Not getting a good night’s sleep is becoming more and more common. The third report commissioned by the Sleep Health Foundation found that four in ten Australian adults (7.4 million people) frequently experienced inadequate sleep costing an estimated $66.3 billion in the 2016-2017 financial year. The quality of your sleep can affect the way you look, feel and behave during the day.
How sleep problems can impact your health
It’s estimated that we spend one third of our lives sleeping. Even after one night of disrupted sleep, you can look and feel tired, feel irritable and emotional, have difficulty focusing and concentrating and even feel hungrier than normal. Chronic lack of sleep can lead to long-term health problems and have an impact on the other two thirds of your life by affecting your mind, body, relationships, productivity and safety.
Types of sleep problems
Sleep problems can involve difficulty getting to sleep and/or maintaining sleep. Nervous stress, mild anxiety, shift work, melatonin (your main sleep hormone) disruption, night sweats, going to the bathroom, excessive sleepiness during the day, pregnancy and pain can all contribute to sleep problems.
The science of sleep
Sleep is known to be a highly active process where the day’s events are processed and energy is restored. While getting enough sleep is important, the stages of sleep are equally important. Sleep follows a set pattern, alternating between REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep.
75% of your sleep occurs in NREM while the other 25% occurs in REM. You enter NREM as you fall asleep which occurs in four stages:
- Stage 1 – time between being awake and falling asleep
- Stage 2 – sleep onset; light sleep where breathing and heart rate are regular and body temperature drops
- Stages 3 & 4 - deepest and most restorative sleep, particularly stage 4, where blood pressure drops, breathing becomes slower, muscles relax, tissue growth and repair occurs, energy is restored and various hormones are released.
REM sleep first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep, where your brain is active and dreams occur, your eyes dart back and forward and your body becomes immobile and relaxed. REM sleep provides energy to the brain and body and supports daytime performance.
Top 4 herbs and nutrients that can help support healthy sleep
- Zizyphus – traditionally used in Chinese medicine to relieve sleeplessness, improve sleep quality and maintain refreshing sleep. Zizyphus exerts an inhibitory effect on glutamate mediated excitatory pathways in the brain. See Sleep Ease.
- Passionflower – traditionally used in Western herbal medicine to calm the mind to relieve sleeplessness and reduce symptoms of mild anxiety. Passionflower maintains GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that promotes a state of relaxation. GABA acts as a calming and relaxing agent during stressful situations. See Sleep Ease and Magnesium Night Plus.
- Californian poppy – traditionally used in Western herbal medicine to induce sleep and improve sleep quality supporting deeper sleep. California poppy has a sedating effect on the central nervous system as it inhibits the breakdown of dopamine and the production of adrenaline. It is traditionally used in Western herbal medicine to relax the nervous system, relieve excess nervous energy and relieve pain. See Sleep Ease and Magnesium Night Plus.
- Magnesium - Magnesium is an essential nutrient for over 300 enzymatic processes in the body, including muscle contraction, cardiac rhythm, neurological function and brain function. Magnesium supports nervous system health and supports a healthy stress response in the body. See Magnesium Night Plus.