|Dr. Rubin Naiman, Director Circadian Health Association and Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of Arizona|
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I’m here at the 2013 Nutrition and Health Conference in Seattle.
I’d like to share a topic near and dear to our hearts – sleep. This presentation discussed “The Role of Nutrition in Sleep and Dreams” by Rubin Naiman.
Seventy million people have insomnia – I being one of them so I was hoping that I’d learn about a magic nutrient or some clever tip to help me and others get a better night sleep. Here’s what I learned from Dr. Naiman:
There is a very complex interaction between eating and sleeping. Our food and nutrition can affect our sleep and dreams. Also, not getting enough sleep can impact poor nutrition. Sleep loss is associated with increased illness and inflammation. Cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune and mood disorders and other illnesses are all associated with sleep loss. Dr. Naiman commented that depression and insomnia are so closely linked that some think they are the same thing.
What I took away from this interesting talk is that most insomnia results from our being “over-consumers”. We over consume food, information, light and energy. Sleep is the dissipation of energy and time for letting go. Because we take on more than we can let go, many of us cannot rest or sleep. Speaking of not being able to “let go”, Dr. Naiman tells of an interesting correlation between constipation and insomnia. Over 50% of people with constipation have insomnia!
Another important “take away” from this talk, one that I could totally relate to, is that the reason we have a hard time sleeping is because we don’t “rest” before we try to sleep. Rest is the essential precursor to sleep. In fact, when we get sleepy, many of us respond to it as a need for more fuel, not rest. We are literally “rest-less”. Rest is the bridge from being awake to sleep. Do you rest before you sleep? Or do you watch TV, work on your computer, or finally make time to get on the treadmill?
Dr. Naiman feels that we are “less sleepy” and have insomnia are because we are hyper aroused. So how do we slow down enough to get a good night sleep.
There is no magic nutrient (in fact he mentioned that very few cases of insomnia are because of a nutritional deficiency). Sleeping pills and antidepressants actually disrupt critical REM sleep and also disrupt our memory. So when you pop that ambien, you didn’t necessarily sleep well, you just can’t remember that you tossed and turned all night!
One of the reasons we don’t “rest” or enjoy going to bed at night is because we do not value sleep. In fact, many of us view it negatively – almost a waste of time. We look at sleep as not being awake or not being conscious. Sleep is valued only as it helps us in our waking life (it improves our immunity, our memory, etc.) but it is an end in and of itself. Dr. Naiman encourages is to learn to fall back in love with sleep! Remove the things on your nightstand, like your cell phone, your laptop, your book club novel and other items that might beckon you to the waking world.
Melatonin is the hormone our body produces that allows us to sleep. We produce it as a response to darkness. It causes the dilation of distal blood vessels. As the level of melatonin increases, our core body temperature is lowered. But exposure to light can greatly interfere with the production of melatonin and our ability to sleep. Suppression of melatonin has been linked to an increased risk of cancer. In fact, people working on the night shift have a higher risk of cancer.
To help sleep, it is necessary to reduce “light pollution”. Look around your bedroom? Do you have a brightly lit alarm clock, an outside light that shines in your window, or a night light? These can all effect your production of melatonin and should be removed from your bedroom.
REM, or dream sleep, is critically important. REM is the time that we digest and assimilate information and emotion. This is really the most important part of sleeping. Most issues related to sleep loss is really from “dream” loss. Alcohol interferes with REM sleep. So do certain medications like anti-depressants. As I mentioned before, no sleeping pill truly creates sleep and they usually damage our sleep in the long run. Chronic sleep loss leads to increased mortality.
Some myths about sleep that were debunked by Dr. Naiman.
* Turkey in not a sedative. In fact eating anything at night disrupts sleep.
* Nightcaps are not good. They may help put you to sleep but they don’t allow you to sleep well.
* Chamomile helps put you to sleep but it’s a diuretic too. In fact he thinks Sleepy Time tea (that contains chamomile) should be called “pee pee time” tea.
Although he briefly touched upon sleep and dream promoting nutrients and supplements like GABA, L-threanin, glycine, 5HTP, tryptophan and melatonin, he reaffirmed the need to address hyperarousal. It is better to “let go” in order to sleep. We cannot override all this inflammation in our lives, our mind, etc. by taking some “pill” or nutrient to sleep. Melatonin supplements (which he himself takes and he was most positive about) is “just an appetizer”. It should just remind you of a natural desire to enjoy sleep. It will gently seduce you into sleep.
So bottom line, we need to regard sleep as fondly and as enthusiastically as we do our waking life. We need to retrain ourselves to want to sleep and give ourselves that “rest” period before we go to sleep to act our bridge to sweet slumber
I will end by sharing how Dr. Naiman’s Jewish mother assessed one’s health by asking these three key questions:
Did you eat?
Did you poop?
Did you sleep?
Could anything affect one’s good health more than these things? Wise woman!