Sleep- It’s Crucial!
I will be writing an entire paper on this incredibly important topic in the near future. I can not put a number on the importance of sleep. Millions and millions of people have poor sleep habits and it is totally explainable in the vast majority of cases. And, it has potentially cataclysmic effects on our health, ranging from poor decision making to increased cancer rates. The following is a letter that I just wrote that will serve as a primer for the paper to come. I hope it helps.
On this Page:
*Things to Do and Not to Do to Get a Better Night’s Sleep – This is a quick list that I just put together in response to an Email I received recently. I will add to this list as I continue to read about this vital topic. I’m sure that there a number of naturopathic remedies that help in this crucial issue, but the main reasons we are having trouble sleeping are very obvious violations of well-known nutritional and lifestyle principles.
*Letter To An Insomniac– This is a quick Email I sent to an Internet acquaintance that serves as a brief introduction to the absolutely crucial topic of sleeping properly.
*Another Letter to an Insomniac– This is an updated letter that contains some supplements that may help. When I started taking vitamin D3, magnesium and a new omega 3, I started sleeping like a teenager again. Amazing!
Things to Do and Not to Do to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
This is a quick list that I just put together in response to an Email I received recently. These days, this is how I have to do things in order to get anything done. I will add to this list as I continue to read about this vital topic. I’m sure that there a number of naturopathic remedies that help in this crucial issue, but the main reasons we are having trouble sleeping are very obvious violations of well-known nutritional and lifestyle principles. Covering up these things rather than addressing them head-on will always be met with failure in the end.
It is critical for the reader to understand the principles set forth in The GARD section of this site. It should be easy to grasp the fact that certain foods (the top 4 food allergens) are doing physical harm to the intestinal tract, which sets us up for a myriad of medical conditions, many of which will affect the quality of our sleep (e.g. pain syndromes, IBS, neurodegenerative diseases).
These same foods are loaded with the “excitotoxins”, which are neurostimulating amino acids that disrupt sleep directly as well as worsen pain and other neurological conditions. The obvious excitotoxins are the “free” forms of glutamate (glutamic acid) and aspartate (aspartic acid) found in MSG and aspartame (NutraSweet) respectively. They hit the brain in less than an hour. However, the “bound” forms in food take 4-6 hours, contributing greatly to the all-too-common pattern of waking like a shot at 1-2 AM and not being able to go back to sleep. This interval is also commonly seen in epileptics ( especially in those that are not on anti-convulsant medication).
We also need to understand that light is very stimulating. This is illustrated by the fact that certain light sources (those that are flickering/flashing) can bring on seizures in those with epilepsy. It is the change in light, even through your eyelids, that helps to wake you up in the AM if you are on a normal sleep-wake cycle. But it is the prolonged exposure to light through television and computers (and full moons) that is postponing your serotonin to melatonin conversion, which is crucial for normal sleep.
So, it becomes pretty obvious what we have to do, isn’t it? We must become healthier, stop eating certain, foods, curtail certain habits, and take a few supplements along the way and we can reverse this deadly trend of not sleeping well. Yes, we will not only have a life of reduced quality by not sleeping properly but we will have an abbreviated one.
Here’s a checklist:
1) Examine what you are eating 4-6 hours before bed time and avoid the food rich in “excitotoxins”. The foods rich in glutamate and aspartate are listed here on my site. Avoid those that are the richest and you may see an immediate improvement in your sleep. Run from MSG and NutraSweet.
2) Listen to your body when it comes to your bed time. Our brain’s serotonin levels are maximized during the daylight hours and start to drop rapidly following the onset of darkness as serotonin is converted to melatonin. It is normal for us to get sleepy within hours of dusk, with 9-10 PM standard time being a typical time for sleep to be initiated.
3) Avoid prolonged exposure to bright, moving light prior to sleep. Yes, this includes televisions and computers. Ohhh, this is so easy to say and hard to do. But, that doesn’t make it any less true. As discussed, light is very stimulating and postpones serotonin to melatonin conversion. How many of you have pressed through the sleepiness to watch a TV program or finish a project on the computer only to find yourself capable of staying up ’til the wee hours, struggling to sleep when you finally hit the sack? Been there, done that!
4) Avoid excessive caffeine consumption. Most of you know that this is a big factor but many don’t know the whole story behind caffeine. I read a while back that caffeine consumed after 7 AM but before 3 PM delays serotonin to melatonin conversion thereby postponing bedtime. Caffeine consumption after 4 PM speeds up melatonin to serotonin conversion on the waking end, thereby causing us to wake up earlier in the morning. (So, the best time to consume caffeine was shown to be between 3 and 4 PM.) This certainly fit my personal experience.
