Nearly all health practitioners agree that getting adequate quality sleep is critical to our general mental and physical wellness.
But so many of us just can’t sleep.
Either we don’t make our quality or quantity of sleep a priority, or regularly getting a good night’s sleep is a chronic struggle.
How can we kick butt at living fully, feel our best, and being energized goal-getters if we are exhausted from a lack of sleep?
Exactly! So…since it’s that time of year for my annual holistic health post and we are also in the midst of the sometimes (ha, who am I kidding…always is more like it!) stressful and overwhelming holiday season – I thought I’d tackle this common health issue by interviewing my friend Dani Segal, PhD, Certified Holistic Nutrition Educator and Counselor, to pick her experienced and knowledgeable brain on a topic that can help us feel better and thereby live more fully.
Without further ado… here are several questions and Dr. Dani’s advice on holistic remedies for sleep*:
Q: In your experience, what is the most common nutritional cause for poor sleep quality in women over forty?
A: A great question! As we age, especially after our 30’s, getting enough good quality sleep is crucial for maintaining great brain health (cleansing the “glymphatic system”), energy and physical health, and a good mood. Unfortunately, it is common for adults to develop nutritional challenges that may cause sleep issues. So, as a nutritionist, figuring out what may be going on health and nutrition-wise is always the first step in being able to improve restorative sleep. We love to use tools, such as certain lab tests (ex. MicroNutrient Inner Cellular Test, Heavy Metal Toxic burden test, GI Map, MTHFR and other genetic vulnerabilities/mutation) to see what each individual person’s needs may be.
Certainly, what you eat and drink during the day may affect your sleep at night.
I have found quite a few nutritional imbalances and diet choices that cause a high risk of sleep problems, but one of the most common nutritional cause of poor-quality sleep is (dare I say it?) … coffee! OK – I said it! (I realize how many people love to drink coffee and are now unhappy with me).
The effects of caffeine can cause problems falling asleep as much as 10-20 hours later in a lot of folks. So even your morning cup of Jo is problematic.
Aside from the stimulating caffeine, coffee diminishes our water-soluble B-complex vitamins. B vitamins help support your nervous system, your adrenal glands, and help regulate your supply of tryptophan, which in turn helps the body produce melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced in your body to help make you feel sleepy.
Another common nutritional challenge is low iron
Many 40+year old women complain of restless legs, unfortunately. Low iron levels are thought to be a possible major risk factor in Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), which can certainly disrupt sleep. Many women over 40 experience more gastrointestinal conditions that may inhibit the absorption of nutrients such as B vitamins and iron. Doing a GI Map Test will help with any gut / digestive issues – offering a “road map” to healing and restorative sleep.
Low vitamin D is another concern. Woman over 40 are going through a lot of hormonal shifts. Many do not realize that Vitamin D isn’t actually a vitamin but rather, a hormone made in the body with the help of sunlight.
As we age, our body does not convert the sunlight to usable Vitamin D so readily, thus we become easily deficient.
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with a higher risk of sleep disorders (as well as immune challenges).
Another concern is magnesium: Chronic insomnia is one of the symptoms of a possible magnesium deficiency. A diet rich in organic greens, nuts and seeds will ensure you get plenty of magnesium. There are also some great magnesium supplements that are very helpful. With any sleep issues, I highly recommend a MicroNutrient Blood Test to check all your levels of important nutrients, especially the ones to help with falling asleep and staying asleep.
Q: What are some holistic remedies for sleep issues that may be hormonally related?
A: There are so many that I could discuss, it is difficult to name just a few…but here are some safe, natural supplements:
~ Melatonin comes to mind first. As I mentioned, melatonin is a hormone naturally manufactured by the body, which helps make you feel sleepy. Melatonin helps control your wake and sleep cycles, known as the circadian rhythm. A nice side note – since melatonin is a hormone produced in a penial gland located in the brain, and it also helps keep our mind sharp during the day, and it has great antioxidant cancer-fighting properties! I usually suggest a sublingual or chewable 1 -3 mg. to start.
~ Another great choice is L-Theanine. This is an amino acid that is found in green tea. L-Theanine may help people fall asleep more quickly and easily at bedtime. Research shows L-Theanine can improve your quality of sleep—not by acting as a sedative, but by helping to calm the mind and lower anxiety. L-Theanine raises levels of GABA, as well as serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals are neurotransmitters, and they work in the brain to regulate, mood, alertness, and sleep, as well as energy. Increasing levels of these calming brain chemicals not only helps sleep, but may provide relief for women experiencing anxiety, and difficulty concentrating – a common hormonal imbalance complaint.
