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sleep

Tired? No energy?  What you can do to get your sleep back on track

Tired? No energy? What you can do to get your sleep back on track

We all know it: high-quality sleep is vital to everything in our life, how we feel and even impacts the weight that we have on our body!   While the body appears from the outside to be still and inactive, sleep is a time when the body is quite busy. During the night, we restock our supply of hormones, process significant toxins, repair damaged tissue, generate vital white blood cells for immunity, eliminate the effects of stress, and process heavy emotions. Unfortunately we have an epidemic of sleep disorders – from trouble falling asleep to often-interrupted sleep to actual insomnia. There are, however, several straightforward remedies that could help you catch some amazing zzz's and feel more energetic and happier!

If you are struggling with sleep, please make it a priority to help yourself with this balance.

I think it is important to understand what is going on when we are struggling to sleep.  As someone who recovered from Bipolar disorder, I have had many times where sleep was completely impossible and I would be sleepless for days or weeks.

We fall asleep due to the gifts of the pineal gland, a small ant-sized lobe near the middle of our skull in the interbrain.  Following our circadian rhythm, the pineal gland secretes a neurotransmitter and hormone called melatonin. Melatonin suppresses the activity of other neurotransmitters and helps to calm the brain (in part by countering the stress hormone cortisol from our adrenal gland). And as we become more drowsy, the brain slowly begins to turn off our voluntary skeletal muscle functions, so we don’t move around too much and try to act out our dreams or disrupt the body’s internal revitalization work. (Note this is also why it’s so hard to move your limbs or shout out in response to a nightmare.)

For ideal sleep, melatonin should be rising steadily and cortisol should be rock-bottom low at bedtime.  But there’s a catch: the pineal gland secretes melatonin largely in response to darkness.  And our evening cortisol levels are lowest in environments with low noise.   With our addictions to TV, video games, and email in the evening, however, our choices can get in the way of  these natural pro-sleep chemical shifts. These devices mostly display full-spectrum light which can confuse the brain about whether it’s night-time or not. We also, unfortunately, tend to watch shows or view email that can be loud and/or stressful (e.g. the evening news, a crime show, work email, or ever-longer to-do lists). Digesting a heavy meal eaten later in the evening can also prevent (or interrupt) sleep.

So the first thing you can do is take a good look at your“sleep hygiene”.  I am amazed at how often this is all a lot of my cleints need in order to get better sleep.  I help them to identify more calming, quieter evening activities (e.g. reading a book, taking a warm bath, going for a light stroll outdoors, playing with a pet, folding laundry). I recommend no email, TV, next-day-planning, or stressful conversations in the full hour prior to bedtime. If noise is an issue, I often recommend soft foam ear plugs or the white noise of a fan. It is also important to the bedroom not be too hot, as this can disrupt sleep during the night. Herbal tea (e.g. lavender, chamomile, valerian, passionflower) can also help one to relax and set the tone for sleep.  Meditation and a gratitude practice of releasing all the build up of the day is also extremely helpful!   I also recommend no food a full two to three hours before bed and no caffeinated food or drink after 2pm in the afternoon (e.g. tea, coffee, soda, chocolate, mate). Many of my clients are stunned to realize how much a later-evening, heavy meal prevents sound sleep.

There are definitely many cases, however, where pro-sleep behavior is simply not enough, and if you have a funky brain like mine was, there is added support that is often needed. For some people, their brains simply aren’t able to make enough melatonin to ensure solid sleep all night long. Or there is a chemical imbalance preventing sufficient relaxation.

  • If you have trouble falling asleep, I recommend 1mg of melatonin taken 30 min. prior to bedtime (start with the lowest dose for several days before increasing, as this or even 0.5mg may be enough; taking too much will result in grogginess the next morning). This is safe and effective for short-term use (avoid using every night long-term to keep your own pineal gland secreting to its best ability).  Note that melatonin actually helps also to reduce blood pressure during the night too, a key respite for people with hypertension, but please check with your doctor.   Use of beta blocker medications or frequent use of NSAIDs can deplete melatonin and cause these sleep difficulties.
  • If you fall asleep fine but you awaken in the middle of the night and cannot easily go back to sleep, the problem is likely an insufficient supply of melatonin throughout the night. Using melatonin before bed probably will not help much Instead, I recommend 100-200mg of 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) before bed. The body makes melatonin from a neurotransmitter called serotonin (think happy hormone!). And we make serotonin from an amino acid called tryptophan. 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin that, in a healthy body, can be converted to melatonin a few hours later. A steady flow of melatonin will help you sleep more deeply, soundly, and without interruption. Note: do not recommend  5-HTP to any client taking an SSRI or SNRI (or other serotonin-enhancing) antidepressant or sleep medications without your doctor’s review (e.g. Zoloft, Trazadone, Wellbutrin, Ambien); you do not want to risk them developing serotonin sickness, a toxic surplus of serotonin.  Usually taking this three hours away from medication is fine, but please check as serotonin sickness can be serious.