5) Avoid the foods rich in depressants that cause us to become caffeine addicted. This is where those pesky casomorphins and gliadomorphins come into play. I discuss these in a number of places on the site (e.g. under Food Addiction in the Appetizers section). These proven addictive depressants are greatly responsible for the fact that 75% of the calories in the Standard American Diet (SAD) are from dairy and wheat alone, the main sources of these LSD-like compounds. They are also one of the main reasons we are caffeine addicted. This country would be sound asleep mid-day if caffeine wasn’t so readily available. They are also responsible for the down cycle of ADHD and other mood swing disorders. These same foods (gluten grains and dairy) contain the “antidotes” to these depressants- the “excitotoxins”, glutamate and aspartate, that show up 4-6 hours later, waking us up or sending our kids into the hyper mode of ADHD.
6) Take a good, proven omega-3 fatty acid supplement. It was an Email from a new Internet acquaintance that prompted me to do this section today. She explained that her prolonged insomnia (7 years, a good number) was cured by using an omega three preparation called Coromega. She saw an improvement in one week, a better change in one month and after 1.5 years was sleeping normally. I can easily believe this as omega threes are crucial to our health in many regards and most in the US are woefully deficient in these essential fatty acids. The brain certainly requires these for optimal function and longevity, but so do our cardiovascular systems, joints and more.
7) Sleep in a darkened room but not necessarily one that is blacked-out. I hear of people sleeping with the TV on. This cannot be good for the reasons above. Our eyes are actually very sensitive and it takes very little to keep our serotonin-melatonin cycle from being optimal. Again, the light coming through the window in the AM…through our closed eyelids…is one of the signal for us to awaken (along with the neighbor’s barking dog. LOL). So, I do not recommend black-out shades unless that is critical to reducing the light in the room to an acceptable level. We need the light to come into the room on the other end of our sleep. But if you have a neighbor who is especially proud of their security lights, you may need to make an adjustment.
8) Consider some vitamin, mineral, and other supplements. There are some specific sleep syndromes seen with B complex and other nutrient deficiencies. Here is a Website that addresses these issues. ( http://www.holisticonline.com/Remedies/Sleep/sleep_ins_nutrition.htm ) Just make sure that you don’t violate The GARD when using certain food sources of these nutrients. Uh, warm milk is out!
9) Get plenty of exercise.
10) Avoid emotional conflicts before going bed. We all know what an argument with a spouse or family member can do to our night’s sleep. This is one of the reasons we should reconcile our differences before the sun goes down.
The main point that I am trying to make is that we are, once again, doing this to ourselves. Many simply don’t understand the critical nature of sleep. That is a very important this to see. It is essential for our well-being, not only for our quality of life but our longevity. We do have our health destiny in our own hands.
As always, I hope this helps,
Letter To An Insomniac:
The following is a letter that I just wrote that will serve as a primer for the paper to come. I hope it helps.
Hey H. and Y.,
Yes, this (lack of sleep problem) is a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE issue and I am about to write a paper purely on sleep. Because our body heals during sleep, this could not be a bigger issue. It is a complex issue but one with very definable aspects.
I personally do not believe that there should be much innate difference between individual’s need for sleep or when they get it. All humans should get close to 8 hours and we should all get it from about 10pm to 6am. That is the natural cycle and one that I am finally on now that I have altered my diet (for 6 years) and am off all caffeine.
BUT, there are many, many things that alter our circadian rhythms and get us off this natural cycle, including our diets, caffeine, lifestyle, and habits. If our bodies are one thing, they are adaptable. We are incredibly and wonderfully made. If we insist on doing shift work…working at night instead of the day…then our bodies will adapt, thank God. But it is unnatural and studies of disease rates among people who do this proves it.
All we really have to understand is the serotonin-melatonin cycle, the effect of light on our pituitary, and what we do to disrupt all of this to understand the dilemma we are in. For one thing, light inhibits serotonin to melatonin conversion. Stay up watching TV or working on the computer does much to delay this conversion. And caffeine does not do what most people think. Caffeine from 8am to 3pm postpones bedtime, delaying serotonin conversion, while caffeine consumed after 4pm speeds up the sleep-wake cycle at the other end, awakening people at 4-5am instead of 6 when it should happen. So many people think that caffeine has “no effect” on them because they can drink it in the late evening hours and still sleep. Now you know why. It doesn’t inhibit serotonin to melatonin conversion after 4pm, it simply speeds up the wake cycle in the AM. Ask those same people about that and they will tell you that this is exactly what’s happening to them….restless sleep after 4 or 5 am. So simple, so misunderstood.
