We spend a third of our life in bed, but unfortunately, that does not always mean restful or sufficient sleep. Sleep deficiency is a major factor in health status. Lack of sleep has been linked to increased obesity due to lower leptin levels which control the appetite, it lowers immunity, interferes with cell repair, and increases cognitive and emotional impairment. The 2006 National Sleep in America poll indicated that only 45% of adolescents got sufficient sleep, but that percent declined as they got older. In two studies, adults age 25-64 were most likely to sleep 6 hours or less in a twenty-four hour period. With earlier school start times, more commuting time, increased caffeine intake, electronic phones and devices, and televisions in bedrooms, the problem of poor quality sleep continues to grow.
The amount of sleep needed for optimal health varies from study to study, but appears to be seven and eight hours per night for adults, at least ten hours for school age children, and nine to ten hours for teens. Any amount on either side of this is not recommended.
Remedies to Improve Sleep Duration and Quality
First, try good sleep hygiene, which means:
- Consider meditation or quiet activities the hour before bedtime.
- Turn off the TV and don’t watch the news several hours before bedtime.
- Keep cell phones and other electronic devices out of earshot. Don’t keep checking text messages into the night.
- Keep the bedroom dark and tranquil without extra stimulants such as wiggly pets.
- Avoid using any blue light appliances prior to or in bed because it limits the production of melatonin more than any other wavelength. Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps regulate the sleep/wake cycle.
- Maintain a room temperature between 54 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit; either side of that may be too uncomfortable to sleep well.
- A good mattress and pillow that support the head and neck, and breathable bed linens are essential.
- Consider filtering out noises by using a white noise appliance.
- Can’t get to sleep or stay asleep? Leave the bedroom and read, or do some non-stressful activity until becoming tired and then return to bed.
- Exercise helps improve sleep, but do it earlier in the day.
Natural Herbs, Teas, and other Supplements
Achieving a good night’s sleep, can be as simple as using natural supplements—before trying medications. Some of these may be worth exploring, including:
- Melatonin helps, but research is mixed on whether it helps sleep duration, insomnia, or sleep restoration. Like dietary supplements, it is not regulated by the FDA and purity problems can exist.
- Valerian root increases the amount of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which promotes relaxation and calm. It may help with a deeper sleep, but may take a few weeks to become effective.
- Magnesium helps maintain the efficiency and regulation of the body’s biological clock and the pineal gland where the body’s melatonin is made, thus promoting sleep. However, it can interact with a few medications, or cause diarrhea in large amounts.
- L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, has been found to reduce stress, improve concentration and alertness, but also promote sleep and relaxation. Use it decaffeinated.
- Lavender essential oil can help promote sleep in some people when used prior to bedtime in a warm bath or applied in a small amount to the pillow. It has been shown to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature thus promoting relaxation.
- Chamomile has been a sleep aid for hundreds of years. Its health benefits outside of sleep are numerous including anti-inflammatory properties, digestive aid, and sore throat remedy. It is traditionally taken as a tea.
- Lemon balm is another anti-inflammatory herb that promotes a deeper and more restful sleep.
If these steps do not promote a restful night’s sleep, then it may be time to seek professional medical help.
By Sarah Laidlaw, MS, RDN, CDE
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