Restful Sleep

Byron J. Richards, CCN

Sleep is the key time that you rejuvenate your body while performing various housecleaning chores. You need both adequate sleep time and proper sleep quality. How you feel when you wake up in the morning is exactly how good a job you did. There is no mistaking the feeling of a good night’s sleep. And there is no way to effectively make up for a lack of quality sleep – it is a primary cause of wear and tear that stresses your health.

Adults need 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night. Teens need 8-9 hours. School age children need 9-10 hours. Preschoolers need 10-12 hours. Newborns often sleep 16-18 hours a day. The extra sleep is needed to support optimal growth.

When you don’t get enough sleep you are tired the next day. This causes you to eat more food to compensate for lower energy, making it more likely that you will gain weight. This throws leptin out of balance, in turn making your daytime energy worse and locking in weight issues – while further disrupting your sleep. Even if you aren’t gaining weight your mood, mental capacity, motivation, stress tolerance, energy, and overall feeling of well being suffer. Poor sleep sets you up for a poor immune response in times of need.

Nutrients can be used to help you get to sleep, stay asleep, and enhance the quality of your sleep. Sleep Helper and RelaxaMag are my top two suggestions to assist your sleep. Many people also benefit from Melatonin and Immune Plus, making these four products a core sleep support system.

A brief description of these products is listed next, followed by a comprehensive discussion of important sleep issues.

Sleep vs. Stress and Arousal

The command and control center of your subconscious brain is your hypothalamus gland. This gland regulates wakefulness and sleep, based on a variety of factors. Like any company, your hypothalamus gland has different departments. Your wakefulness department resides in the rear (posterior hypothalamus) and communicates directly to other primary brain structures that regulate wakefulness (basal forebrain and brain stem).

Your sleep department resides towards the front (anterior hypothalamus) and is composed of nerve cells that rely on GABA and glycine in order to function properly. Both your sleeping and waking departments have numerous nerve projections to other departments of your hypothalamus gland – the goal being to orchestrate correct sleeping-waking behavior for survival.

When your sleep pattern is normal then your sleep department gets a cue from your hormonal orchestra that it is bedtime, in turn activating GABAergic and glycinergic neurons which tell the wakefulness department to take a break. In the morning, your hormonal orchestra turns on light switches in the wakefulness department, and a message is then sent over to the sleep department to take a break.

The most basic sleep problem is too much arousal in various parts of the wakefulness system compared to the relaxing influences of the sleep department. In many cases simply thinking about the stressors of the day or challenges of tomorrow will keep your wakefulness department revved up. Even being excited about the next day can do this. And of course, the more intense the stress the higher the chance for a problem with sleep, especially if there is stress right before bed.

Anything you do to manage stress better, solve problems, and implement solutions will help keep your wakefulness department not feeling so edgy. Building up “relaxed reserves” assists your sleep department to have better fitness (relaxing exercise, meditation/prayer, having fun, vacations, strategies to wind down your day, etc.).

A variety of nutrients can directly help your sleep department, meaning that they enhance GABA and glycine nerve transmission. Sleep Helper™ boosts GABA, whereas RelaxaMag boosts glycine. Adequate magnesium, and to a lesser extent calcium, are vital for the wakefulness system to cool off. For example, magnesium and glycine are the natural brakes residing within your brain stem. The most basic nutritional strategy to assist sleep is to boost the supply of nutrients that support relaxing neurotransmitters while helping the wakefulness centers to rest properly.

Sleep as Part of a Hormonal Symphony

When your energy level is clicking along nicely during the day, and turns off properly at night, there is an unmistakable feeling of being “in sync.” Your body must coordinate the function of over 100 trillion cells in order for you to feel in sync, which is done with hormones (substances that give management-like orders). Your brain responds to hormonal signals and your brain creates the messages that become many of the hormones. While this process is rather complex, it is fairly easy to understand that you either feel in sync or you don’t.

The conductor of your hormonal orchestra is leptin, a hormone that actually comes from your stored fat. Leptin has many functions in your body including giving you a full signal after a meal and determining how fast your metabolism should run. Leptin is the key bridge between eating behavior and sleep quality. Many individuals who follow the Leptin Diet notice dramatically improved sleep, both in terms of being able to get to sleep and a better quality of sleep.

