If we wish to improve our time management, we have to take a more holistic approach and examine both the biological and psychological factors that prevent us from performing optimally. Adequate sleep is paramount to personal effectiveness. Insomnia and inadequate sleep are big problems for people who wish to be more effective, and depletes us of the mental and physical energy we need to face daily challenges.
Not only do we need to make more time to sleep, but we need to ensure that the quality of sleep we receive is excellent. In these next two articles, I shall address the problem of insomnia and provide strategies for success using biology and psychology.
In this first article, I shall discuss the brain chemistry of sleep and biological factors that can affect your nightly excursions to ’la-la land’. Please subscribe to this blog to follow our next article where I will provide physical and psychological strategies that you can implement such as the use of white noise.
The brain chemistry of sleep
Let’s start with an understanding of the brain chemistry of sleep, and look at the role of serotonin and melatonin in the brain. During the day, the brain produces serotonin, one of four main mood hormones, that is believed to play a major role in depression and anxiety. Melatonin, which is converted from serotonin, is produced by the brain when we sleep in the dark at night. Melatonin is an antioxidant that is believed to have an anti-aging effect, it also boosts the immune system, and controls some of the body’s hormones.
It is crucial that we get adequate sleep in order to produce that natural melatonin to give the brain a break. Our bodies use light as an instruction to switch from serotonin to melatonin production, and we produce the most melatonin when asleep at about 2am. When changing time zones, our melatonin production is disturbed resulting in ’jetlag’.
The minute we switch on the lights to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, melatonin production ceases. If we want to enable melatonin production, we have to stay in the dark. Leaving a light on in a bedroom is detrimental to our melatonin production, as is sleeping with the television on.
The harmful effects of insomnia
Along comes insomnia, and our melatonin production is diminished. Our brains are not getting the anti-oxidant benefits of nightly melatonin conversion, and our risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, mental disorders, and breast and prostate cancer increase.
Inadequate sleep can also make you obese, as not only is the stress hormone cortisol elevated, but your body also produces more hunger hormone ’ghrelin’ causing you to eat more!
Clumsiness increases, response times diminish, and our overall mental and physical performance suffers with decreased quality sleep.
Causes of insomnia
It is worth investigating any medical causes of insomnia – if everything else should fail. Most commonly, insomnia is caused by change of season, stress or anxiety. If you do not suffer from any of the following medical problems, use our strategies to assist and avoid habit forming medication that does not provide good quality sleep.
Here are some reasons for insomnia where medical assistance should be obtained.
Sleep apnoea. This is most common in overweight individuals, although anyone can be diagnosed. Sleep apnoea causes a person to awaken throughout the night because they stop breathing, a surprisingly common condition. People with sleep apnoea who do manage to sleep, wake up feeling exhausted as they did not get enough oxygen during the night.
Depression. One of the most common causes of insomnia, and the irony is the less you sleep, the worst it gets. To break the cycle, consider talk therapy and / or medication.
Menopause. Try natural sepia to combat hot flushes during the night.
Medications – read the inserts that come with your medications to check if they are affecting you.
Chronic pain, restless legs or any other physical causes you are conscious of – do see your doctor for a full medical.
Overcoming insomnia using biology
Magnesium. Perhaps one of the most effective supplements you can take, using a high dose before sleeping will make you drowsy and assist your nervous system in recovering from stress. Magnesium is highly underrated, but is crucial for overall well-being. Experiment with different types in order to prevent diarrhoea. Magnesium should be taken with calcium to be absorbed.
Calcium – a deficiency in calcium can cause restlessness and wakefulness. 600 mg. is recommended.
Vitamin B supplement – vitamins B6 and B12 are especially important. Note that these vitamins also assist with depression and nervous system functioning.
Omega fatty acids. The benefits of Omega 3 supplements are so numerous that everyone really should be taking them. Omega 3 oil is essential to mental and physical well-being.
Melatonin. You can buy this in any pharmacy and taking a melatonin supplement before retiring can trick the body into sleep and help break the cycle. Melatonin is controversial as a supplement, and some experience unpleasant side effects. It can also have an adverse reaction with certain medications and if you have certain health issues including diabetes. Don’t take it for longer than a week at a time to prevent dependency. Here is all the information you will need to consider taking melatonin: www.medicinenet.com/melatonin-oral/article.htm
Potassium. If you can’t sleep because of cramps, increase your potassium intake by eating half an avocado a day. Magnesium can also assist in this regard.
Chamomile tea – a powerful natural tranquiliser, Chamomile has no adverse affects and is very useful in calming the mind.
Valerian root – this very stinky root extract can be purchased from a health shop or pharmacy and made into a tea that also acts as a natural tranquiliser.
Lavender oil on your pillow – many people claim the scent of lavender on their pillow and in their bath before retiring helps ease them into the land of sheep.
Caffeine might be affecting you more than you imagine. Eliminating caffeine or reducing it to one or two cups before 11am might just do the trick.
Don’t go to bed hungry, but also avoid a large meal two to three hours before retiring.
Eating carbs such as oats and cereal before retiring can boost tryptophan levels and also assist in making you drowsy. Do be careful of potential weight gain from overeating.
Those were some simple suggestions to experiment with to get started. In our next article, I shall discuss physical and psychological measures you can implement to address sleeplessness.