 

  • IF you are already using melatonin and/or 5-HTP and still have trouble with waking in the wee hours of the morning, there is often an issue with low cortisol in the middle of the night (this means supporting your adrenals and that is a whole other blog post!).

 

  • If you have full-fledged insomnia, a combination of melatonin and 5-HTP (yes, you can take both at the same time) is often quite helpful in combination with the sleep hygiene methods mentioned above – at least temporarily while you find support to reduce chronic stress and find ways to make the changes to bring more joy in your life!  As I also do lifestyle coaching in my practice, I have worked with so many people who are in jobs or relationships that they are struggling in and it greatly impacts sleep. 

 

  • If a you have trouble getting stressful thoughts out of their minds at bedtime or cannot sleep due to pain, it is often because of an imbalance of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain (specifically glutamate and GABA, respectively). You will likely benefit greatly from taking calming herbs one to two hours prior to bedtime. I have explored many blends with clients and find that 500mg of ashwaghanda and/or holy basil leaf works best (perhaps combined with 1-3 capsules (~300mg each) of valerian in extreme cases). All of these are long-standing herbal remedies. It is also key to ensure you are not getting surplus glutamate from their diet, likely via the artificial sweetener aspartame (e.g. Nutrasweet) or MSG (often hidden in food e.g. autolyzed yeast extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein).  If these options don’t work to calm a “racing mind”, then likely you will need more targeted neurotransmitter support and you will want to be working with a Functional Medicine practitioner.  I do testing for neurotransmitters through an Organic Acids test to tell what is off.

 

  • If a you have trouble sleeping when you've have had an alcoholic beverage(s) in the evening, this is usually because alcohol interferes with GABA/Glutatmate balance in the middle of the night.  Initially alcohol increases GABA (inhibitory) and blocks Glutamate (stimulatory).  Once the alcohol is metabolized and its effects wear off, however, there is a rebound effect that increases glutamate which wakes you up and makes sleep light and/or interrupted the rest of the night.  Another calming neurotransmitter (and amino acid) called Taurine can be taken at bedtime to ease and reduce the rebound effect.  Taurine increases GABA receptor binding and thus promotes an inhibitory state.  You may easily recommend they try 1000mg of taurine prior to bedtime to help reduce this interference.

There are many sleep medications available today. These can be useful for triage when one is going through short-term trauma or stress. Unfortunately, all of them work essentially as mild sedatives and are not addressing the root cause of any long-term sleep disturbance. They also come with a wide range of side effects that render them unacceptable for long-term use – from dry mouth to stomach ache to a hangover-like fatigue the following day.  But it’s also important to make sure your clients understand that many of these medications can increase the risk of both cancer and death – even with just occasional usage.  If you wish to stop taking these medications, talk to your doctor about how to do so slowly (weaning) to avoid any chemical backlash from neurotransmitter imbalance and get your good "sleep hygiene" down!

Sweet dreams!

Angela

Without restful sleep, it can be challenging for any of us to consider lifestyle change.   Please feel free to be in touch if you would like some extra help here.  I am happy to help.

 

Balance your Hormones Naturally

Balance your Hormones Naturally

Hey beautiful wellness warrior! 

What does hormones have to do with managing moods?  Everything.  Hormones, such as estrogen and insulin, are chemical messengers that affect many aspects of your health as they travel in your bloodstream throughout your entire body. Some of the most common side effects of hormone imbalance include:

  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Low libido

What you need to know about your hormones organs and glands like your thyroid, adrenals, pituitary, ovaries, testicles and pancreas regulate most of your hormone production, and if your hormones become even slightly imbalanced it can cause major health issues.

