Saturday, January 10, 2009

sleeping soundly

We all need sleep. Unfortunately the pace of modern life and the ability to extend daylight has taught many of us to develop very poor sleep habits. We've all seen the news reports that show how significant numbers of the population are suffering from a sleep debt, many are seriously sleep deprived. We've also seen the reports that show how sleep deprivation can cause delayed reactions and slowed or confused thinking.

Now a new report released last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows that sleep deprivation can be tied to coronary calcification.  In the study calcification rates were as high as 27% of the study population who slept less than 5 hours per night.  It dropped significantly with added sleep and according to the article one hour of added sleep was considered equal to lowering systolic blood pressure 17 mm Hg (the systolic number occurs at the beginning of the cardiac cycle and is the first number in a blood pressure reading - an average blood pressure is somewhere around 115/75).

Sleep hygiene is certainly an important part of our health.  Avoiding caffeine later in the day; going to bed at approximately the same time every night; creating a sleep routine that signals your body that it is time to get ready for sleep; having a dark, comfortable room to sleep.  These are all good practices to ensure that we are getting not only enough sleep but restful sleep.  

Nutritionally there are a few things that you can do to help you sleep as well.  As mentioned above, avoiding caffeine later in the day is important.  Many people claim to not be affected by caffeine but reports from the National Sleep Foundation show that most people are not aware of how much of a sleep debt they are carrying and how it affects them.  Try switching to decaffeinated or herbal drinks in the afternoon and evening.  Carbohydrate cravings are another problem that can affect sleep and sleep quality.  For many people the mid-afternoon carbohydrate cravings are because they are producing too much melatonin at the wrong time of day, this leads to a suppression of seratonin in the brain.  This in turn leads to cravings for carbohydrates.  Getting back onto a good sleep cycle with adequate sleep can help re-regulate your brain clock.  

Many people have problems staying asleep, they wake up around 2 or 3 am.  The general suggestion here is to take calcium and magnesium before bedtime.  Calcium has a calming effect and the magnesium balances the calcium and relaxes the muscles.  Eating nuts (especially almonds), nut butters, cheese, or yogurt are good sources of these nutrients.  Bananas, dates, figs, tuna or turkey are also good choices as they are high in tryptophan which helps to promote sleep.  Remember, this is a small snack, not a meal, so don't overdo the amount that you eat.

If you take over-the-counter products to sleep please be aware that your body can become over conditioned to them and then require them to sleep.  Melatonin and chamomile should not be taken on a long-term basis and if you are allergic to ragweed you should avoid chamomile altogether.

Take care of yourself, sleep well, be well.

photo courtesy of

No comments: