Quite often around the beginning of summer and the beginning of winter, there’s an uptick in sleep disturbances for many people. If you’ve ever had difficulty sleeping (for several nights in a row or chronically), then you know how frustrating not being able to sleep can be. It’s a difficult task to determine what may be actually causing the sleep issues for each person, but some of the common influencers are elevated stress / anxiety (i.e cortisol imbalance), increased systemic inflammation, poor diet (or general digestive dysfunction), and of course a host of lifestyle factors that force the body to ignore essential environmental cues to entrain their natural circadian rhythm. Usually folks don’t start to have trouble sleeping out of the blue – there’s an underlying cause that’s contributing to it. Each person may have a different cause for their sleep troubles, but there are several nutrients that everyone needs to support their sleep cycle, and they may be worth trying if you have trouble sleeping yourself.
- Magnesium – this mineral is a co-factor for serotonin (5-HT) synthesis which is a major mood hormone produced in the gut. Magnesium is also a relaxing mineral to the central nervous system and smooth muscles which can both become tense and over-reactive during times of stress. Supplementing with magnesium before bedtime helps to calm the central nervous system and promote a sense of restfulness throughout the body to transition into a more relaxed sleep.
- 5-HTP/Tryptophan – This is another factor that helps to promote serotonin and reduce night terrors (and anxiety around sleep in general) and to improve sleep latency and also increases melatonin production. Tryptophan rich foods include: seaweed, soy beans, spinach, turnip greens, horseradish, broccoli, asparagus, mustard greens, beet greens, mushroom, cabbage, red leaf lettuce, lamb, pork, poultry, beef, game meats, eggs, cheese.
- Omega-3 fatty acids – these are the essential fatty acids that we must obtain from our foods for brain health, eye health, joint health and cardiovascular health. Omega-3 fatty acids, when eaten daily in our foods, reduces epinephrine and cortisol spikes in response to stress, basically buffering our body from the long term effects of elevated cortisol which is inflammatory to the body over time. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, cod, anchovies, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds and hemp seeds.
- L-Theanine – this non-dietary amino acid induces a relaxed alertness and is considered a mild anxiolytic (helps with anxiety). It’s calming to a racing mind if you have a busy brain before bed time.
- Melatonin – this sleep hormone restores circadian induced sleep cycles, and your body naturally produces about 1mg of this every night. Although you can purchase melatonin over the counter in most health food stores, I would not recommend supplementing with this long term. It’s more ideal to use to re-establish your circadian rhythm after traveling through time zones or if you’ve had shift work throw off your natural sleep cycle. Rather, you can support your body’s natural production of melatonin by paying attention to environmental cues – most importantly the absence of light. Melatonin is secreted when your eyes perceive the sunset. As light decreases, melatonin rises. When light increases, melatonin goes down (signaling us to wake up). So turn off or dim your house lights about 1 hour before bedtime, stay off screens and computer and away from TV screens to promote your melatonin rise every evening.
If you do begin supplementing with sleep supporting nutrients, always start with one at a time and at the recommended dosage or consult with your health care provider to determine what is the correct dose for you. You can also schedule a free 30 minute health coaching appointment with me at Ellwood Thompsons to discuss additional options!
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a 30 minute health coaching appointment on an upcoming Thursday night.
Lindsay Kluge M.Sc, CNS, LDN | HealthCoach@EllwoodThompsons.com