The good news is there are ways to balance your hormones naturally.

8 Ways to Balance Hormones Naturally

1. All things yoga and meditation

I love how both yoga and mediation are good for so many things - but for hormone balancing they are brilliant!  Yoga is an amazing technology that supports the bodies natural rhythms and balances cycles.  Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce menopausal symptoms with a consistent practice for 8 weeks by more than half.  I consider these two practices as a given in my life and give a huge credit to them for helping me heal from my bipolar disorder - but I also know that one of the reasons why my 46 year old body is still so young is because of these practices that I have.

2. Supplement with Adaptogen Herbs and Essential Oils

Adaptogen herbs are a unique class of healing plants that promote hormone balance and protect the body from a wide variety of diseases.  They combating stress by improving Improving thyroid function, reducing anxiety and depression, stabilizing blood sugar and supporting adrenal glands.

The essential oils that I use for myself include clary sage on the ankles of my feet (the reflexolgy points of my girl parts).

3. Balance Omega-3/6 Ratio

Rule of thumb: Be sure to steer clear from oils high in omega-6s (safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, canola, soybean and peanut), and load up on rich sources of natural omega-3s (wild fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and grass-fed animal products).

4. Heal Your Gut

The health of our gut affects your digestive tract, but also causes hormone issues and can more specifically target your thyroid.  Most people who don't take care of their gut have an a deficiency of probiotics. Probiotics actually help your body produce certain vitamins that affect hormone levels like insulin.

The top foods and supplements that support healing the gut include: kombucha kefir, fermented vegetables, and high-fiber foods like vegetables and sprouted seeds.

In addition, supplements like digestive enzymes and probiotics can aid in repairing your gut lining, which in turn can balance your hormones.

Some of the main things that damage your digestive health include processed foods, gluten, hydrogenated oils and emotional stress so these helpful additions to your life will go a long way to supporting your well-being.

5. Get the Toxins OUT!

I know we all love to go to the beauty counter and buy the nicest smelling or latest make-up products but we take on siginificant amounts of chemicals and toxins into our body through the skin.  Over the years, I have cleaned up my make-up bag, my cleaners in my house, my laudry detergent and for sure don't lather body mosturizer on my skin that isn't full of chemicals.  I think my underarm deodorant was last to go natural because I am such a crazy sweater when I exercise (the fear of the stink in yoga class out-weighed my desire to not stick chemicals under my arm pits every day!)  The good news is that natural solutions are really very good and effective - and I only reserve the stronger toxic stuff for the special days where I am speaking or my wedding day ;)  

6. Get More Sleep

For anyone who struggles with mental wellness, you KNOW that you need sleep.  SO this is a given... but here is what you need to know about your hormones and sleep.  Lack of sleep and sleeping at the wrong time actually may be the worst habits people have that disturb hormone balance.

Why? Because hormones work on a schedule! Case in point: Cortisol, the stress hormone, is regulated at midnight. Therefore, people who go to bed late never truly get a break from the sympathetic flight/fight stress response, which has led to widespread stress-related health disorders in our country.

I know you might be a self subsribed "night owl" but to maximize hormone function, get to bed by 10 p.m.  If you struggle with sleep (even though you know it's good for you!), please check out my tips for getting your sleep back

8. Limit Caffeine

Too much caffeine is almost as bad as not getting enough sleep (and is part of that bad sleep cycle too!)   Caffeine elevates your cortisol levels, lowers your thyroid hormone levels and basically creates havoc throughout your entire body. 

My tip to help lower your caffeine is to start to crowd it out with other drinks that can give you a little boost.  One of my favorites to add to my day is matcha green tea.  I will even add the matcha tea bag with a green tea and mix them together.  This awesome matcha tea not only benefits hormone support but is also a cancer fighting friend! 

9. Supplement with Vitamin D3

I live in Canada and am always grateful that Christmas falls in our December month. Why?  Because by 4:00 in the afternoon I am already in the dark!  My ability to get out and get some awesome sunshine is super limited in the winter and I totally notice what happens if I get off track of taking a vitamin D3 supplement.  Let's just say it is more than the winter blues for me!

Most people should supplement with around 2,000 IU to 5,000 IU daily of vitamin D3 on days they’re not in the sun.  So if you are not getting out and playing in the sun, make sure you are supplementing your sunshine vitamin - your hormones will thank you for it!