Originally published August 13 2008
The Importance of Sleep and the ABC's of Catching Z's
by Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.
(NaturalNews) A recent study concluded that 90% of Americans suffer from too little sleep. Sleep is vital to maintaining good health and a positive mental wellbeing. During the deepest stages of the sleep cycle, the immune system repairs damage inflicted on the body throughout the waking hours while important neurotransmitters in the brain refuel for the day to come.
As a nation, we spend billions of dollars each year on over-the-counter and prescription medications to send us off to sleep each night, but these remedies are little more than temporary solutions. If you've ever missed a dose of your nightly sleep aid then you know what it feels like to stare at the alarm clock as it slowly ticks off the minutes and hours until you finally must rise. Without your sleeping pill, you are at a loss for sleep. Why? Because sleep medications do not address the problem of why we can't sleep.
Low serotonin levels and too much stress are the two most common reasons that so many suffer from sleeping disorders.
It is currently estimated that more than 80% of American's suffer from a serotonin deficiency. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain and the only substance in the body from which melatonin can be made. Melatonin is not only a powerful antioxidant for the immune system but also a vital chemical that triggers the body's sleep/wake cycle. As the afternoon sun starts to give way to evening darkness, the body is signaled to begin making melatonin. When adequate amounts of serotonin are present, the body can readily produce enough melatonin to prepare you for sleep. However, when there is a serotonin deficiency, the body is unable to produce enough melatonin, resulting in a restless night without slumber.
The nutrients tryptophan and 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) are necessary in order for the brain to produce serotonin. Tryptophan can be found in protein rich foods and, when ingested, converts into 5-HTP, then serotonin and finally into melatonin. Most people generally do not get enough tryptophan through the foods that they are eating, making it important to supplement their diets with a daily dose of 5-HTP. 5-HTP is available over the counter and is a safe and all natural way to provide the body with the necessary amino acids it lacks in order to create serotonin. If serotonin deficiency is the cause of your sleep problems, you should find a marked improvement in the quality of your sleep within a couple of weeks. For those patients who find that they need more than 5-HTP alone, I suggest that they add tryptophan along with their regular dose of 5-HTP. Tryptophan is also available over the counter and is a safe and all natural alternative to pharmaceutical sleep aids. Visit (www.perfectlyhealthy.net) for my recommendation on the best available hypo-allergenic 5-HTP including tryptophan (not to be taken while consuming anti-depressents).
While melatonin is also available as a supplement, I do not recommend it for my patients who are suffering a serotonin deficient sleep disturbance. Taking melatonin supplements ignores the root of the problem and does nothing to increase the serotonin levels in the body. It will only be a temporary solution.
Too much stress is the second leading cause of sleeping disorders. Who amongst us can say that they live a stress free life? A little stress is good for the body. It keeps us on our feet and our minds sharp. It can be that little extra push that helps us to get through a difficult challenge. But too much stress can be dangerous for the body and impair our sleep patterns making it more challenging to face the next day.
When the body encounters what it perceives to be a stressful situation it reacts by releasing stress hormones, such as adrenaline, to fuel itself for the challenge. In order to balance out the adrenaline, the body also releases the hormone cortisol. Cortisol's job is to restore peace and calmness to the body and mind, enabling us to deal with the stressful situation with a level head. Both adrenaline and cortisol are lifesaving chemicals when the situation calls for them, but when called on too frequently, they can overstay their welcome.
Cortisol levels in the body should be highest in the morning and then taper off into the afternoon and evening, making way for melatonin to take over. But when the body is forced to call upon cortisol too frequently or for too lengthy of a period, cortisol levels can become elevated at all hours of the day and night, making it difficult to lull off into a peaceful sleep when the day is over.
If you are suffering from stress related sleep problems, the first thing to do is determine why you are under so much stress. All of the supplements and medications in the world will not work until you can get the actual stressors under control. Some situations cannot be avoided, but you must learn to manage your stress before it causes long term and serious damage to your health and psyche.
When the stress becomes too much, take a walk. The natural release of endorphins while taking even a short walk will help to bring down the elevated stress hormones and allow you to function with a clearer head. Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tobacco and alcohol. They only offer short-term respites from the stress that you are experiencing and can further contribute to your sleepless nights. Practice meditation to refresh and regroup your body, mind and spirit. Taking the time for your self may seem impossible when faced with a stressful situation, but it is important to remain centered in the midst of a storm. That little feeling of control might be just what you need to successfully navigate your stress.
If you suspect that your sleep troubles are a result of either too much stress or a serotonin deficiency, visit your doctor for a simple saliva test. Levels of serotonin and cortisol can be measured easily at home during various times of the day and night. These tests are a painless first step that can lead to many nights of wonderful uninterrupted sleep!
For products developed and recommended by Leigh Erin Connealy, MD visit (www.perfectlyhealthy.net) .
About the authorLeigh Erin Connealy, M.D. has specialized in Integrative Medicine for over twenty years, using conventional and natural methods to determine and discover the "root of the cause" in her clinic, Center for New Medicine in Irvine, California, each and every day. Many people come in to the clinic from all over the world with severe chronic illnesses that conventional medical protocols have been unsuccessful treating. She realized early on that she can truly change lives through education as well as treatment protocols.
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D. and her medical staff strives to look at the whole person while exploring the effects and relationships among nutrition, psychological and social factors, environmental effects and personal attunement. Out of frustration of trying to find the right products to help her patients she formulated the perfectlyhealthy brand of products. All perfectlyhealthy products are clinically tested. For more information on recommended products, please visit www.perfectlyhealthy.net or www.perfectlyhealthy.com.
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