Sleep is a significant part of everyone's daily routine and quality sleep is required to ensure adequate support of certain brain functions such as recovery, nerve function and concentration. The average individual gets less than seven hours of sleep every night, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Sleep occurs in five different stages. The first four stages consist of NREM sleep and the last stage consisting of REM sleep.
- N1 (Stage 1) - Light Sleep (5%)
- N2 (Stage 2) - Deeper Sleep (45%)
- N3 (Stage 3) - Deepest Non-REM Sleep (25%)
- REM (25%)
NREM (non-rapid eye movement) is a period of sleep where the body experiences decreased metabolic activity, slowed breathing and heart rate and no dreaming.
REM (rapid eye movement) is a period of sleep where most dreams happen. The name comes from how the eyes move behind the eyelids while an individual is dreaming. During REM sleep, brain activity is similar to the awake state.
Normally a night's sleep consists of 4 to 5 sleep cycles, with the progression of the sleep stages in the following order: N1, N2, N3, N2, REM. A complete sleep cycle is approximately 90 to 110 minutes.
The amount of sleep required depends on many factors such as sleep quality, previous sleep deprivation, pregnancy and especially age.
Here is a list summarizing the amount of sleep recommended by each age group:
- Infants 4 months to 12 months - 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours, including naps
- 1 to 2 years - 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours, including naps
- 3 to 5 years - 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours, including naps
- 6 to 12 years - 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours
- 13 to 18 years - 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours
- Adults - 7 or more hours a night
It is believed that sleep is necessary in order for our nervous system to function adequately. Adults getting less than seven hours of sleep leads to disrupted concentration and other serious conditions such as declined health, weight gain, BMI (body mass index) of 30 or higher, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and depression.
Warning signs that you are not getting enough sleep include being drowsy in the day, falling asleep within 5 minutes of lying down and a brief period of falling asleep at any time during the day.
Check labels of medications to see if they contain stimulants that may keep you awake such as caffeine and pseudoephedrine. Consulting first with a doctor to review medications that may contribute to insomnia is advisable before discontinuing medication.
Avoid napping during the day as this may disturb sleep patterns at night. If napping is a routine habit that cannot be given up, then it should not be done after 3pm.
Pain is a factor that can cause sleep problems, especially if severe. Consulting with a healthcare practitioner to discuss options for pain control is advisable if pain is causing insomnia.
Large meals should be avoided before bedtime to prevent unwanted symptoms such as heartburn. Also avoiding large quantities of liquid may help prevent waking during the night to urinate.
Keeping your bedroom dark and removing all electronics may assist in falling asleep faster. It has been found that exposure to blue light can affect the internal body clock and cause an imbalance in your circadian rhythm.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) can assist in controlling or eliminating negative thoughts and actions that may keep an individual awake and is recommended as the first line of treatment for individuals with insomnia. This form of therapy is equally or can be more effective than sleep medications.
Here are some changes that can be implemented to get a good night's rest:
Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning will help your body create a sleep routine.
Exercising during the day for 20 to 30 minutes a day, preferably 5 to 6 hours before bedtime.
Avoid caffeine (6 hours before bedtime), alcohol and nicotine. Alcohol decreases REM (deep) sleep and smokers tend to wake up earlier due to nicotine withdrawal.
Having a warm bath, reading or other relaxation techniques before bedtime may assist with falling asleep.
Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub found in India, Africa and parts of the Middle East. This nutrient has been used in Ayurvedic medicine (traditional medicine system in India) to increase energy, reduce inflammation, pain and anxiety. According to a clinical trial, ashwagandha may reduce the time taken to fall asleep and improve sleep quality.
Cannabdiol is a compound found in marijuana. CBD interacts with neuroreceptors in your endocannabinoid system, which sends signals between your cells to help regulate your movement, mood, homeostasis and immune system. CBD can help improve sleep in people with insomnia and other conditions disturbing sleep such as anxiety and Parkinson's disease. CBD has the potential to interact with many medications, including warfarin, drugs for epilepsy, levothyroxine and many others. It is always advisable to consult with your healthcare practitioner before using this nutrient with other medications.
GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a chemical messenger in the brain (neurotransmitter) which slows down brain activity by blocking signals to your central nervous system. Taking GABA may induce a calming effect, therefore, decreasing the time taken to fall asleep.
Glycine is an amino acid which your body can produce naturally or this nutrient can be derived from protein rich foods, which include mainly meat. Small studies have shown that taking 3g of glycine an hour before you sleep improves sleep quality, decreases the time taken to fall asleep and reduces fatigue experienced the next day. Glycine is also a component of collagen hydrolysate, therefore if a recommended dose of 10g collagen hydrolysate is taken, 2.5 g of this amount consists of glycine.
Hops are the flowers of the plant Humulus lupulus. Hops are used as bittering, flavouring and stability agents in beer (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). Many studies have shown that hops have a sedative effect. A concentration of 2mg of hop extract could be an aid to sleep as it decreases the nocturnal activity in the circadian activity rhythm.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in black and green tea. It is known to improve sleep quality and reduce stress levels. This nutrient does not cause drowsiness.
L-tryptophan and 5-HTP are amino acids that the body uses to produce melatonin. L-tryptophan may increase drowsiness and reduce the time taken to fall asleep in people experiencing mild insomnia but has not shown any benefit to increase sleep duration. While 5-HTP might increase the amount of time spent in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
Magnesium is an essential mineral found in the body. It is present in many foods (wholegrains, dark, leafy vegetables, legumes and nuts) and also as a dietary supplement. Magnesium serves as a cofactor in more than 300 enzymatic reactions, which include those responsible for blood pressure, glycemic control and the degradation of lipids. Research has found that magnesium may reduce the time taken to fall asleep in the elderly suffering from insomnia. This nutrient also reduced leg movement associated with restless leg syndrome.
Melatonin is a nutrient that may help induce sleep faster but may not influence the duration of sleep. Research has shown that this nutrient may improve the quality of sleep in people with tinnitus and improve sleep quality and duration in people with autism.
Tart cherry is a source of melatonin and some studies suggest that tart cherry juices, concentrates and extracts may contain enough melatonin to improve sleep in some individuals. Studies have shown that a glass of tart cherry juice (+/- 240ml) twice daily may improve certain aspects of sleep in the elderly such as reducing instances of waking up after falling asleep.
Melatonin is a scheduled nutrient, therefore it is not available to purchase on VitaGene.
Passion flower is a herb used to treat anxiety and insomnia. It works by increasing levels of GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) in the brain, responsible for lowering brain activity, leading to a relaxed state which promotes sleep.
Valerian (root) is a popular herbal sleep aid and has shown to improve sleep quality in postmenopausal women, suffering from insomnia. It also has a calming effect and assists with stress and anxiety, therefore improving insomnia.
Zinc is a trace mineral which is necessary for almost 100 enzymes to carry out significant chemical reactions in the body. It plays an important role in DNA synthesis, growth of cells, building proteins, healing damaged tissue and maintaining a healthy immune system. Animal food sources rich in zinc include meat, poultry and seafood. Plant food sources such as legumes and wholegrains are also rich in zinc but contain phytates which can bind to the mineral and lower absorption. Zinc is involved in processes in the brain that control sleep. Some research suggests that taking zinc containing supplements with other ingredients such as melatonin may help improve sleep. More studies are needed to confirm the benefits of taking zinc alone to have an effect on sleep.