insomnia

 

Trouble sleeping is not just annoying, it can also damage your health, cause weight gain and effect your relationships and career. If it progresses to be a semi-permanent experience, insomnia can be very debilitating.

It’s very important that human beings get enough rest, to allow the mind to de-stress and process the thoughts and feelings of the day, as well as to allow the body to repair itself. Children and babies do most of their growing while they sleep and, in adults as well, that is the time of greatest cell renewal. Cell renewal doesn’t just relate to “beauty sleep” or slowing down the ravages of time on our faces, but also to the repair and replacement of other cells within the body, such as liver, cell walls, kidneys and bones. Without adequate sleep, the body cannot be as efficient at recovering from toxins, illness or injury.

Understanding what maybe causing disturbances in sleep can help us find ways to improve our sleep quality, and reduce the impact of insomnia.

Our sleeping environment is an important consideration. Making sure we have a supportive bed, pillow of the correct height, clean sheets, dust free floors, and walls free of mould and mildew will help improve the circumstances for a peaceful slumber. Turning the lights down after dark, avoiding “screen time” before bed and making sure we are warm enough (but not too warm!) will all help to put us into a sleep-friendly state.

What if these important considerations have been taken care of, though, and we are still experiencing insomnia? Take a look at your diet. The foods we eat, and drinks we consume in the latter half of the day can also affect our sleep.

Foods that commonly impair sleep include stimulants such as drinks containing caffeine such as cola and coffee; green tea and even chocolate. Some alcohol is also stimulating, and can keep us awake for other reasons as well. Alcohol can have detrimental effects on overall health, including damaging liver cells and creating inflammation of the gut lining, which can lead to digestive problems and hamper absorption of nutrients. Foods high in sugar can “wake us up” and spicy foods can also be stimulating. If your evening meal is going to have lots of chilli try to eat it earlier in the evening, allowing plenty of time for it to be digested before bedtime. Some diet drinks and energy drinks also contain stimulants. Try to restrict their consumption, or avoid them after lunch, and definitely in the evening.

Foods you are allergic too can also cause night wakefulness or insomnia. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), for example, is a frequent culprit. MSG is a very harsh chemical food additive used a lot by food manufacturers, restaurants and take-away food providers, including Italian, Chinese, Thai and Indian cooks to add flavour. Most people have a very low tolerance to MSG and can find themselves very thirsty and restless after eating a meal that has MSG. It can also keep people awake at night.

Nicotine is another stimulant, so if you are having trouble getting a good night’s sleep, avoid smoking at night.

Anxiety, caused by work issues, money worries, or relationship difficulties can also make it difficult for people to sleep through the night, potentially leading to insomnia. Grief can also be a cause of sleep disturbance. Seek advice from your manager, friends or a counsellor to help resolve whatever is bothering you, and find ways to manage your emotions so can achieve a more peaceful state.

Some foods can actually assist in creating a more restful night. A light snack before bed on low-fat yogurt, a banana, wholegrain cereal with milk, or crackers can ensure the brain has enough fuel to get through the night, preventing wakefulness induced by a drop in blood sugar during sleep.

Katherine West is a health freak and freelance writer who in 2003 studied for a Diploma of Nutrition. She is also into yoga and pilates.

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Filed under: sleep disorders

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