Holistic Health: Is sleep evading you?

Holistic Health: Is sleep evading you?

Tracy Zollinger

Are you getting less than eight hours of sleep per night? Do you wake up during the night several times? Do you wake up and have trouble getting back to sleep? You have insomnia!

Over 60 percent of Americans say they suffer from insomnia. It is so prevalent in the U.S., yet we just accept it as a normal part of life when it happens. A lack of quality sleep leads to a foggy mind, a reduced ability to multi-task, moodiness and an inability to adapt to stress. Insomnia doesn’t just strain your mood or your ability to get things done: It takes a measurable toll on your body systems and their ability to function properly.

One of the many reasons insomnia affects us so deeply is because it hits us at our core. For periods of time when we sleep, our body enters a heightened state of regeneration and healing. Shaving even a small amount of time off sleep can have major repercussions. Here are some of the effects of enduring insomnia:

Greater risk for obesity: When you don’t sleep enough, your levels of leptin (a hormone that stimulates appetite) and you are less motivated to exercise.
Increased risk of diabetes (type 2): You make up to 30 pecent more insulin when sleep deprived. Insulin levels should rise when we eat foods with sugars, and then quickly dissipate. Having too much insulin over time causes the body to become insulin resistant and desensitized.
Strain on your heart: Ongoing insomnia may increase your risk of heart failure threefold, according to two large scale and long-term studies.
Clinical depression and infertility: When your body is not able to get restorative sleep it prioritizes resources to maintain essential body processes, like your organs. Your mood and fertility take a back seat.

Likely, either you or someone you know has or is coping with insomnia. What can you do to fix it?

The answer is sometimes complex as there is a habitual component with insomnia as well as a physical factor. Holistic systems of medicine, like traditional Chinese medicine, understand this habitual (mind) and physical (body) connection well. Effective treatments need to include both factors to be permanently successful. Things that may help you get some shuteye include:

Potassium and magnesium: Both play a part in your muscle function and may relieve leg cramps. Get these from bananas, papayas, sweet potatoes, lima beans, almonds, and dark leafy greens.
Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil): These can help reduce stress hormones, which interfere with healthy sleep patterns. Foods with great fatty acids are salmon and halibut.
B-6: This lovely vitamin is needed to make serotonin, which helps with stress hormones and enhances your mood, and melatonin, a main hormone needed in sleep cycles. Get this in chickpeas and halibut.

Habitual changes are equally important. Here are some common things you should keep in mind:

Winding down: Your body and mind need time to calm down after a day of activity. Giving yourself at least one hour of mellow time is important to transition to bedtime. This could mean reading a book or watching a fun show. Avoid things that get you thinking or upset you.
Electronics and lights: Plan on turning off all electronics (except music) and most lights 30 minutes before you want to sleep. Get in bed and relax. A dim night light to read by is okay, but you want to give yourself the opportunity to fall asleep. Light tells your brain it is daytime and encourages you to be awake. Phones, tablet, television and computers are all light sources and should be avoided if insomnia plagues you (or your bedmate).
Keep it easy: Don’t overcomplicate your evening routine. Make it as easy as it can be.
Ambient noise: Some people sleep better with some gentle ambient noise. Listening to the sounds of rain, waves, waterfalls or white noise can be useful. If using headphones, consider binaural beats, which can quickly set the mind in a relaxed state. There are many binaural beat apps out there, so give them a try.

References and resources:



Laugsand, L. E., Strand, L.B., Platou, C., Vatten, L.J., and Janzsky, I. Insomnia and the risk of incident heart failure: a population study. European Heart Journal March 6, 2013 doi:10.1093/eurheartj/eht019

Laugsand, L. E., Vatten, L.J., Platou, C., Janzsky, I. Insomnia and the risk of acute myocardial infarction: A population study. Circulation, October 24, 2011 doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.025858

Tracy Zollinger, is an Alameda mom, licensed acupuncturist and business owner. You can reach Tracy at 299-0057 or www.tracyzollinger.com.