I remember my friend Kamal saying “If I could gift anything to you anything it would be sleep.” This was a time in my life when I was extremely stressed. Sleep was a luxury. Two things I have worked hard on in my life are my constipation (as a child carried into my adult years, resulting in candida) and my sleep.
Sleep is possibly the most precious of all bodily functions. We dream, de-stress and most important, give our body time to recover from the battering it has faced during the day. A daily quota of sound sleep is essential to our health and general well-being.
I know I get crazy when I don’t get my 8 hours of sleep. Unhealthy sleep, food and lifestyle choices can disrupt your life. We rely on things that prop us up artificially like loads of caffeine and sleep medication because we keep pushing our adrenals to a point of exhaustion. Chemicals and neurotransmitters are required by the brain to influence mood, sleep patterns and appetite. Serotonin is a very important neurotransmitter and when low in supply causes insomnia and a depressed mood condition as well.
Lack of sound sleep interferes with all body functions, including a weakened gut microbiome, weight, energy depletion and our ability to think and concentrate.
On a food front what works?
- Complex carbohydrates – obtained from brown rice, millets, sweet potatoes, Starchy vegetables and whole oats stimulate the production of natural serotonin required by the brain to aid sleep. Whole grains are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that can be converted to serotonin in the brain they are rich in vitamin B6 such as whole grains,
- Sugars from foods that can help induce a peaceful sleep are carrots, corn and sweet potatoes.
- Foods such as nuts and fish also help boost serotonin levels. Also,
- Vegetables with folate/folic acid (Vitamin B9) rich foods such as broccoli, spinach, as well as fortified bread and cereals that are high in folate, or folic acid. Broccoli and spinach should be eaten raw or must be lightly cooked as cooking readily destroys folate.
- Beans, lentils and peas not only offer plant-based protein, they are also rich in mood-boosting B-vitamins. Beans are high in both folate and Vitamin B6.
- A recent discovery is that Omega 3 fats boost serotonin levels as well. These fats come from flaxseeds, walnuts and soybeans.
Simple tips to make sure your nights are peaceful and relaxing
- Chew your whole grain – the complex carbohydrates in brown rice are broken down by chewing, which in turn creates a peaceful and steady rise in blood sugar in the brain.
- Eliminate caffeine after 5 pm and minimize caffeine (including Indian tea) in your day-this includes tea as well.
- Avoid foods that contain Monosodium glutamate (MSG) as it is known to be a sleep inhibitor, usually found in Chinese food and some processed foods as well. MSG can be hidden in packaged foods.
- Alcohol should be minimized, as the empty sugars will keep you up way past your actual bedtime.
- Water before bedtime should be kept to a minimum to avoid going to the bathroom several times during the night.
- Establish a bedtime ritual, like turning down the lights, and lighting a diffuser with essential oils that can enhance sleep.
- Retire a half hour before your actual bedtime to unwind.
- Be regular with not only meal timings, but also sleep timings.
- Try not to take a nap, this has always worked for me.
- Try going to be in bed at the same time daily.
- Avoid heated arguments before bedtime.
- Include physical activity in your daily routine (usually, 3 hours before bedtime is a good time to switch off something like exercise.
- Make sure you have a good pillow that supports your neck.
- This trick has worked wonders for me: I use a pillow in between my knees when I am on one side to align my hips as I suffer from lower back pain.
- Don’t watch television in bed, bedrooms are for sleep and sex only.
- Get off the computer, iPad and phones (all sources of artificial blue light that disrupt sleep by inhibiting melatonin); switch off 3 hours before bedtime if you suffer from insomnia.
- Practice meditation, it helps slow down the thoughts and get calm before sleeping
How does ultradian rhythm work with sleep?
We all know about ‘circadian rhythm’ a 24-hour cycle in the physiological processes of us human beings, these are affected by light, temperature, etc from the environment.
I bet you haven’t heard of ‘ultradian rhythms’ – which are recurrent periods or cycles that could occur through a 24 hour day every day. While most times in a day I assume you are all there ‘present’ to the task you are involved in full of energy; however when you go through a ‘lull’ in energy, concentration, focus and need to get out of a task at hand or the mind generally wanders off. The time that you feel energized, focused and all there is when you are riding an ‘ultradian rhythm.’
Researchers have divided sleep into three distinct stages: Stage 1 when your muscles begin to relax, your eyes twitch behind your eyelids, and you are sleeping lightly. In stage 2 your brain waves begin to slow down and your eyes stop moving. In stage 3 your brain produces delta waves and your muscles and eyes stop moving, and you go into a deep sleep. This whole cycle takes 90 minutes to complete. One of the first ultradian rhythms to be studied in humans was the REM-NREM sleep cycle, which has a period of 90 minutes and occurs 3-5 times in the average sleep episode. This rhythm is made up of the synchronizing of varied processes like brain electrical activity, energy utilization and muscle tone recovery.
On a typical day, you would start a task say at 9.30 (like eating breakfast) you are on the top of the ‘ultradian rhythm’ you feel energetic, focused, and ready to go in your day. But 45 minutes later you feel an energy low, lack of concentration and drowsy; you start opening Instagram, Facebook or fidgeting with your phone, etc. Then 45 minutes later, you are again back to being focused, and not drowsy. This cycle continues at 90-minute intervals; you will find every 45 minutes your attention wanes.
These ‘ultradian rhythms’ are happening because of a mix of hormones, brain activity and processes the brain goes through. They get magnified (i.e., you tend to get less focussed) if you are short on sleep and are tired, not well-fed, consuming sugar, drinking coffee, and tea and eating processed foods. In that, you run ‘lows’ more than ‘highs’ in a day.
You can also use these ‘ultradian rhythms’ to build in the tasks you can focus on at one time in isolation (rather than multi-tasking like exercise, an important presentation, time spent with your spouse/partner, sex), to get more out of that task. Learn to harness these periods of high energy to get out the best in you, by also using sleep. It’s not the time you have set aside to accomplish a task, but the amount of energy you have to give to it that matters in the end.
Why binge-watching television at night can destroy sleep?
I love doing noting an hour before I sleep, while I am a disciplinarian when it comes to my bedtime and waking up early; recently I got caught in the trap of binge-watching stuff. It’s an addiction, just like coffee or any other such addiction would be. It’s reinforcing your dopamine the neurotransmitter which makes you crave more and more producing a high.
- It IMPACTS SLEEP for sure, and the fact that I still wake up early, so you will be tired.
- Seeps into other ADDICTIVE BEHAVIOUR PATTERNS, like wanting sugars, stuff that keeps you elated (artificially).
- KEPT YOUR MIND STIMULATED the plot of the movie or the news keeps one stimulated and in a heightened state for a while impossible.
- EXPOSURE TO BLUE LIGHT blue light from electronic devices like the iPad or television inhibits melatonin the hormone that regulates sleep.