One of leptin’s key functions is to synchronize the release of all hormones during sleep, including the release of melatonin that is the initial cue for your sleep department to start working and to keep working for a proper length of sleep. Smooth leptin function also orchestrates the release of growth hormone, thyroid hormone, and sex hormones during sleep, all of which have a profound influence on your quality of sleep.

Melatonin is also sensitive to the amount of daylight, meaning that when it is dark outside melatonin levels may not peak correctly at night and may drag on during the day making you feel like you are still trying to sleep even though you are awake. This can cause a seasonal mood stress that feels like you are dragging a 40 pound weight around with you all day long.

Melatonin levels decline with age, setting the stage for difficulty getting to sleep and/or staying asleep simply because there is a lack of the main hormone that governs sleep.

Melatonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan. Metabolically-activating amino acids like tyrosine and phenylalanine, as found in red meat and other high protein foods, tend to crowd out the entry of tryptophan into your brain. If you have sleep troubles it is a good idea not to have a high protein/calorie dense meal for dinner. Have such a meal, if you desire, earlier in the day. At dinner eat a smaller amount of protein with lots of vegetables (fiber) and moderate complex carbohydrates. Doing so enables dietary tryptophan to enter your brain better, in turn making the melatonin that will help you sleep.

Melatonin problems are often a percentage of anyone’s sleep troubles. Following the Leptin Diet and not eating too much protein at dinner, especially too close to bed, will help improve melatonin function. After age 40, age-related melatonin deficiency can range from 0.5 mg or more per day. Seasonal melatonin issues may require 6 mgs. or more of melatonin, depending on the person.

We have melatonin in both 0.5 mg and 3 mg capsules. This enables you to adjust your dose, as needed. Some people use both products, as a 4 mg dose may be what you need. Pick any starting dose and see if it helps you sleep. If not, try a higher amount. If you get too much or you really don’t need it you will feel “hung over” or heavy headed when you wake up. If this happens take less (or none). If you can’t tell if melatonin helps you on any dose then there is no need to take it. If you are lacking melatonin and you take some, the sleep assistance is usually pretty obvious. And remember that as the days get shorter you may need to take more, and can lower that amount as summer approaches.

Plumbing Problems Interfere with Sleep

An often overlooked yet key sleep issue is something I call clogged plumbing. I am referring specifically to your lymphatic system which is highly active at night while you sleep. Your lymph system must work right in order for you to carry on proper housecleaning chores, thereby enabling you to wake up feeling well rested. Healthy function of your lymph system has a large bearing on your quality of sleep.

The main symptoms of lymphatic problems are felt in your shoulder and neck area. The fluid around all your cells is called lymph fluid. It moves waste products through various lymph channels and nodes which have two main outlets (thoracic ducts) on either side of your spine around the shoulder areas of your back. Pressure, stiffness, or pain building up in this region is a sign of lymphatic congestion.

Your lymph system cross-talks with your brain stem, which in turn can cause problems in getting to sleep or staying asleep – aside from the housecleaning duties that influence sleep quality. There are many immune cells within your lymph system. If this system is clogged or sluggish then alarming messages may be sent from the immune cells over to their cousins (glial cells) residing in your brain stem. Your brain stem, which is part of your awakeness team, is now receiving “alarming” and stimulatory sensory input from your struggling lymph system. This can be enough to prevent you from falling asleep, or wake you up, especially if combined with other sleep issues.

The enemies of your lymph system are stagnation (lack of exercise or activity), eating too close to bed (fatty meals congest it), or excessive clean up chores (following a physically or emotionally demanding day, accident, injury, illness, etc). If you go to bed with an out of shape and overloaded lymph system you are typically going to have some troubles.

As the thoracic ducts swell during sleep (a kind of constipation), they push on nerves that go down your arms. This can cause one or both hands or arms to fall asleep or tingle while you are sleeping. The pressure may build up on one or both sides of your shoulders, often resulting in a stiff neck. Because your body tries to look for alternative ways to get rid of waste you may try to push it out your skin causing acne on your shoulders, chest, or face. Another alternative is to make extra mucous, which you will typically have to cough up in the morning (as well as after large meals).

Because housecleaning is not working well, extra trash is left around your body, often in your joints. This causes you to wake up with a combination of various aches and pains along with a yuck feeling. As you move around the gunk is mechanically moved out by your muscle contractions (as different from ongoing pain that is constant).

Weather fronts passing in the night always aggravate lymph problems, as your lymph system is a pressure system. Headaches that start in the back of your neck are common, and may also be felt as sinus pressure or pressure at the top of your head. If you have a really stuck lymph system you may feel like a pressure cooker ready to blow.

