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The Pillars of Health, Pt 1 - Sleep

How many of us have counted down the minutes until our work lunch break, just to escape to our cars and take a brief nap to regenerate for our afternoon duties?  If you’re nodding your head, chances are you’ve experienced this.  Coupled with the desire for mid-day snoozes, is the inability to fall asleep in the evenings to prepare for the coming day.  This never-ending cycle is perpetuated by our (un)intentional neglect to our body’s desires to get a good quality sleep.

In my practice, when anyone comes to me with new concerns, I always focus on what I like to refer to as the “pillars of health”, and one of those is sleep.  In order for our bodies to work optimally during the day, we need to have detoxed and healed from the previous day’s comings and goings.  This can only happen if we sleep enough hours with good quality.

The two main hormones that control sleep are melatonin and cortisol, and work in opposite ways.  Melatonin should be high at nighttime, whereas cortisol levels are desired to be low. As natural light decreases, this signals our melatonin level to increase, thus promoting sleepiness and the “winding down” period that happens before bedtime.  Cortisol is known in part to be the hormone of stress; as most of us know, when we try to go to bed after an argument or a stressful event, it takes a longer while to “come down” and be prepared for sleep.  This is because our cortisol levels have been pushed higher, where they should be optimally lowered.

There are a few things that we could do to promote what we define as sleep hygiene:

In addition to these basics, there are a few herbs and supplements that have been known to help with the process of falling and staying asleep.  The most popular one is melatonin, which is used to help mostly with falling asleep – it’s wise to start low and stay with the lowest dose that works for you.  Side effects such as next-day grogginess and lethargy can happen if you take too much.   To help with staying asleep, there are beautiful herbs and nutrients such as ashwagandha, magnolia bark, L-theanine, magnesium and glycine.  The biggest change you could notice with these guys, is an increase in rested-ness with waking.  Before starting any of these on your own, please make an appointment to discuss whether or not there are any contraindications with any of your current medications and supplements, as these also carry risks.

Listen to your body when it tells you it wants something, because odds are, it’s telling you for a reason, and sleep is one of the most important things you should pay attention to.

Dr. Vanessa Wilkie, ND Naturopath and health advocate

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