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Natural Health News

Help me get to sleep

In last week’s article we looked at three of the most important things you can do in order to help yourself fall asleep easier. We discussed how beneficial it can be to go to bed when you are actually tired as opposed to when you think you should go to bed. We learned about how important it is to avoid stimulation within two hours before bedtime. Finally, we discussed how crucial it is to eat properly through the day and manage your blood sugar. In this week’s article we will discuss three nutrients that can help you get to sleep.

It’s important to start off by saying that no natural treatment and few prescription treatments will actually help you fall asleep in a healthy way if you are not addressing the causes of your inability to fall asleep. I always recommend to dig deeper to find the reasons for the difficulty because medicating naturally or synthetically never truly fixes the problem and can lead to dependency.

 

L-Theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid derived from green tea. This may lead you to think that it has stimulating properties to it. However, it is an extract from green tea that has a very calming effect on the body. L-theanine is not only used to help people get to sleep but it can be used to prevent or mitigate anxiety and panic attacks. The emotional calming effects of L-theanine are thought to be more pronounced than most other botanicals, which makes it especial useful for people suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mental-emotional health conditions.

 

Skull Cap

Skull cap, which is also known as scutellaria, has very similar properties to L-theanine. It provides a very calming stimulus to the body and is wonderful for helping to wind the body down as bedtime approaches. Skull cap has been used in traditional botanical medicine for hundreds of years and is known to be a very safe way to relax the body before bed.

 

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that we use for hundreds if not thousands of processes in the body. One of its major roles is to relax smooth muscles throughout the body. Smooth muscles can be found in the arteries, visceral organs, and throughout layers of the skin. If a person is deficient in magnesium they are likely to respond very well to magnesium supplementation, especially with a bedtime dose. If the body is tight due to tight muscles or if the blood pressure is elevated magnesium may really help to relax the body.

 

In next week’s article we will look at how supporting the adrenal gland function during the day can help the body get to sleep better at night.



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I can't sleep

The phrase, “I can’t sleep” is one of the most common things I hear patients say during an initial consultation. In fact, poor sleep is one of the top reasons people seek medical advice. For anyone who has or is experiencing lack of sleep, the many ramifications are obvious. However, for those who have never struggled to sleep well there is often a lack of appreciation for the impact poor sleep can have on a person’s life. In this week’s column, I will focus on the most important things you can do to help you fall asleep. In next week’s column, we will examine the treatments to consider for getting to sleep.

 

Go to bed when you are tired

Many people who have difficulty getting to sleep struggle with feeling ready for bed too early and not sleepy enough by the time they actually want to go to bed. This is usually a sign of increased stress hormone production as bedtime approaches. One successful strategy for getting to sleep better is to go to bed when your body is telling you to go to sleep. This may seem too early and you may be concerned about waking too early but this simple manoeuvre can sometimes help tremendously. Often, my patients find that they are able to get better quality sleep and wake more refreshed by going to bed really early if their body is telling them to do so. The strategy usually involves delaying bedtime slightly each night as the bedtime gets closer to your ideal bedtime.

 

Avoid stimulation 2 hours before going to bed

Most of us get to sleep easier when we follow some kind of routine that involves us winding down in the 1-2 hours before bed. This may involve bathing, reading, listening to music, meditation, or other forms of relaxation. On the flip side, many people have difficulty getting to sleep in part due to increased activity in the 1-2 hours before they want to fall asleep. This point goes hand in hand with the first point of going to bed when you are tired. If your body is ready for bed at 8:30 but you push through it in order to clean the house, do paper work, or watch a stressful drama on TV the result will be increased stress hormone production and a delay in your natural circadian rhythm.

 

Manage your blood sugar throughout the day

If you avoid breakfast, skip meals, or eat too much sugar your body will take a ride on the blood sugar roller coaster. When your blood sugar is instable during the day, your sleep is very likely to be instable at night. In particular, blood sugar instability can make getting to sleep very difficult. Think about what you do when you don’t eat properly through the day. Usually, you eat more at night, which may include eating later, too close to bedtime. When we eat there is a complex hormonal cascade that follows, which includes fluctuations in stress hormone production. If you eat too late you will make more stress hormones and delay the release of melatonin and other hormones and neurotransmitters that help you get to sleep. The result is similar if you eat poorly all day and don’t eat a late night meal or snack. You will still make more stress hormones because these hormones help increase your blood sugar, which has dropped due to poor eating during the day.

 

Conclusion

Three of the most important things you can do in order to get to sleep better include going to sleep when your body tells you to, avoiding stimulation 1-2 hours before bedtime, and managing your blood sugar better throughout the day. In next week’s column we will look at some treatments that often help break the cycle of difficulty getting to sleep.



Adjusting to the time change

It seems like every year when the time changes happen we ask the question, “How do I adjust so I don’t feel so tired?" For many people, the week after each time change contains a lot of difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking refreshed. This is compounded in people who have difficulty in these areas to begin with. So, let’s look at the question of how to properly adjust to the time change to see if there’s something you can do to handle the shift in hours better.

 

Wind down earlier

This is a great strategy, especially in the fall when we gain an hour. However, it works well at both time changes in the year. In the week or so after a time change it is best to decrease what you have to do at night so that you can wind down earlier and adjust to your desired bedtime. When we have lots of work, chores, exercise, or other activity after dinner our hormonal production continues to be higher. If we scale things back, at least temporarily, it gives our bodies a chance to wind down stress hormone production and shift into a mode more conducive for sleeping.