Lymph symptoms ebb and flow based on many issues, and the above collection of symptoms may be mild and have little effect on your sleep or may significantly interfere with getting to sleep, staying asleep, and your overall quality of sleep.

Ghrelin and Glucose Aggravate Sleep

While it is quite obvious that you can’t eat and sleep at the same time, there is a profound inter-relationship in the way eating and sleeping influence each other. For example, when you don’t get enough sleep you are going to be tired and your body will feel stressed easier. This causes you to eat more food to try and get energy, especially if you’re having a stressful day after a poor night’s sleep.

Such calories have a high likelihood of turning into extra pounds on your gut, hips, or thighs. Furthermore, the extra fat blobs in your blood (triglycerides) reduce how well leptin gets into your brain, making you hungrier and less likely to sleep well – a vicious circle.

Leptin levels naturally rise in a 24-hour pattern (as different from the mealtime full signal). The highest natural level of leptin should be at night right before bed, so it can enter your brain and conduct the proper hormonal orchestra that synchronizes rejuvenating sleep.

Leptin has an “opposite” hormone signal called ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite (especially for carbohydrates). Ghrelin is made in your stomach, and needs to be working in harmony with leptin. When you have too much ghrelin you are too hungry too often, with difficult cravings after dinner. As ghrelin problems lock into place over time it is typical that glucose problems also occur, meaning that both are too high before bed.

New science shows that problems with excess ghrelin and blood sugar are a form of stress that causes excessive arousal, interfering with your sleep department’s efforts. Some people are certain they must eat before bed or they can’t get to sleep. If this is the case with you then you need to read the section below “Pleasure, Arousal, Stress, & Food – Does Sleep Have a Chance?”

If you must eat something then have the smallest amount of carbohydrates that let you get to sleep (which does turn down the arousal system), but then work on actually solving the problem so you simply aren’t hungry before bed or feeling revved up when its time for sleep (real health).

Following any of the advice that pertains to you in the previous sleep sections will help with this issue. However, you may need some extra nutrient support to neutralize nighttime cravings. Any one or any combination of these supplements can be taken after dinner or before bed to help you out, as needed. You will notice that when the cravings are better you fall asleep much easier.

Maximize Your Fat Burning During Sleep

In the course of a 24-hour time period your prime fat burning opportunity is at night while you are sleeping – but only if you allow it to happen. Of course you burn extra calories when you exercise or are physically active, but in terms of your basal metabolism of fat – nighttime rules!

Following a meal you tend to burn calories for energy mostly from sugar (60% glucose/40% fatty acids). After three or four hours you will start burning higher amounts of fat, which is why it is important to go 5-6 hours between meals – as the Leptin Diet recommends. Doing so helps clean fat blobs (triglycerides) out of your circulation during the day, so that leptin can enter your brain better at night and help you sleep properly.

Once you are sleeping, and around 7-8 hours after your last meal, if your liver is working right, you will now burn 60% of your calories from fatty acids and 40% from glucose. This is your prime fat burning time, and the easiest way to create it is by following the Leptin Diet and by doing regular aerobic exercise (which also helps clear fat blobs out of your circulation by using them for fuel).

Strength training, done at any time of the day, can also enhance this nighttime result. This is because the need to repair your muscles from the workout helps maximize the release of growth hormone during sleep, which increases muscle metabolism of calories. If you are doing the Leptin Diet properly, then those extra calories will come mostly from stored fat.

Various nutrients taken before bed may enhance calorie burning as well as the overall repair response, as desired. While I do not consider this type of nutrition as a primary weight management strategy, it may help out a little bit. In my mind the main thing to notice is that you wake up feeling like you slept better, meaning that your muscles feel great and the sleep was more rejuvenating in nature. Nutrients do not replace the importance of exercise, but often enhance your recovery from exercise (which takes place during sleep).

Snoring – Please Pass the Oxygen

Snoring is a common problem that interferes with the health of the person who snores and the person who is disturbed by their partner snoring. The number one cause of snoring is how much fat you consume. The number two cause is what you weigh. If any factor in each of the previous sections is a problem for you, it typically is contributing to your snoring issue and may be the cause of it.

Snoring means that the air passage in your throat has narrowed and is vibrating, in turn causing the snoring sound. This reduces your ability to get oxygen into your body, which not only stresses your circulatory system it stresses your ability to move nutrition in your blood while you sleep. Snoring invariably reduces sleep quality.

