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Do you sleep like a baby?

Have you given up on ever having a good night’s sleep?

Or do you sleep, but wake up in the morning feeling like you haven’t slept at all?

Do you use drugs to get to sleep? Stay asleep?

It is estimated that 20 – 25% of the population is using some type of sleep medication and many more are not getting a good night’s sleep.

Today we will explore the importance of sleep, how sleep medication affects sleep, and how all of this affects your health. Then we will discuss what you can do to improve your sleep!

Sleep is a very important and scientist consider understanding sleep as a “new frontier” and we are just beginning to understand how important sleep is.

Sleep is this daily thing that all animals do and an interesting fact is you can live longer without food than you can without sleep!

The longest it has ever been documented that someone went without sleep was 11 days and 26 minutes and their cognitive, physical, mental ability were severely affected.

In fact, going without sleep for 24 hours is equal to a blood alcohol level of 0.10!

After 2 days, your body will “force” you into sleep with 30 second microsleeps which can leave you disoriented or confused.

After 3 days you will begin to hallucinate, have paranoia, anxiety, and have difficulty processing and recognizing emotions.

If you are interested here is a link to a great article on lack of sleep!

Lack of sleep affects just about everything in your body and mind.

People who get less sleep tend to be at higher risk for so many health issues like diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer; not to mention effects like slower metabolism, weight gain, hormone imbalance, and inflammation.

And don't forget the impact lack of sleep can have on moods, memory, performance, and decision-making skills.

Do you know that lack of sleep may even negate the health benefits of your diet and exercise program? (Gasp!)

Here are a few of the important things that happen during sleep:

  • Our pituitary gland releases growth hormone which helps your bodies repair, grow muscle tissue, synthesize hormones and we even“detoxify” our brains while we sleep

  • During sleep our brain sorts and stores information as long term memories. This mostly occurs in REM which can be impaired with sleeping aids.

  • Your immune system releases a type of small proteins call cytokines which help your body fight inflammation, infection and trauma. Hence why your body wants to sleep when you are sick!

  • Your sympathetic nervous system gets a break, the system that controls your fight-or-flight, and your cortisol levels decrease. We all want less of that!

How much sleep do you need? It's less than your growing kids need but you may be surprised that it's recommended that all adults get 7 - 9 hours a night. For real!

While there are a few people who can survive optimally on less sleep, it is much less common that we think.

What about sleeping aids?

There is a lot of research around the use of sleep aids, both prescription and over the counter. What is becoming clear is that using medication to assist in sleep decreases the quality of the sleep, interferes with REM, the restful, sleep, and long term use can create dependence for you to sleep!

That does not mean that you may not need to take medication for a short period of time for life events, increased stress, illness, etc, but you want to work with someone to get back in balance and sleeping without chemical aids as soon as possible.

I know when I entered menopause and I was unable to sleep due to hormone imbalance! I definitely needed the medication to help as I got my hormones back in balance! However, I was able to balance my hormones with nutrition, stress management, and supplements and soon I was back to snoozing quite easily!

Tips for better sleep

  • The biggest tip is definitely to try to get yourself into a consistent sleep schedule. Make it a priority and you're more likely to achieve it. This means turning off your lights 8 hours before your alarm goes off. Seven. Days. A. Week. I know weekends can easily throw this off but by making sleep a priority for a few weeks your body and mind will adjust and thank you for it.

  • Balance your blood sugar throughout the day. You know, eat less refined and processed foods and more whole foods (full of blood-sugar-balancing fiber). Choose the whole orange instead of the juice (or orange-flavoured snack). Make sure you're getting some protein every time you eat.

  • During the day get some sunshine and exercise. These things tell your body it's daytime; time for being productive, active and alert. By doing this during the day it will help you wind down more easily in the evening.

  • Cut off your caffeine and added sugar intake after 12pm. Whole foods like fruits and veggies are fine, it's the “added” sugar we're minimizing. Yes, this includes your beloved chai latte. Both caffeine and added sugar can keep your mind a bit more active than you want it to be come evening. (HINT: I have a great caffeine-free chai latte recipe for you below!).

  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine that starts 1 hour before your “lights out” time (that is 8 - 10 hours before your alarm is set to go off). This would include dimming your artificial lights, nixing screen time and perhaps reading an (actual, not “e”) book or having a bath.

  • If you are still having trouble settling down, consult a medical doctor who is a sleep specialist, or a health coach, to review your routine, nutrition, exercise, and stress management, to determine where you can make some small changes to restore your sleep.

So how many of these tips can you start implementing today?

Recipe (Caffeine-free latte for your afternoon “coffee break”): Caffeine-Free Chai Latte

Serves 1-2

1 bag of rooibos chai tea (rooibos is naturally caffeine-free)

2 cups of boiling water

1 tablespoon tahini

1 tablespoon almond butter (creamy is preferred)

2 dates (optional)

Cover the teabag and dates (if using) with 2 cups of boiling water and steep for a few minutes.

Discard the tea bag & place tea, soaked dates, tahini & almond butter into a blender.

Blend until creamy.

Serve and Enjoy!

Tip: You can try this with other nut or seed butters to see which flavour combination you like the best. Cashew butter anyone?