Is stress sabotaging your sleep? COVID-19 chaos has made many people too wound up to unwind. Naturopath Caroline Robertson reviews supplements that will help you to relax and rest.
My patient Sarah was tossing and turning after watching the news before bed. With headlines like “COVID carnage continues”, it is no wonder that nightmares are increasingly common. Stress is skyrocketing, with concerns over career, education, finances, health, relationships and travel. In over 30 years of clinical practice, I have never experienced such an epidemic of anxiety and insomnia. Overwhelming emotions spill into disturbing dreams, as people process fear and worry unconsciously.
Many people are finding that sleep deprivation is deteriorating their psychological and physical ability to navigate daily demands. Less sleep means more confusion, errors, forgetfulness, moodiness, sensitivity and shakiness. And, according to The Harvard Help Guide, chronic insomnia is also linked to an increased incidence of cancer, depression, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, inflammation, kidney disease, neurological disorders, obesity, pain, reflux, respiratory diseases, schizophrenia and stroke. Getting sufficient sleep, on the other hand, increases energy, immunity and cognitive function and reduces susceptibility to respiratory infections, according to a 2016 JAMA Internal Medicine study.
Speed vs sleep
Stress is the enemy of sleep, because our sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ system overrides our parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ drive. Perceived problems or threats will trigger production of the stress hormones adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol, which in turn increase heart and respiratory rate, hormone secretion and circulation. This high gear is quite contrary to the calm needed in order to sleep. Chronic stress also causes a depleted, depressed, inflamed and immune-suppressed state that is connected with adrenal fatigue.
Other sleep stealers include blue light emitted from electronic devices before bed, caffeine, recreational and prescription drugs, EMFs, energy drinks, hormonal imbalances, an irregular routine, lack of exercise or sunlight, chronic pain, eating too late at night, prolonged daytime siestas, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnoea, an uncomfortable bed and disturbing light or noises.
Support for sound sleep through stressful times is vital to survive. What helps you stay calm? What makes you feel worse? Commit to cultivating the helpers and cutting the harmers. Here are my favourite sleep saviours.
* California poppy dreaming Native Americans used this non-addictive alternative to the opium poppy to induce sleep, calm nerves and ease pain. It helps to calm children with ADD and also eases withdrawal from addictive substances.
* Calming kava This pacifier from the South Pacific contains kavalactones, which are clinically proven to induce sleep, reduce convulsions, allay anxiety and relax muscles. Kava raises levels of dopamine, which tranquilises like a tropical sunset.
* Lemon balm bliss This citrusy-smelling leaf calms the central and enteric nervous systems, reduces nerve pain related to headaches, herpes, toothache and sciatica, and also settles anxious tummy symptoms, such as nausea and diarrhoea. Lemon balm is a safe sedative for children and breastfeeding women.
* Lulling lavender This pretty purple plant extract contains linalool, an essential oil which eases anxiety and restlessness and induces relaxation by activating GABA receptors. Add to a diffuser, spritzer or body products.
* Magic magnolia Magnolia bark has potent bioactive compounds which improve sleep by boosting calming GABA, activating cannabinoid receptors and inhibing adrenalin.
* Mellow magnesium Dr Mark Hyman says: “Think of magnesium as the relaxation mineral. Anything that is tight, irritable, crampy and stiff is a sign of magnesium deficiency.” Magnesium deficiency is quite common, causing cramps, pain, restless legs, twitches and tension. Magnesium is needed to produce melatonin for sound sleep; it also activates the peaceful parasympathetic nervous system and increases GABA.
* Relaxing rhodiola An all-rounder, this reduces stress, encourages relaxation, eases anxiety and fights fatigue. Studies show it supports cognitive function and improves stamina during periods of study.
* Valuable valerian Taking Mother Nature’s Valium an hour before bed can induce a long, satisfying sleep. The valerenic acid and valerenol in valerian root extract are both anti-anxiety agents. Valerian root improved the sleep of 89 percent of people in a double-blind study conducted by the Foellinge Health Center in Sweden.
* Zizyphus for zzzs Long used in Chinese cooking and medicine, this red date is prized as an extremely safe elixir for anxiety, restless sleep and disturbing dreams. As a bonus, it pacifies pain and purifies the liver.
If you have pre-existing health conditions, are on medication, pregnant or breastfeeding, consult your health professional before use.
Caroline Robertson is an experienced naturopath with a special interest in mind/body healing.