 

Go to bed earlier when you are tired

It’s almost inevitable that when you begin to wind down earlier you will start feeling ready for bed earlier. A common problem I see in my practice is when people push through being ready for bed because they think it’s too early. If you fall asleep on the couch or start to doze off while reading a book you may actually sabotage your sleep. The sabotage happens when you get up and begin your bedtime routine. Unfortunately, you may have missed the ideal window to fall asleep and now your stress hormones are kicking in to get you off the couch and into bed. This problem is compounded if you are also doing chores like the dishes on your way to bed.

 

Exercise or be active in the morning

Nothing re-sets your internal clock better than exercise or activity in the morning. This does not have to be vigorous exercise. In fact, it is probably best to do something or mild to moderate intensity like going for a walk, bike ride, or gardening. The benefits are at least two-fold. First of all, morning exercise causes your body to properly produce stress hormones when you rise. This encourages the natural circadian rhythm which is enhanced hormone production during the day and decrease production at night. Secondly, exercise or activity produces endorphins, which make you feel good.

 

Conclusion

As you look at the three aspects of this strategy for handling time changes better you can see how it fits together. Essentially, I’m encouraging you to shift your active times of the day in order to feel less resistance to the clock changing what it says. The overall strategy here is to get ahead of the time change so that you’re not chasing it. Unfortunately, most of us chase the time change and this means we are tired when we wake up and then gradually increase our activity until it’s too late and then we can’t sleep properly. You can see how this can be a vicious cycle. Instead of falling into this common trap, try to get ahead of the time change this time around.



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Too much Halloween candy?

The most common thing I hear in the weeks after Halloween is, “I ate too much candy!” It's something almost all of us have been guilty of a time or two. If you are feeling like you indulged too much this Halloween and are concerned about the potential for further candy binges, this week’s column is for you. In this article we will talk about the most important ways to reduce candy cravings and prevent yourself from becoming sick of candy.

Tip 1 – Spread It Out

I am a firm believer in moderation and balance. I believe you can enjoy your treats 10-20% of the time if 80-90% of the time you follow a healthy plan. This is the old 80/20 rule. Most Halloween candy has an extended shelf life so there is no hurry to gobble it up this week. Take a look at the amount of candy you have and plan out when you would like to enjoy it. The best way to enjoy your treats is to spread them out over time. This way you can look forward to a little bit of a treat over a longer period of time, rather than a whole lot of candy that will leave you with a belly ache.

 

Tip 2 – Out of Site, Out of Mind

In conjunction with spreading your consumption of Halloween treats out over the next few weeks or months it is often helpful to put the treats away where you do not have easy access to them. The more effort it takes to get a snack the less likely you are to actually go and get it. If you carry your treats in your jacket, purse, car, or leave them in a bowl on the table you are putting temptation too close. Keep the stockpile of candy and chocolate out of your view, out of reach, and they will more likely stay out of your mind. And, if they don’t stay out of your mind, at least the thought of getting a step ladder to get them out of a locked pantry shelf may prevent you from actually going to get them.

 

Tip 3 – Eat Preventatively

You may be thinking that the first 2 tips sound great but they are essentially ways to address willpower. What about something that may actually help my physiology? The most important way to impact your cravings is by “eating preventatively”. What I mean by this is a strategy of eating through the day that successfully decreases your desire for sweet “pick me ups”.

Eating preventatively involves eating a meal or snack every 2-4 hours. Each of these meals or snacks contains an appropriate amount and type of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. This strategy is designed to prevent blood sugar fluctuations that lead to cravings. When your blood sugar drops because you ate too much refined carbohydrates or because it’s been too long since your last meal/snack your body has built in mechanisms to cause cravings for sugar.

Our brains run off of sugar and when our blood sugar goes too low our bodies shift into what is called gluconeogenesis. This literally means to create new sugar, and this new sugar comes from your body’s protein structures like bone, muscle, and connective tissue. Think about the timing of when you crave sugary, chocolaty treats. Is it when you’ve just eaten a balanced meal or is it when your blood sugar has dropped due to some sort of less than ideal dietary habit.

 

In Conclusion

Halloween and Easter have a lot in common when it comes to the availability of chocolate and treats. Enjoy the bounty you received this year but do your best to follow these 3 tips so you look back with fond memories to the treats you enjoyed rather than looking back with horror about the stomach aches you endured.



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About the Author

Dr. Brent Barlow is a Naturopathic Physician practicing at The Kelowna Wellness Clinic in downtown Kelowna. Dr. Barlow has been in practice in Kelowna since graduating from the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine in Vancouver in 2009.

Naturopathic Doctors are trained as primary care physicians, and primarily use natural medicine to treat disease and promote wellness. Dr. Barlow believes strongly in identifying and treating the causes of disease rather than focusing on the treatment of symptoms.

Naturopathic medicine utilizes diet therapy, botanical medicine, nutritional supplementation, acupuncture, spinal manipulation and other physical medicine treatments to treat the causes of disease. Dr. Barlow also trained in the specialized treatments of prolotherapy, neural therapy, intravenous nutrient infusions, and chelation therapy.

Dr. Barlow is in general practice and welcomes all individuals and families. As a naturopathic physician he is trained to treat all health conditions in the manner that best suits the goals of each individual patient. He also has special interests in natural treatments for pain management and digestive health.

To learn more about Dr. Barlow's treatments or to schedule a consultation, visit his website at www.drbrentbarlownd.com or call 250-448-5610.





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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.


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