anxiety receptors in your body. However, the effect, as with drugs of similar action (Ativan, Xanax, etc.), is the rebound effect. Once the drug (in this case alcohol) is gone, your body goes into overdrive. This is why you wake up with your heart racing or in the middle of the night feeling in overdrive. It is not the solution to the problem of anxiety, but a patch that can worsen a true fix to your anxiety and brain chemistry…sleep.
Personally, I get SO much enjoyment out of the morning cup of coffee. I don’t usually need it to wake me up, but I really just like the taste, aroma, and feel of the are cups (doing it right now). Once it gets too far beyond that, I noticed the impact it made on my sleep quality.
Caffeine again binds to the adenosine receptor in your brain. By blocking this signal, your brain doesn’t know about the buildup of adenosine due to your active day, and you STAY awake. The good news is that caffeine stays bound to those receptors for a limited time only. How long?? Well each person genetically can breakdown caffeine at different rates, so it is unpredictable. That said, if you get the jitters with one cup of coffee, you probably don’t break this compound the same as someone who can drink 10 cups/day.
Caffeine also directly acts on your sympathetic (fight or flight) system to maintain awareness. Activation of the adrenaline or epinephrine system is obviously not ideal for sleep which is mostly a parasympathetic (rest and digest) system.
The key is to limit dose and limit the timing of your last dose. Meaning, be aware of the caffeine content of the beverage you are drinking and stop drinking caffeine before noon. That includes all caffeine, which may hide in certain foods (chocolate contains caffeine), along with coffee, most tea, soda and energy drinks (yuck those are pure garbage).
Have you ever felt so tired after a long hike, bike, walk or run? Slept well that night didn’t you? Again, the key is in your adenosine balance. You need adenosine triphosphate to perform most functions. Once you burn the phosphates off of your adenosine doing cool stuff, the adenosine is left to build up in the brain, etc, etc (above).
Your body needs to recover after exercise and sleep is the best thing to recover from your exercise. Conversely, exercise can help with sleep itself in as little as 10 minutes daily. Again, the timing is important, as working out very close to your planned bedtime will keep you up (sympathetic nervous system activate!). However, if you exercise and give yourself some time, you will sleep better than if you don’t exercise and if you work-out very close to the bed.
Sleep is Natural
Setting the stage with lifestyle changes, you have built the foundation for successfully overcoming your sleep issues. Now, let’s talk about natural supplementation.
To further prep your environment, lavender as an aroma can greatly affect your mood prior to bedtime. In particular young women appear to have the highest benefit using lavender for sleep issues. It also has many benefits for those with anxiety and sleeps issues in doses of 80 mg daily. Adding this smell to the air is a valuable tool toward furthering that cool, dark and calm environment you have created to improve your sleep quality.
Melatonin is an exceptionally useful supplement. It is over the counter, made by your own body (see sleep phys) and present in certain foods like cherries. Personally, I have had MUCH benefit in regulating my sleep-wake cycle using a small dose (3-10 mg). It is great for jetlag and night shift sleep issues. Take it 20-30 minutes prior to sleep and you will be snoozing and stay snoozing.
Mitigating melatonin’s natural releases in the body magnesium can be added to your plan. Magnesium is commonly depleted in physical exertion and a common deficiency here in the US. This deficiency is tied to sleep issues and insomnia. Also useful is that magnesium increase GABA levels in the brain (naturally, not like alcohol). Doses of 500 mg have been linked to improved sleep as compared with placebo and 225 mg with melatonin 5 mg has also shown benefit.
Several teas can also be useful in aiding your sleep. Valerian root is likely the most common. Though study results are variable, doses of 300-900 mg have correlated with improved sleep duration, quality. I would also note that some people experience dizziness and there is not much information for pregnant women.
Passionflower is another tea-based supplement. Though studies are mixed, some showing benefit and some not, it appears that the tea form is vital to the success of this compound. In particular oral supplements had no benefit compared with placebo and tea with steeping for 10 minutes did show a mild benefit compared with a parsley tea.
Other teas include Chamomille, St John’s wort, Ginko Biloba and kava. I will warn you that kava has the possibility to cause liver damage and St John’s wort can interfere with medications so be careful. Chamomille is safe, but his efficacy is mostly related to its sedative effects.
Protein supplements also have some potential benefits. Glycine in doses around 3 mg prior to bedtime has shown to impact sleep quality, duration and the ability to fall asleep faster. If you do not desire to take this in supplement form, glycine is found in high concentrations in bone broth spinach, kale, cabbage, bananas, kiwis, meat, fish, poultry and eggs.
Similar to glycine L-Theanine can also improve sleep and relaxation, as can Tryptophan, you know like when you eat a heavy Thanksgiving meal and feel sleepy. Tryptophan is a part of this process and is found in high amounts in turkey, chicken, fish, oats, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
Sleep is vital to healing our mind, psyche and muscle recovery. We do NOT do enough of it here in America, but YOU SHOULD! Set the stage for success by making a goal, limiting visual stimuli (blue light), making your room dark and setting your mind free. Eat well, limit caffeine, alcohol and use supplements when needed. If all else fails, just re-read this article and you may be asleep before you know it.