When sleep eludes


Do you have trouble falling asleep? Or staying asleep? Or perhaps you struggle to switch off?

The fact is, we live in a fast-paced society, and in our thirst for greater productivity we too often put quality sleep on the back burner, to our detriment. Instead of dosing up on sleeping tablets or tranquilizers many are turning to food and drink choices, as well as melatonin supplements, to help get a good night’s rest.

Produced naturally in the body, Melatonin is a hormone (often referred to as the sleep hormone) that helps regulate your body temperature, blood pressure and hormone levels, in other words, it tells your body when it is time to hit the bed. Melatonin levels start to rise in your body when it is dark outside, signalling that it is time to relax and sleep.

People who don’t make enough natural melatonin at night, more than often struggle to fall asleep.

There are many factors that may cause low levels at of melatonin at night – stress, smoking, jet lag, insomnia, exposure to too much light at night (including blue light), not getting enough natural light during the day, shift work and aging. All of these things in turn affect a person’s ability to fall, and stay asleep.

Those who prefer natural remedies have adopted sleep-friendly diets that include eating foods which contain melatonin naturally, such as cherries, nuts and walnuts, beans, dairy, chickpeas, honey, kale and spinach and complex carbohydrates like fortified cereal, quinoa, barley and buckwheat. Foods rich in magnesium and potassium (like bananas, sweet potato, almonds and whole grains) also help promote sleep as they are natural muscle relaxants. Certain herbal teas – chamomile, valerian, green tea and passion flower – are good for sleep, and dark chocolate contains serotonin which relaxes your body and mind.

With this in mind, foods to avoid are high fat, refined, processed and sugary foods. Spicy foods are known to cause heartburn and increase your core body temperature, which will affect your body’s ability to relax, and obviously, alcohol, energy drinks and coffee are also big no-no’s close to or before bedtime.

In alternative medicine, melatonin supplements are used to adjust the body’s sleep-wake cycle and are said to help with many of the known health concerns associated with sleep deprivation.

A powerful antioxidant, it is also known to have a variety of other benefits that include helping to support eye health, treat stomach ulcers and heartburn, ease tinnitus symptoms and even raise growth hormone levels in men.

Some studies have shown that melatonin may fight some forms of cancer and reduce some of the side effects of chemotherapy. In addition, melatonin is said to help with insomnia associated with certain conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and schizophrenia.

Current studies show that melatonin is safe, non-toxic and not addictive.

If you want to try melatonin, start with 0.5 mg or 1 mg 30 minutes before bed. If that doesn’t work, then try increasing it to 3 to 5 mg or follow the instructions on the supplement bottle. Dischem, Clicks, local health stores all usually stock melatonin so it isn’t difficult to come by.