Have you ever found yourself counting sheep all night long, regardless of how tired you feel? If so, you are not alone: the Sleep Health Foundation in Australia recently discovered that 4 in 10 people have problems when falling asleep.
Tossing and turning throughout the night has a number of consequences on both our mental and physical health. RMIT University research (1), discusses the many effects sleep deprivation has on our health, such as:
Reduced performance during the day: Sleeping at least 7 hours per night is absolutely necessary for our brain to recharge and function properly. Otherwise, you may experience disrupted circadian rhythms, reduced memory, brain fog, irritability, and other symptoms that can affect your performance during the day.
- Slower reaction times: Not sleeping well can also make you less aware of your surroundings, slowing your reaction time. This is particularly dangerous if you have to work in a kitchen, for example, or driving a motor vehicle.
- Mood swings: Sleep deprivation can affect your central and peripheral nervous system, causing irritability, mood swings, and an inability to clearly distinguish facial expressions (2).
- Other health problems: Finally, you can also end up suffering from other serious health issues, such as hypertension, heart failure, obesity, and diabetes, as proven by research (3).
While both men and women can suffer from sleep loss, the truth is that women are more likely to be impacted by sleepless nights, as they affect your ability to multitask and focus on more than one thing at a time.
Some specialists, such as sleep neuroscientist Jim Horne explains that women, most of the time, do not rest as much as they need, particularly when they are pregnant or going through menopause (4), or when they are awakened by their partners or children. According to the Sleep Health Foundation (5), 7 in 10 women do not sleep well during their menstrual cycle, with some of them reporting sleep problems as early as 6 days before their bleeding starts. This has an explanation: before your period, your hormones fluctuate a lot, which makes it harder to obtain restful sleep.
Women going through menopause typically experience hot flashes, night sweats, and bloating, which can also make it difficult for them to sleep through the night. Plus, Katherine Sharkey, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine and of psychiatry and human behaviour at Brown University, Providence, R.I., has recently discovered that hormone-related sleep disturbances also occur after and before menopause (6) (7), due to fluctuations in hormones like progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone.
Some of the consequences of lack of sleep in women include reduced cognitive function, stress, anxiety, and major depression, according to the Harvard Medical School (8). As you can see, not being able to sleep well soon ends up in a vicious cycle of physical and mental discomfort. But here’s some good news: sleeping 8 hours per night again is not unachievable. If you use these 14 natural deep-sleep activators, you will stop counting sheep and instead get all the rest you need!
Passionflower is an amazing herbal supplement when relieving anxiety symptoms and sleep deprivation. If you’d like to try it out, you’ll be able to easily find it in powder, liquid, capsules and even tablets. One of the main benefits of Passionflower includes mood regulation, because it can increase your levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
How does this work? When taken correctly, it can calm down your brain’s neurotransmitters, helping you feel at ease. That is why experts recommend taking it before going to bed to improve the quality of your sleep. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) claims that passionflower is safe to use, though it should be used with caution, especially during pregnancy because it can cause contractions (9).
Some studies carried out regarding the effects of passionflower when improving sleep disorders (10) showed an increase in sleep time for those who took the herb against those who took a placebo.
An unbalanced microbiome (that is, the bacteria that live in your gut) can cause a lot more than stomach pain or bloating. In addition to digestive problems, an unhealthy gut can result in poor sleep capacity.
In fact, many studies have looked into the topic to discover that a restful night of sleep many times depends on your gut. As explained by Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist, diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the microbiome is regulated by circadian rhythms (10), and more a more research today supports the idea that a disruption in these rhythms can affect the microbiome as well.
How can you improve your gut health, and consequently your sleep quality, then? You can take probiotics like Lactobacillus Casei, commonly found in our urinary tract and mouth. A study carried out in 2016 (11) suggests that consuming this probiotic daily can help you sleep better, particularly if you’re feeling stressed and anxious. You can find Lactobacillus Casei in fermented items like cheese or yogurt or you can simply look for a natural supplement.
If you are a woman and are not taking enough magnesium through your diet, this can be a cause of your sleeplessness. Dr. Breus in Psychology Today claims that magnesium is an essential mineral needed by the body for optimal performance, affecting our ability to sleep well (12).