~ A third option may be to try CBD. CBD from hemp is known by many who have tried it as the calming, sleep-promoting pain reliever. The hemp plant is filled with hundreds of compounds, many which have been studied for years. These compounds are known as cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are now used for a broad range of wellness challenges, including sleep and pain, as well as anxiety and inflammation. CBD (or Cannabidiol) is available in several forms – liquid, tea, capsules and gummies. Some add melatonin or L-Theanine. Buyer be aware – there are a lot of poor quality and toxic CBD products online as well as in stores. Healthy Thymes Market only stocks product that has been cleared to be of the best quality, what is on the label IS in the product & third party tested for no toxic heavy metals.
~ There are a few herbs that I suggest if a woman is having trouble sleeping because of anxiety or hormonal night sweats: Chaste tree: Chaste tree (or Vitex agnus-castus). Chaste tree works by increasing luteinizing hormone which helps to raise progesterone levels so that estrogen levels are not so dominant. Also – many women know about Black cohosh: black cohosh appears to act on human opiate receptors, which play a role in regulating the body’s temperature. One herb that many are not aware of is Bacopa: also known as Brahmi, a well-known herbal remedy in the ancient healing traditions of both China and India. I love this herb for its adaptogenic stress-reducing, calming support for healthy adrenal function. Often women will hear me speak about Bacopa as a tonic to restore balance!
~ I love the homeopathic remedies, such as Chamomilia, Coffea Cruda, Kali Phos, Ignatia and Passiflora Incarnate – they are very safe, but may not be used correctly or strong enough for many people, unfortunately.
Q: Are there nutritional health indicators that can be pinpointed and addressed to enhance quality of sleep?
A: Yes, there certainly are. One common health indicator that is problematic for many women over the age of 40 is digestive problems (ex. GERD or Acid Reflux) or gut issues (ex. IBS), which then causes a compromised immune system. Our cancer risk, heart disease risk, our autoimmune disease risk (ex. Arthritis, diabetes), as well as mental health issues all are elevated with these issues. On top of the gut challenges, we experience poor quality sleep.
So, if a woman is having digestive issues, we know that her immune system is in trouble and her gut needs some “love” and repair.
This will also address her sleep & help restore her. When we get results back from the GI Map that shows elevated Zonulin levels or leaky gut (dysbiosis) and we make the necessary dietary/nutraceutical (NOT DRUG) choices – it’s amazing how better our quality of sleep is. And also, our energy during the day – a bonus!
Another indicator may be pain and inflammation. Whole organic foods, plant-based and enzyme-rich diets may improve sleep quality, possibly by reducing inflammation associated with ingesting a primarily animal-based diet. And, there are many natural, safe anti-inflammatories and pain relievers that are available – the OmegaCheck test would offer levels of Omega 3 (the “fire extinguishers”) that are needed to address this. I feel very fortunate that we are now able to offer these great tests and get the results that show us exactly what a person may need to help support an energetic day and a restorative night.
Q: You mentioned the “glymphatic system” – what is that and why is it important to be cleansed?
A: Most people realize that a healthy lymphatic system is important to a healthy body. It works to remove toxins from our body and transports white blood cells to fight infection. If the lymphatic system is sluggish, then the body isn’t getting the help it needs to stay well. (I often suggest dry brushing before a shower to help move lymph fluid in our body.) Well, the glymphatic system is a waste removal system just for your brain and your central nervous system. The glymphatic system is only active at night when we are asleep (and we need about 7-9 hours for it to really work), and acts like a mini vacuum cleaner – cleansing the “gunk” from your brain. Because the accumulation of toxic proteins in the brain are associated with dementia and other health issues, researchers now know that impairment of the glymphatic system due to disrupted sleep could be a driver of many dis-eases.
No sleep – no brain cleansing.
That’s why so many people complain of “brain fog” when they do not get enough quality sleep. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a well-functioning glymphatic system for a joyful, energetic life, especially after 40.
Q: Any general holistic advice for women to get better quality sleep?