Various tips not related to fat have been given to help people reduce snoring: reduce or eliminate alcohol, sleep on your side, don’t take muscle-relaxing medications, elevate the head of your bed, and employee strategies to clear your nasal and sinuses of congestion.

While such tips may help, they usually don’t solve the problem. In my opinion, snoring is an inflammatory problem wherein your inflammation burned interferes with the fitness and tone of the autonomic system that regulates your breathing while you sleep.

While there are many sources of inflammation, being overweight is right at the top of the list. This means that as you lose weight you will eventually get to a weight where you are much more likely not to snore.

On a short term basis, the amount of fat in your diet may be the single most significant factor that causes snoring, whether you are overweight or not. This is very easy to test. Begin by cutting out all (or most) fat at your dinner meal – that solves a lot of snoring problems right off the bat. If that isn’t good enough, cut down fat intake at other meals until you find a level of fat intake that is below your snoring threshold.

There are many possible nutrients that may help snoring for one reason or another. For example, any nutrient you use to help improve a sleep-related issue listed in a previous section is likely to help. Similarly, any nutrient that helps you manage stress during the day or helps correct an inflammatory and energy-depleting health problem is also likely to help. Such nutrients have general anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and there are many of them.

In conjunction with an overall sleep plan, healthy lifestyle, and specifically working on reduction of fat while following the Leptin Diet, the following supplements may also be of help:

Immunity and Sleep

We now know that your immune system is intimately involved with the sleep process, handling a great deal of the communication and housecleaning activities that are totally different than the idea of fighting a bug. Your lymph system is a key part of your immune system and its function during sleep is explained above in the section “Plumbing Problems Interfere with Sleep.”

Additionally, if your immune system is called on to battle a bug, the major battle will take place at night while you are sleeping. If you are successful you will feel better when you wake up. If your system is struggling then “plumbing problems” are likely to be aggravated.

Using natural immune support before going to bed (as well as during the day) can help the efficiency of your immune system to perform its needed tasks. Some of the best before bed natural immune support is as follows. These nutrients may be used in combination, as desired.

Pleasure, Arousal, Stress, & Food – Does Sleep Have a Chance?

Don’t think for a moment that the human brain is simple. It would certainly be nice if there was one on switch for awake and one off switch for sleep. As I have already explained you have a sleep department and a wakefulness department residing within your hypothalamus gland. The new science shows that you also have an “arousal thermostat” in your hypothalamus gland that has a huge impact on your sleep. It is not residing in your wakefulness department, but operating alongside.

If this arousal thermostat is set too high then your nerves will be too stimulated, as if in a fight or flight state, and sleep will be difficult. It has now been discovered that this condition of heightened arousal is also linked directly to pleasure seeking and reward, which actually explains a great deal of inappropriate human behavior. This not only means a desire for food, it also means a desire for any stimulus that feels good.

In other words, your arousal thermostat is potentially causing urges that underlie behavioral patterns that you know are not good for you. When a feeling of reward or pleasure is obtained from a substance such as cigarettes, alcohol, pot, food, or risky behavior then your arousal thermostat is temporarily soothed, enabling sleep. Because many such behaviors involve the use of substances that may cause wear and tear to brain circuitry, your arousal thermostat can get locked into an inappropriately high setting, in turn re-enforcing the behavior in order to be able to sleep. On the other hand, trying to break the bad habit may make sleep worse as the inappropriately high setting of your arousal thermostat causes you to feel to wound up when not being placated.

For those of you who are technically minded, the arousal thermostat is established by a pair of excitatory neuropeptides produced by neurons located in the lateral hypothalamus, and projecting throughout your brain. They are called Hypocretins (Hcrt) and have also been called Orexins (appetite stimulating). They are intimately involved with how awake you feel and your desire for a reward.

If you lack Hypocretins you can’t stay awake (narcolepsy). If you have the right amount your head is awake, your energy feels good (not hyper or anxious) and you have a normal drive for healthy pleasures and accomplishment. If it is set too high your nerves will feel wired (even though you may feel quite tired), you will have trouble sleeping, and you run a risk for substance abuse issues of one kind or another (or have a history of this).

Because this Hypocretin system is directly wired to your stress response, it is likely that a higher level of stress or ongoing stress is what pushed your arousal thermostat into an inappropriately high setting in the first place.

