Forget beauty sleep, most of us aren’t even getting enough sleep to feel presentable or to feel like we can make it through the day. Did you know that less than half the people in this country are getting 7 hours of sleep a night? Adults need between 7-9 hours, more if they’re active.
Why so much sleep?
This is when your brain and body essentially clean house and get ready for the next day. Don’t give it enough time to get organized and the next day is a physical struggle. These struggles, as I’m sure you’re well aware, add up. Night after night of bad sleep or not enough sleep leads to chronic stress, overwhelm, physical symptoms like inflammation and obesity and it shortens your life.
Yes, sorry to tell you this but if you’re not getting the sleep that your body needs, then you’re not going to live as long and your risk of chronic disease like heart disease or diabetes increases.
The good news is that there are some things that you can do to improve your sleep.
Now I’m not going to talk about turning out lights early, going to bed at the same time every night and other sleep habits that you’re probably already aware of. What I’m talking about today are the nutrients that you can add to your diet (or supplement) to help your body, to improve your sleep.
A-ha, the infamous Thanksgiving amino acid that puts the entire family into a food coma. Actually, it’s not Tryptophan that makes you super sleepy. Tryptophan is an amino acid that can be converted into both serotonin and melatonin, among other things.
These molecules, melatonin and serotonin, are increased as the sun sets and your body begins to prepare for sleep. If you consume tryptophan (or supplement it) you can help your body’s circadian rhythm and improve your quality and quantity of sleep.
So where do you find Tryptophan besides in turkey? You can find it in eggs, chicken, fish, dairy, beef, lamb, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds.
#2 Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 Fatty Acids were all the rage a few years back. Everyone was supplementing with fish oil. The industry has a bit of a dark cloud hanging over it because a lot of the fish oil industry, and the supplement industry as a whole, is largely unregulated. So you don’t really know what quality you’re getting or even if you’re getting what they say is in the bottle.
You don’t have to supplement Omega 3, especially if you’re eating a whole foods diet (a diet without processed foods.) You can get enough Omega 3 from your food. As you might expect, you can find good omega 3 fatty acids in fish, especially cold water fish like salmon. You can also find it in flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
Why Omega 3 for sleep? Studies have shown that omega 3 fatty acids help improve the quality of sleep and how deeply you sleep. We know that omega 3 fatty acids help improve brain function and reduce inflammation so the sleep/omega 3 connection may be as simple as improving brain health. Hey, in a world where it seems everyone has diabetes, heart disease, or alzheimer’s, a little extra Omega 3 can’t hurt.
I don’t take a ton of supplements but I do supplement Omega 3. You can find good quality Omega 3 at Primal Blueprint and I also like Stronger, Faster, Healthier. It’s expensive but MUCH cheaper than any chronic disease AND you will sleep better!
#3 B Vitamins
B Vitamins are responsive for cellular health and they play a critical role in the optimization of many of your body’s systems from your detoxification system to your cardiovascular system. When it comes to sleep they’re critical, however they are specifically responsible for regulating and processing tryptophan – a-ha, see how it’s all connected? And B12 is essential for neurological health and quality sleep.
Can you supplement B12? Of course you can and many vegetarians get B12 shots to ensure they’re getting what their body needs. YOu can get B vitamins from meat, dairy, dark leafy veggies and nuts and seeds. If you’re a vegetarian or a vega, it’s a good idea to supplement. Talk to your doctor about how much.
#4 Vitamin D
Almost everyone is low in vitamin D and while this vitamin is made by your own body, it needs environmental cues to make it. Most specifically it needs sunlight and for 95% of us we just don’t get enough. Supplement this nutrient. I do. I do use the Primal Blueprint vitamin D but you can get it at your nutrition store as well. Also try to get more sunshine during the daytime and know that you can get some vitamin d in Fatty fish, foods fortified with vitamin D, like some dairy products, orange juice, as well as organ meats like liver.
Magnesium is part of the melatonin production process. It also relaxes your nervous system by producing GABA and magnesium is cell life. It’s essential and many people just don’t get enough magnesium. In fact, ensuring you’re getting enough of this mineral will not only improve sleep, it will likely also improve your energy levels during the day.
You can find magnesium in green veggies, nuts and seeds, and avocados. You can also take a magnesium supplement. They’re abundant in the supermarket. Dietary recommendations are usually to take 600 milligrams in divided doses throughout the day.
Start with one nutrient and add as you can. Choose one nutrient that you think you’re probably deficient in and add it to your day. If you can get the nutrient from food, awesome! If not, try supplementing and make the best choice possible. Maybe it’s Omega 3 or
Vitamin D, that you supplement because they’re often harder to get in sufficient supply from diet alone. Once you’ve created that habit and are enjoying better sleep, add another nutrient until you’re covering your bases and enjoying better sleep. A Paleo diet that is veggie rich will get you 95% of the way there. Then all you need is a bit of time in the sunshine and a comfy bed.
Here’s to a better night’s sleep!