Sleep is one of the most vital aspects of our health and well-being. It is essential for our physical and mental health, and a lack of sleep can lead to a wide range of health problems. At the same time, there are various factors that can alter our ability to sleep well including both difficulties with falling asleep and achieving deep sleep.
In this article, I will discuss the importance of sleep, the health problems associated with a lack of sleep, why people have sleep problems, and what can be done about it. I will also explore some evidence-based supplements and herbs that can help improve sleep quality.
The Importance of Sleep
Proper sleep is crucial for both our physical and mental health. It is the time when our body repairs and rejuvenates itself, and our brain consolidates memories and learning. Adequate sleep is also essential for proper immune function, mood regulation, and hormone production.
The National Sleep Foundation suggests that adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. However, studies have shown that up to 35% of adults do not get enough sleep. This lack of sleep can have serious consequences for our health and tends to be connected to health conditions that are extremely common and, in some cases, very serious.
Health Problems Linked to Lack of Sleep
A lack of sleep has been linked to a range of health problems, including:
Obesity: Lack of sleep can disrupt the hormones that control hunger, leading to overeating and weight gain.
Diabetes: Sleep deprivation can affect insulin sensitivity, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Cardiovascular disease: Poor sleep has been linked to an increased risk of hypertension, stroke, and heart disease.
Mental health: Lack of sleep can significantly contribute to the development of certain mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, etc.
Immune function: Sleep is essential for a healthy immune system. A lack of sleep can make you more susceptible to infections.
Mechanisms behind the health impacts of lack of sleep
One of the primary mechanisms behind the negative effects of sleep deprivation is the disruption of various neurochemical processes. During sleep, the brain produces neurotransmitters that are crucial for regulating mood, appetite, cognitive function, and several other vital processes in the body. When we don’t get enough sleep, the production of these neurotransmitters is disrupted. This tends to lead to mood swings, increased appetite, and decreased cognitive function.
Another unfortunate consequence of sleep deprivation is the lack of human growth hormone (HGH). Growth hormone is extremely important as it is responsible for tissue repair, muscle growth, and bone density. During deep sleep, the body produces and releases growth hormone. When we don’t get enough sleep, the production of growth hormone is hampered, which results in slower tissue repair, reduced muscle growth, and decreased bone density.
In addition to the neurochemical issues and lack of growth hormone, lack of sleep can also affect the body’s metabolism, leading to insulin resistance and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Over time, this can contribute to the development of chronic health conditions including metabolic syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and more.
Why People Have Sleep Problems
There are several reasons for why people have sleep problems. Some of the most common causes include:
Stress: Experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety can result in difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.
Poor sleep habits: Irregular sleep patterns, consuming caffeine or alcohol before bed, and using electronics before bed can all interfere with sleep.
Medical conditions: Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, can make it difficult to fall asleep as well as to get an adequate amount of sleep.
Medications: Some medications can interfere with sleep, such as antihistamines, anti-hypertensives, and and antidepressants.
What Can be Done About it?
There are many things that can be done to improve sleep quality, including:
Getting a more regular sleep routine: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help regulate the body’s ability to stay within a healthy circadian rhythm.
Creating a sleep-friendly environment: A quiet, cool, and dark environment can promote sleep.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed: Caffeine and alcohol can interfere with sleep, so it’s best to avoid them before bedtime.
Practicing relaxation techniques: Meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can all help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
Taking supplements and herbs: There are several evidence-based supplements and herbs that can help improve sleep quality.
Sleep Supplements & Herbs:
5-HTP: This amino acid helps increase the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and sleep. 5-HTP becomes serotonin which later becomes melatonin with induces sleep. In clinical trials, 5-HTP was found to significantly increase the amount of REM sleep that people experienced (1). It was also found to reduce sleep terrors in children (2).
Valerian: This herb has been shown to improve sleep quality and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep (3). It has also been found to be highly effective in sleep problems associated with anxiety (4)
Chamomile: This herb has a calming effect and can help promote relaxation and sleep. It also appears to be useful for generalized anxiety disorder (5)
Lemon Balm, Passion Flower and L-Theanine also appear to be useful for inducing sleep (6, 7, 8)
Foods for Sleep
- Almonds – a source of magnesium, which can help to relax muscles and promote sleep
- Kiwi – contains serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can help regulate sleep
- Tart cherry juice – contains melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles
- Fatty fish – rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to better sleep quality
- Bananas – a source of magnesium and potassium, which can help relax muscles and promote sleep
- Warm milk – contains tryptophan, an amino acid that can help promote sleep
- Whole grains – a source of complex carbohydrates, which can help promote the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter
- that helps regulate sleep
- Herbal teas – such as valerian root, passionflower, and lavender, which can help promote relaxation and sleep
- Turkey – a source of tryptophan, which can help promote relaxation and sleep
- Walnuts – a source of both tryptophan as well as naturally occurring melatonin
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(Always use medicinal herbs & supplements under the supervision of a doctor)
by Dr. Nishal R.
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