Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My Sleep Solution: How I Ended Insomnia Naturally!



Did you know that how you sleep can affect how you eat? Studies have shown that people who have trouble sleeping are twice as likely to eat sugary foods and simple carbs just to make it through the day. The reason being is lack of sleep plays a role in cravings and reduces your overall brain function by affecting your moods. You should  also understand is the science of sleep. When it gets dark outside, your body senses the lighting change and starts making the hormone melatonin, which communicates to your body that it is time to prepare to sleep. 


I once went to a health expo at my local convention center and spoke to a sleep doctor. He told me to implement a no screen time before bed (phone/computer/TV). My compromise was to not sit at my computer desk with the desk light on because sitting at such a bright desk told my body it wasn't bedtime (slowing down its melatonin production). I created a bedtime for myself- 10pm and set an alarm on my phone to be sure to be in bed by then. I tried my best to create the right kind of environment for healthy sleep yet still it took me a long time to fall asleep and if anything woke me up (like my phone) I couldn't go back to sleep. Not wanting to take sleeping pills, I decided to solve the puzzle of why I couldn't sleep and researched my options.



I'm going to share some popular natural supplements that may help you sleep. I've tried all of these and have had the most success with the last one. Everyone's body reacts differently so what might have worked or not worked for me could be the opposite for you. What I didn't include on the list are Montmorency Cherries (the juice and dried fruit are available at Trader Joes) which are high in melatonin but just have too much sugar in it for me. 



Melatonin - Is a hormone your body makes in the evening to help you sleep. As I explained your body signals its production when the sun goes down. That's why experts said don't sit in front of a computer right before going to sleep because it throws off your body's natural wind down clock. But of course if you have a shift job, your clock is going to be off. Children have a lot of melatonin, thus they can sleep for hours however it decreases with age. For many taking melatonin supplements helps them to fall asleep, but after awhile it stopped working for me. 



5-HTP – I have to get a little technical here explaining how your body makes melatonin and 5-HTP.  So the amino acid L-tryptophan (which is also in turkey) in your body is converted into 5-HTP, then 5-HTP is converted to serotonin, which is then metabolized to create melatonin. If you’re still with me here, serotonin is your feel good hormone that controls whether or not you feel happy. Thus 5-HTP is most commonly used for depression because it works like serotonin antidepressants. 

So putting it all together, the idea being if you take 5-HTP, it will increase your serotonins levels which then allows your body to increase its melatonin which will help you sleep. The pill form of 5-HTP comes from the seeds of an African plant. Trader Joe’s sell a combo melatonin/5-HTP  supplement for $15. Be aware it's not meant for long term use so just check with your doctor first.



Magnesium Citrate is magnesium with citric acid, whose combo is considered the best magnesium supplement on the market. You don't hear much about magnesium, yet I read that about half of Americans are deficient in this important mineral. This is because our soil has been depleted of minerals and magnesium can be lost from your body from alcohol, coffee, black tea, calcium supplements and a host of other things.

When your body is deficient of magnesium, your melatonin is affected. (Melatonin is what makes you fall asleep remember.) Magnesium balances out your stress hormones so you can relax at night and not be up worrying about things. Magnesium loosens tight muscles, which I've found has really helped me after I took up running again. It also regulates important nutrients like calcium, potassium and vitamin D in the body, helps to keep bones strong, regulates blood pressure and sugar levels, supports the immune system, and helps your body to maintain a regular heart beat. Magnesium helps return the body’s pH balance and is a necessary electrolyte essential for proper hydration.


I read an interesting article that said that calcium does not build strong bones, that's just what the dairy industry wants you to believe. Rather most of us get enough dairy through foods but we need Vitamin D and Magnesium to absorb the calcium. Foods with high in magnesium include spinach, pumpkin seeds, nuts (brazil, almond, cashews), beans, soy (edamame), lentils, brown rice, avocado, bananas, figs, artichokes, and dark chocolate. However when you are chronically stressed, you can become magnesium deficient even if you eat these foods regularly.

As you can see, the fourth most abundant mineral in your body is very necessary for proper functioning and just about half of us are short on it. I used to have problems falling asleep but now that I’m taking magnesium at night my insomnia is gone! I take Magnesium Citrate with a little raw honey because honey has magnesium and helps to facilitate the action of Tryptophan (that I talked about before) which helps makes you sleepy and it totally knocks me out!  Insomnia is actually a common symptom of magnesium deficiency, which makes sense when you understand all that magnesium does for your body. 

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