Sleepless in Canada

Nod off naturally

Sleepless in Canada

A good night’s sleep enhances our health. If you’re having trouble getting the shut eye you need, natural sleep remedies may be the answer.

Sleep is surely one of our most valuable commodities. Along with regular exercise and good nutrition, it is a key element for health. However, Health Canada data reports that an estimated 3.3 million Canadians age 15 or older have problems getting enough sleep.

According to the Canadian Sleep Society, one-third of the adult population reports insomnia symptoms, and 10 percent of the population report insomnia so persistent that it affects their daytime activities.

The short-term implications of sleep deprivation are many—fatigue, cognitive difficulties, daytime sleepiness, decreased motivation, irritability, and enhanced perception of stress. When short-term turns into long-term, inadequate sleep translates into a significantly elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, glucose intolerance, mental health disorders, obesity, and generalized inflammation in the body. Put simply, not sleeping enough can be deadly.

Recently the connection to weight gain has been the subject of intense research. Greater accumulation of abdominal fat has been noted in sleep study participants who slept less than five hours per night. In another study, dieters getting adequate sleep lost weight—but when these same dieters were subsequently sleep deprived, the weight they lost was mainly muscle, rather than fat.

Inadequate sleep acts as a stressor and can elevate the stress hormone cortisol. Over time, chronically elevated cortisol promotes inflammation and oxidative stress and will ultimately take its erosive toll on virtually all bodily systems.  

Unsurprisingly, Canadians who do not sleep well on a regular basis are drawn to over-the-counter products. Melatonin is a commonly used supplement, a natural time-cue that sets the 24-hour cycle of sleep and wakefulness. One drawback of conventional melatonin is that it is released into the body and absorbed rapidly, such that half of the dose may be eliminated within 30 minutes.

Melatonin levels normally peak around 2 to 4 am in good sleepers; therefore the ideal is to have a melatonin formulation broken down slowly. When it is consumed at 10 or 11 pm, it should be peaking three to four hours later. Thankfully, controlled-release melatonin is available.

In addition to synchronicity of the 24-hour sleep cycle, sleep induction is controlled by a sleep switch in the brain—an area activated by the release of a brain chemical called GABA. Many prescription sedatives and herbal ingredients, most notably passion flower, can promote GABA levels in the brain. However, unlike some benzodiazepine drugs used for sleep, passion flower does not cause the subsequent brain fog or cognitive difficulties.

Herbal sedatives such as passion flower can turn on the sleep switch and provide support to sustained-release melatonin, which will help maintain sleep through the night—an inexpensive investment in a most valuable commodity.

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