Most people spend a third of their life asleep. But what happens if you’re not getting all the sleep your body really needs?
One of the great mysteries is why we need sleep at all. Without it, even for a night, the body shows clear signs of stress. Zinc levels drop, vitamin C is used up at an alarming rate and when there is a chance to catch up on lost sleep we enter an intensive kind of sleep called Stage 1 REM (Rapid Eye Movement). Dreams could be the clue to what sleeping is all about. While westerners pay little heed to dreams one African tribe believe ‘real life’ is lived in dreams and daytime is the illusion.
Many scientists believe that dreaming is normal and that nutritional deficiency is one reason why poor or no dream recall can occur. In a survey at ION we found that more than 40% of people had no or very infrequent dream recall. When researching the signs and symptoms of vitamin B6 and zinc deficiency it was found that an alarming proportion of deficient people couldn't recall their dreams. After supplementing with B6 and zinc, often in doses as high as 1,000 mg of B6 and 100 mg of zinc, dream recall would return. If they took too much B6 and zinc dreams became too vivid and the person would wake up in the night.
But far more serious than dream recall, is insomnia. Most people at some time in their lives have experienced the frustration, restlessness and exhaustion that occurs when they either can’t get enough sleep or wake up too early and can’t get back to sleep. This is perhaps understandable at times of great stress or worry, but can also be affected by what you eat.
The process of falling to sleep happens as a result of levels of the brain nerve-transmitter serotonin rising and levels of circulating adrenalin decreasing. Serotonin is partly made from the protein constituent tryptophan. Foods, like turkey for example, are particularly high in tryptophan, which may explain why everybody falls asleep after Thanksgiving dinner.
For some it is not so much the level of serotonin that is at fault but that they are over-stimulated and perhaps over-anxious. These are the “light sleepers” or even those that tend to wake up earlier than usual. Vitamin B6 and the minerals calcium and magnesium are nature’s tranquilizers. They calm down nerve activity and can help to give a better night’s sleep.
While foods like sesame seeds, almonds and green leafy vegetables are excellent sources of calcium and magnesium, just changing the diet is rarely effective in dealing with insomnia in the short term.
Stimulants like tea, coffee, sugar and chocolate can knock out the calming effects of these tranquilizing nutrients so they must be strictly avoided, especially in the evening. Instead drink herb teas, many of which have their own calming effect. Milk drinks may also be calming, but not if they contain chocolate. Interestingly, the coffee berry that surrounds the coffee bean is a relaxant while the bean is a stimulant, which illustrates how natural foods are often balanced and refined foods are not.
So here is how to fall asleep and stay asleep. Eat calcium and magnesium enriched foods and take supplements like B6 and Zinc. Lastly, remember to avoid all stimulants after 4pm.