“Insomnia”, the way we use that term, is really a misnomer. Most who call themselves “insomniacs” don’t have trouble falling asleep. They have trouble staying asleep. In fact, they have trouble staying awake. They typically pass out at 9pm or so on the sofa, sleep ’til 11 and then drag themselves off to bed. BUT, they wake up like a shot at 1-2am and can’t go back to sleep. This is a classic pattern for millions of people. I hear it all the time. And, it is the glutamate content (the “MSG” protein in foods, if you will) of their dinner and dessert that wakes them up 4-6 hours after eating, just like the un-medicated epileptic dog that seizes 4-6 hours after meals. (See The GARD section of the site.) It takes 4-6 hours for the glutamic acid (glutamate) in our food to be metabolized and reach the brain (whereas, it takes only 30mins to an hour for free MSG…monosodium glutamate…to reach the brain and cause migraines, pain, the “MSG rush” and more.)
So, we have people who now stay up late on the computer or watching TV who are postponing serotonin to melatonin conversion. Many of these same people are drinking lots of caffeine (like the average person does). They ate a meal RICH in the non-essential, neurostimulating amino acid glutamate (found in the richest abundance in the “big 4” foods that cause food intolerance…gluten, casein,soy, and corn), and they are wondering why they don’t sleep? Hmmm…
Our bodies are amazing and they adapt to all of this abuse, so well that we think people are actually different and require less sleep than other and live in different time zones as that article you sent me “explains”. Haha. What an absolutely ridiculous notion, if you ask me. Hey, we are all humans. We may look different on the outside but we are all put together the same way biologically. It is our lifestyles and diets that are different and this has the potential to change everything.
I hope this helps,
Another Letter to an Insomniac:
The following is another Email that I wrote that serves as a primer for the sleep paper to come.
It’s great to hear from you. Glad you found the site.
Insomnia is an incredibly common problem, as you undoubtedly know. Millions of people suffer and that is really sad as proper sleep is the backbone of our healing process. Many things affect it, with diet being one of the main ones.
The question is what is your sleep pattern- trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or both? Free glutamate would be more involved in the former while bound glutamate would be involved in the latter two. The interval from consumption of bound glutamate to its action is 4-6 hours, as demonstrated by both the insomniac and the epileptic (un-medicated). But caffeine, alcohol, TV/computers, daily stressors, and specific nutrient deficiencies can also play major roles.
My past sleep problems were typical of what I hear about all of the time. When I became clinically depressed in my 30’s, my sleep became horribly disrupted and I stopped dreaming altogether…not a good sign. When I changed my diet, I started sleeping much better and began dreaming again but I could never remember those dreams. 5 months ago, I started taking vitamin D3 (Solgar brand, 2200 IU at night), magnesium citrate (400mg at night), and a new omega threes (Moxxor, with grape seed extract). The quality of my sleep improved so dramatically I could not believe it. I started sleeping until my alarm woke me up and could even go back to sleep if I wanted. I used to wake up with a shot and now I wake much more gradually. I’m blown away. This had led to better daytime moods and more energy. I never get sleepy during the day anymore…never.
The main thing that messes up my sleep now is too much TV or computer work after 9 PM and if I drink any alcohol at all. I drink very little but will occasionally have a glass of wine or mixed drink while dining with friends. If I do, I can plan to do some tossing and turning even now.
The wheat and dairy can be the most disruptive due to the casomorphins and gliadomorphins (which cause the down cycle) and how our brain rebounds from them when their effect wears off, just like alcohol does. Our brain up-regulates after a downer and this will wake us up. So, I would remain aware of their possible effects even though they are not so overt. I suggest to people that they try gluten-free products and avoiding dairy for at least a week to see how it makes them feel. Most are amazed. If you are a type A or O blood type, there is a good chance they are doing something negative to you. If you happen to be a B, then that would help explain why you’re not as affected as most.
Give the supplements a shot. They may be just the ticket for you. I also take a kelp tablet (iodine source) and selenium for thyroid health during the day. These are all logical and based on the fact that most people are waaay down in all of these. They estimate that 76% of people are magnesium deficient. Read about that. Wow! Most need D3 due to inadequate sunlight. Our natural sources of omegas (beef, eggs, fish) have been greatly depleted. These are all crucial for brain health. (BTW: Eggs are a great source of protein, omegas, D3, B12 and lecithin- an important phospholipid for the brain.)
Hope this helps,