You may have insomnia if you are experiencing any of these symptoms:
- Trouble falling asleep, including tossing, turning, and hoping to fall sleep for an hour or more
- Waking up during the night and having difficulty returning to sleep
- Awakening too early in the morning
- Feeling unrefreshed from the amount of sleep that was experienced
- Daytime anxiety, fatigue, irritability, and loss of productivity
We all suffer with it at some point, but when does it change from a bad nights’ sleep, to full on chronic insomnia? This condition is becoming more common, affecting everyday lives’. We become exhausted, irritable, prone to illness, and even weight gain, all from not getting enough zzzz. Doctor’s just want to prescribe sleeping pills, and we are willing to do anything for a decent sleep. Prescription meds are not always the answer when it comes to insomnia. Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It helps regulate other hormones and maintains the body’s circadian rhythm, which is the internal 24-hour body clock that plays a critical role in when we fall asleep and when we wake up. When it is dark, your body produces more melatonin; when it is light, the production of melatonin drops. Being exposed to bright lights in the evening (such as tv’s or computers) or too little light during the day can disrupt the body’s normal melatonin cycles. For example, jet lag, shift work can all disrupt melatonin cycles. Cortisol, your stress hormone, also plays a major factor in the battle against sleep. (That’s an article for another day.)
Have you ever noticed how certain foods affect our energy levels throughout the day? (Turkey makes us tired, and caffeine keeps us alert?) Food has a major impact on our nervous system. Looking to help insomnia involves adjusting the diet to eliminate foods suspected of stimulating or disrupting the nervous system or triggering food allergies. Also, consuming the right carbohydrates prior to bedtime may encourage the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which reduces anxiety and encourages sleep.
Dietary recommendations for insomnia include:
- If you’re hungry at night, eat quality, complex carbohydrates such as a piece of whole-grain sprouted bread, a bowl of oatmeal, or unsweetened greek yogurt.
- Eat foods rich in L-tryptophan such as bananas*, dates*, organic turkey and chicken (poultry), organic milk, cheese, and yogurt (if you’re not allergic to dairy), beans, and cashews. *Avoid consuming right before bed as they will spike blood sugar, aim for at least 2 hours before bedtime.
- Make sure you’re getting enough calcium and magnesium. Food sources include cheese, yogurt, broccoli and other green leafy veggies, sardines (with bones), and almonds.
- Combine your dairy products with carbohydrates. The L-tryptophan from dairy products reaches your brain more easily when it’s combined with a carbohydrate. As an example, choose cheese and a whole-grain sprouted slice of bread.
- Eat foods that are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, such as organic flax meal, fish oil, wild salmon, mackerel, avocados, and walnuts.
- Add alkalizing foods to your diet. When the body is too acidic, our bodies cannot handle stress and easily become unbalanced. Top alkalizing foods include leafy green vegetables, whole grains, herbal teas, etc…
Foods to AVOID include:
- All simple or refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, cookies, cakes, crackers, processed snacks, etc.) These foods spike blood glucose levels in the body.
- All foods containing refined sugar or synthetic sugar-substitutes such as aspartame, Nutrasweet, Splenda®, etc. Choose a natural sweetener like Stevia or Xylitol instead.
- Alcoholic beverages – Although alcohol has a sedative effect initially, it actually disrupts good-quality deep sleep.
- Foods and beverages that contain caffeine, such as soft drinks, coffee, tea, and chocolate – caffeine is a stimulant that disrupts healthy sleep patterns.
- Energy-boosting drinks – These stimulate the nervous system and can contribute to insomnia.
- Sweetened fruit juices that spike blood sugar levels too rapidly.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) found in many foods as a flavor enhancer.
- Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) found in many processed foods, deep-fried foods, fast food, and junk food.
- All tobacco products, as they are stimulants.
- Avoid heavy meals in the evening hours. High-protein meals may keep you awake.
- Go to bed when you are sleepy.
- Do not stay in bed if you are not sleepy. Get up and do something till you are sleepy.
- Use the bedroom for sleep and sex only: not for reading, working, eating or watching tv.
- Try to fall asleep and wake up during the exact same time everyday (even on weekends) to help your body establish a normal sleep pattern.
- Exercise regularly in the late afternoon or early evening.
- Enjoy a nice hot bath with a drop of lavender oil an hour before bed.
- Practice meditation, deep breathing, and guided imagery while in bed to help ease your overactive thinking.
- Avoid exposure to bright light before you’re going to sleep, and during sleep. Bright lights may disrupt sleep/wake cycles and keep you awake. Use night lights in the bathroom to avoid turning on bright lights in the middle of the night, and use heavy blinds/shades to keep the room dark