A: Oh my gosh – yes! Again, so many come to mind, but I’ll highlight a few important suggestions:
~ First of all, it is so very important in these days of electronic devices, smart phones, laptops and tablets, to make sure that we avoid these devices (with blue light) in the evening as much as possible. As I mentioned earlier, melatonin plays a role in maintaining circadian rhythm. The secretion of melatonin is directly influenced by light. Once the sun goes down, exposure to light-emitting devices in the evening that contain more blue light than natural light has a negative impact on melatonin production – altering our body’s circadian rhythm. This important rhythm is disturbed with any amount of exposure to light, so there is a no low safe dose. Zero exposure for at least 30 minutes before bedtime is best to promote good sound sleep.
~ Aromatherapy essential oils can be very powerful sleep support. Purchase a diffuser and fill it with calming, sleep-inducing essential oils. Some of the oils that I suggest are: Lavender, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Rose and Geranium. You can also relax at the end of a long day in a warm bath with these oils.
~ Keep things cool in your bedroom. The optimal sleep temperature should be below 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
~ Eat an abundance of rainbow-colored foods, rich in antioxidants and avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol: These substances are linked to restlessness and insomnia. Try dandelion root tea in place of coffee in the morning. it is a full-bodied flavor, like coffee, but is not acidic, very liver supportive and has no stimulating caffeine! And a cup of chamomile tea in the evening is so nice!
~ Stay hydrated. Hydration helps your body produce the vital hormone melatonin.
~ Get some outdoor gentle exercise daily. Walking, swimming or playing with your grandchildren at the playground will boost your serotonin and help get you ready for a more peaceful evening.
~ I highly recommend doing a few foundational tests, such as MicroNutrient to find out if you are functionally deficient in any of the nutrients needed for good sound sleep, such as the B vitamins or the amino acid serine. Also doing the GI Map would answer questions as to your gut’s connection to your brain and anxiety as well as sleeplessness (Vagus nerve connection). The Genomic Insight test would pinpoint telltale genetic mutations, or vulnerabilities, (such as MTHFR) that may cause restlessness, anxiety and lack of sleep.
Q: Do you have any favorite teas? Foods? Evening rituals? … that help you get a better night’s sleep?
A: I happen to really enjoy many different teas, but there are some that offer great relaxation: Chamomile and valerian are probably the best known for their sedative effects. Lemon Balm has proven to be very beneficial in improving sleep, and many people have reported back to me that Tulsi Tea (Holy Basil) has improved their sleep.
What you eat will affect your sleep. And being mindful not to eat certain foods, like refined carbohydrates, sugars or fatty foods, late in the day. They can lead to digestive problems, and blood sugar imbalances – keeping you awake. Magnesium-rich foods, such as organic almonds, are a great pre-bedtime snack.
As far as evening rituals, I cannot stress enough how important it is to avoid screen time and turn off technology about ½ hour before bedtime.
Loosen up any tight muscles and soak any worries away in a nice, warm bath with essential oils. Try curling up in bed with your favorite comfy pillows and a good book and settle in for a few chapters of reading.
Remember – about an hour before bed, turn down the thermostat to 60 – 68 degrees. Try listening to quiet music. It can help to create a relaxing bedtime ritual. Calming music produces a white noise in the room and a constant rhythm to calm down your brain.
Keep to a constant routine and enjoy a good night’s restorative sleep! Healing always begins with a good night’s rest!
Thank you for this opportunity to discuss the importance of good quality sleep and how we may achieve it with the wisdom of nature. Taking a pharmaceutical sleeping pill does NOT offer the healing during REM sleep or glymphatic cleansing that is needed to be prepared for the next day’s events and challenges. Getting restorative sleep NOW will matter for your brain health, your immune system & your energy level for decades to come!
And that wraps the interview and Dr. Dani’s holistic approach and tips for getting better sleep.
Thank you to Dr. Dani for sharing your knowledge and experience with us.
Cheers to to finding holistic remedies for sleep that work for us and to taking better care of ourselves in 2020! – Marlene
*Disclaimer. This information is general and not a prescription. Understanding that everyone’s needs are unique, the best way to make the right choices regarding your individual health and wellness is by working directly with a holistic practitioner or your health care provider to learn what’s best for you.
*Dani Segal, PhD (Certified Holistic Nutrition Educator/Counselor) HealthWorks and Healthy Thymes Market advocate a holistic approach to natural health & well-being. The body’s ability & power to heal depends upon the totality of diet, nutrition, lifestyle & environmental factors. No claims for the cure of any disease is intended, or implied. Always consult your health care practitioner when combating disease states. For more information about Dr. Dani, please visit her website at www.beforeyoutakeanotherbite.com or if you you’re local, you can visit her at Healthy Thymes Market in Vernon, NJ.
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