Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sleep and Insomnia - Natural Help from Foods and Supplements

If you are having difficulty getting good quality sleep, you are not alone in your search for rest.  A variety of surveys report on average 10% of the American population struggle with sleep issues.  From an natural view, there are so many helpful ways to improve both sleep quality and duration.  There are options to try from food and supplements to exercise and mediation.  Some people will only need to change 1 or 2 things in their life to improve sleep, while others will need to change as many habits as possible.  In this post will focus on the food and nutrient side that supports restful sleep.  In future posts I will cover some exercises and meditation techniques that can be useful.

I.) Foods for Improving Sleep:

While high stress remains the most common cause of insomnia, eating the wrong foods can be a major contributing factor and even make stress worse.  The major problematic food classes include: sugar, caffeine,  alcohol, gluten and poor quality fats (industrial seed oils).  Therefore, removing some of these problematic foods and improving diet overall is an important first step toward towards more restful sleep.  After removing problematic foods, start adding nutrient rich foods such as:

a.) Almonds:
A rich source of Magnesium, almonds are one of the best foods for treating insomnia. Found in food and supplement form, Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxing mineral and also works to calm the central nervous system. The Journal of Research in Medical Sciences (12/2012) published a study which found that magnesium can “improve subjective measures of insomnia, such as ISI score, sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset latency, early morning awakening, and likewise, insomnia objective measures, such as concentration of serum renin, melatonin and serum cortisol, in elderly people.”

b.) Cherries:
Cherries and especially products made from tart cherry juice have been linked to improved sleep. Some studies have shown that tart cherry juice concentrate can help to raise total melatonin levels, which are critical to deeper quality.

c.) Bananas:
Banana is well-known for boosting energy, but it also supplies many of the nutrients critical for sleep. Rich in magnesium, potassium and tryptophan, bananas contain the “magic trio” of sleep helpers. The amino acid Tryptophan is especially effective since it is a critical precursor to the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin (both are needed for sleep).

II.) Supplements for Insomnia:

Below is a list of supplements shown to be helpful for insomnia.  Dosages will depend on the individual, and ideally, should be based on the advice of a health care professional.

a.) Magnesium (glycinate or malate) - 200-600 mg/day.

b.) 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is converted in the brain to serotonin – an important initiator of sleep. The sedative effects of 5-HTP can be enhanced by taking it near bedtime with a carbohydrate source such as fruit or fruit juice. start with a dose of 50 mg at night.

c.) L-theanine is a relaxing amino acid found in green tea available as a supplement. Clinical studies have shown L-theanine to induce a sense of calm in patients with anxiety. At typical dosages, e.g., 100-200 mg. L-theanine does not act as a sedative, but it does significantly improve sleep quality. Hence it is a good support agent to melatonin and 5-HTP. At higher single dosages, e.g., 400 mg L-theanine does exert sedative action.

d.) Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is the most popular herbal sedative. Several double-blind clinical studies have substantiated valerian’s ability to improve sleep quality and relieve insomnia. In fact, it has shown effectiveness equal to benzodiazepines. The advantage of valerian is that it does not cause daytime sleepiness, diminished concentration or impairment of physical performance. The dosage for the standardized valerian extract (0.8% valerenic acid content) is 150-300 mg 45 minutes before bedtime. I would reserve use of valerian until after giving melatonin, then 5-HTP a try.

e.) Other Supplement Options:
-GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) 
-Phosphatidylserine (PS) 
-Passionflower Extract (liquid or capsules).

How Acupuncture Works based on Science

services-acupuncture-needlesThe scientific basis of Acupuncture is now well understood. Let's move on from esoteric discussions of "qi" and "meridians" as they relates to acupuncture. A short summary of the science is given below, the full article goes into even deeper into the science. Acupuncture has been shown to act on several mechanisms in the body. Explaining these physiological mechanisms can become complicated, however the basis of acupuncture is quite simple: Acupuncture's effect is dependent on the stimulation of the peripheral nervous system (PNS). This is confirmed by the fact that when nerves innervating acupoints are blocked acupuncture has no effect. Research suggests that acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system to release natural chemicals that alter hormonal output, pain response, and other biological processes. In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted an extensive review and analysis of clinical trials involving acupuncture. According to this report acupuncture impacts the body on multiple levels, concluding it:

  • Stimulates conduction of electro-magnetic signals, which can promote immune system cells or pain-killing chemicals.
  • Activates the body's endogenous opioid system, which may help reduce pain and induce better sleep quality.
  • Stimulates brain centers including the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which modulate numerous body systems.
  • Changes in the secretion of neurotransmitters and endocrine hormones, which may positively effect brain chemistry.
Read more on the full article.