A wound up Hypocretin system gravitates to pleasure seeking and reward. There is a craving for a burst of endorphins (natural opiates) and/or dopamine (a reward). Impulses to use substances that cause damage to health must be replaced with consistent healthier behaviors. Also, the relaxed reserves in your nerves must be replenished and nutrition that supports changes in brain plasticity can be employed to help reset the arousal thermostat to a proper setting. While improvement in sleep can typically be noticed early on, it will take a bit of time to reset the arousal thermostat to a consistently lower and more appropriate setting.

To address this issue you need to build up a better supply of endorphins (natural opiates) from positive behaviors. By far the best exercise for endorphins is aerobics, which should be done at least three times per week on a consistent basis. Other endorphin-releasing activities include smiling, laughing, and sex. Anything you do that is fun, which does not involve substances or some form of harm, tends to be helpful. At the same time you need to do some constructive goal setting with tangible plans for accomplishment so that a sense of reward based on productivity is charted out. There should be obtainable steps along the way, as the smaller accomplishments add up eventually to completion of a larger or longer term objective.

With nutrition it is vital to replenish the reserves of relaxing nutrients. Thus, nutrients like Sleep Helper and RelaxaMag should be taken during the day as well as at bed. Use enough during the day to take the edge off.

Various other nutrients can help you build endorphins or enhance the release of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) – a substance that helps repair and protect excited nerves. Top choices include:

Sleep and Excessive Substance P

Too much Substance P in your nerves will also interfere with sleep, making you feel wired or anxious, similar to how a Hypocretin problem feels (explained in the previous section). However, Substance P is not involved with pleasure urges or reward behavior. It is part of a natural system that processes pain and inflammation.

Hypocretin problems are associated with your hypothalamus gland (subconscious control center) whereas Substance P problems are associated with your brain stem and nerve endings all around your body. Many people have features of both problems and need to address both issues; others mostly just have one of these issues.

Part of your awakeness team is your brain stem, which is constantly processing sensory input. If sensory input contains too much physical or emotional pain then your brain stem itself “heats up.” This raises Substance P levels within your brain stem and locks this part of your awakeness team into a hyper-vigilant on mode, thereby interfering with sleep.

Substance P problems do not occur from moderate day to day stress. Extra substance P kicks in when stress is more intense. This could be an acute high level of emotional stress, physical pain, injury, an accident, fibromyalgia, or ongoing stress of an energy-depleting emotional nature. Substance P is highly inflammatory by nature, a natural method of helping to deal with acute stress but problematic if stress is ongoing. Individuals with a history of such stress are more likely to experience Substance P issues later in life from the ongoing stress of day to day life, especially if such stress is energy-depleting and tends to be chronic.

In addition to sleep issues and a wired/anxious feeling signs of too much Substance P involve symptoms in large nerves and nerve endings, especially at night when you lay down to sleep or while you are sleeping. Classic symptoms include one or more of the following: wrestles legs, painful feet, upset digestion, vaginal discomfort, and chest-related symptoms (including funny pains that move around). These symptoms are caused because your brain stem tries to discharge the build up of Substance P down primary nerve structures so that it can cool off and you can go to sleep.

Substance P excess also manifests in skin and muscles. Your skin may itch in a generalized way, as Substance P is released out nerve endings (a problem that can happen during the day or at night). It sometimes feels like something is crawling around under your skin. In some cases individuals with too much Substance P are sensitive to physical touch – meaning that touch is uncomfortable or even painful to a greater or lesser degree.

Excess Substance P may also be released at the point where nerves connect to muscles, causing muscles to be much tighter than normal and oftentimes sore or achy.

The best physical exercises for Substance P overload are stretching and hobbies you enjoy that use your fingers over and over in a repetitive way. Stretching discharges Substance P from nerve endings, as well as helping to put motion back into tight muscles. Hobbies send pleasant sensory input through your brain stem, as well as accessing your hypothalamus gland (through your cerebellum or motion control center) and delivering the message in “machine language” that “everything is fine so calm down.”

Nutrition can be used to help discharge Substance P out of your nerves DURING THE DAY, so that less of it is sitting there in your nerves at bedtime getting in the way of your sleep. The following nutrients taken during the day are generally helpful and may be used in any combination.







Article Index Next Article


All Images and Text © 2016 Dharma Healing International, Hillary Adrian Han.
Articles may be reprinted as long as a link to this site is included in the article.