Often we think that the reason we have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep is that we just have too much on our schedules and our thoughts just won't give us any peace. But there is a lot more to it than being "in our head". Continuous stress can wreak havoc on our not only our emotional state but our physical bodies as well.
When we are under stress our adrenal glands produce a hormone called cortisol. This corticosteroid increases blood sugar by stimulating the liver to make glucose. To control the amount of blood sugar, the pancreas then releases insulin. Insulin brings down the blood sugar levels. This is fine for "fight or flight" when short spurts of instant, quick energy are needed. But when the body is under constant stress, the adrenals become exhausted and cannot produce enough cortisol to keep up with the demand. This constant increase in blood sugar results in the increased demand for insulin. If the body cannot keep up, the blood sugar remains too high and the body is at risk for adrenal fatigue. According to the Mayo Clinic, adrenal fatigue is term applied to a collection of nonspecific symptoms, such as body aches, fatigue, anxiety, digestive issues and sleep problems. Natural healers often use a saliva cortisol test to evaluate adrenal function.
Too many of us automatically reach for the coffee pot or energy drinks in our efforts to perk up during those mid-day slumps. To stimulate already exhausted adrenals only makes things worse.
Poor diet choices are another reason for adrenal issues and sleep disturbances. Foods that are lacking in necessary B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and zinc result in the body making up for that by depleting its own stores to digest these "empty" foods. Reaching for simple carbohydrates for a snack is a bad habit that only backfires.
High sugar levels put added stress on the body by increasing cortisol levels. The increase in cortisol results in the release of insulin by the pancreas to get the sugar levels down. The constant fluctuation can interfere with the body's ability to handle sugar, and we end up feeling tired, depressed and trouble concentrating. If glucose is too low and not at optimal levels, the body will burn fat, the end result being acidic. There is a shift in potassium and sodium levels causing the pH to drop below 7.4. The body should be slightly alkaline for optimal health.
When my children were small I loved the books by Dr. Lendon Smith. He was a pediatrician who believed that nutrition plays a major role in behavior. He strongly encouraged parents to observe more closely what their children were eating before being so quick to label them as a behavior problem. One food in particular that he wanted adults as well as children to have handy during the day was a baggie of whole, raw almonds.
Almonds are considered king of the nuts. Containing protein, fiber, essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6, vitamin E, zinc, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium. While almonds do have fat in them, it is monosaturated fat, which is the good type of fat. They help you feel full, don't cause a large increase in blood glucose levels, which make for a perfect snack.
As far as helping with sleep, almonds contain a great source of tryptophan, which helps to relax and calm down. Snacking on some almonds instead of potato chips or cereal as a before bed snack can be a great help for people who have trouble sleeping.
Other foods to help with sleep are those rich in:
Calcium increases the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a neurohormone that is released at nightfall. It is an antioxidant hormone that calms down brain activity.
milk, yogurt, almonds, spinach, kale and figs
A raise in calcium levels should always include a raise in magnesium as well or kidney stones could form. Studies have shown that magnesium promotes the slow wave or deep sleep.
leafy green vegetables
unrefined wheat bran
Tryptophan, an amino acid, improves sleep by way of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter known to improve mood, so can promote sleep by relieving depression. Melatonin is the hormone released from the pineal gland during the night and helps promote sleep.
Complex carbohydrates are nutrient-dense foods and include whole grains and vegetables.
These foods are low-glycemic, which means that they provide a stable glucose level and do not cause insomnia through glucose-fueled highs and sugar crashes.
Foods rich in B vitamins
B vitamins are the most important vitamins to sleep health. Some B vitamin deficiencies are known to cause insomnia.
liver, beef, poultry, seafood
legumes, nuts, whole grains, seeds
Massage, bath oils and linen sprays can also help with sleep and anxiety issues.
Combine any of these with a hot cup of chamomile tea and a nice dollop of raw honey.
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