Sadly, our bodies are not able to produce magnesium on their own, so we need to ingest a balanced diet with naturally rich-magnesium items to make sure our organs have enough magnesium to function properly. Some examples of foods include, but are not limited to:
- Lentils and beans
- Dark chocolate
- Leafy greens like spinach
- Nuts and seeds
If you’re not able to get magnesium through your diet, another option is to take magnesium glycinate. This is a natural supplement that consists of magnesium salt derived from glycine.
Baobabs are indigenous trees that grow in the arid regions of Madagascar, Arabia and Australia. This tree produces a fruit which is rich in vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, that can bring about a number of health benefits (13). For example, it acts as a prebiotic (that is, a kind of food for the beneficial bacteria that live in your intestines) while containing vitamin C and B complex levels and potassium that can help you have a restful sleep (14).
The Mesquite tree can also provide us with barks and pods that can help us get those necessary ZZZs at night, as they are ground up into powder and can be taken as part of a health supplement or tea.
This tree grows in South America and is considered to be a super ingredient because of its medicinal properties, such as providing you with magnesium and other minerals. Mesquite bark is also an adaptogen (15) which helps you cope with anxiety by balancing out your cortisol levels during stressful situations, helping you calm down and relax before sleeping.
Amino acids like L-Theanine can also promote restful sleep. L-Theanine is found in tea leaves and Bay Bolete mushrooms, and is well-known for its ability to promote relaxation and drowsiness (16). Some studies regarding the use of L-Theanine for better sleep suggest that it is effective when used in doses of 250 mg and 400 mg (17), as it reduces your heart rate and helps you achieve a state of complete relaxation.
Zinc is an essential mineral used for many processes inside our bodies and, not surprisingly, new studies have proven it can also help you regulate your sleep (18). Initial research suggests it can shorten the amount of time it takes us to effectively fall asleep (19). In terms of the best type of zinc to incorporate into your diet, experts suggest taking zinc picolinate, as it’s easily absorbed by the body.
Hydrolyzed collagen peptides can also contribute to having better sleep at night. These are a form of protein derived from cows that deliver glycine to your body (20), a substance that brings about many health benefits like falling asleep faster and having more hours of deep sleep. Moreover, glycine can lower your body temperature while increasing your serotonin levels (a hormone necessary for the production of melatonin, a substance that makes you drowsy).
Valerian root has been used for many years as a sleep aid, and for good reason. This extract contains a number of compounds, like valerenic and isovaleric acid, that promotes relaxation by interacting with GABA (a substance that regulates nerve impulses). Low GABA levels are typically associated with anxiety, stress, and poor sleep quality (21). Thus, using valerian root in the form of tea or health supplement can help you relax and fall asleep more quickly.
This mushroom has long been used in ancient Asian medicine, as it is believed to boost your immune system, help you fight fatigue and depression, and promote deeper sleep. Some recent studies suggest it can increase your total sleep time (22) while reducing fatigue and anxiety before you go to bed (23).
If you’re interested in taking Reishi mushroom to achieve a restful night’s sleep, you can either consume it fresh or as a health supplement.
Himalayan Crystal Salt is known as the healthiest sodium in the world. Obtained in the Punjab province of Pakistan, this salt brings about a number of benefits, like balancing the minerals in your body and stabilising pH levels (24). As a result, it regulates your sympathetic nervous system and helps you stay calm, relaxed, and get a more restful night’s sleep.
In addition to being the best condiment to spice up almost any food, black pepper is beneficial for your health and wellbeing. Piperine, its active ingredient, improves digestion, reduces inflammation, helps you fight free radicals, and levels up your serotonin and dopamine levels (25).
Kakadu Plum is small but mighty. This fruit, which grows in Northern Australia, is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C while containing a great amount of minerals like copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium. These are considered to be “dream makers”, with recent studies suggesting antioxidants are helpful when staying asleep through the night (26).
Spice up your foods with delicious turmeric and reduce inflammation at the same time! Some studies have demonstrated that women are more prone to suffering from chronic inflammation than men (27), and that a lack of sleep can make symptoms worse (28). If you’d like to improve your sleep quality, why not use Turmeric? It contains 95% of curcuminoids, which have proven to reduce inflammation. If you combine turmeric with black pepper (29), you’ll have improved chances of absorbing curcumin, turning them into powerful sleep activators.