Even if you don’t have constant sleep problems, but had the experience at some point to not be able to sleep as well or as much as you’d like, you must have noticed that within days, your whole system is affected: less energy, lower immunity, bad mood, even worse digestion and change in gut microbiome might occur. It also happens that an imbalance in gut microbiome might produce unbalanced levels of hormones like serotonin, dopamine, GABA and melatonine, which can cause trouble sleeping. And when gut microbiome is negatively affected, health issues begin.
There are also other reasons our gut microbiome plays a role in our sleep quality. For example, there’s a clear connection between gut health and stress. As we all know, high levels of stress lead to poor sleep, interrupted sleep and problem falling asleep. When there’s a balance in our gut bacteria though, our body has a greater ability to fend off stress which equals better sleep at the end of the day.
So if you’re experiencing problem sleeping, maybe you need to start from your gut and thus your plate and then explore other natural solutions.
Fix your gut
If your sleep problems are due to gut imbalance, maybe you need to reconsider your everyday nutrition. Stick to a whole food plant-based diet, minimize meat and dairy consumption and make it a habit of yours to eat probiotic and prebiotic foods like pickles, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, soy sauce, bananas, onions, garlic, apples, leeks asparagus, dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichoke and generally lots of fruits and vegetables. You may need supplementation, so it’s best to talk to a doctor of dietitian that can help you find the right one for your case.
Watch what and when you eat
Apart from fixing your gut microbiome, you may need to generally adjust your nutrition and your eating routine. You need to eat at approximately the same tie everyday and have lighter meals at night, giving your digestive system the time to properly digest food before you lie down. Digestion while we sleep may interrupt our zzz’s and cause heatburn, acid reflux, indigestion or a general discomfort. Prefer eating at least 2-3 hours before going to bed and select meals that go easy on your gut and induce sleep. Kale, bananas, a hot comfort vegetable soup, sweet potatoes, rice, cherries, almonds, spinach, herbal teas are good choices. Definitely avoid acidic foods, caffeine, alcohol, fatty foods, high-sugar foods, soda, spicy foods, high protein foods and foods that you know that negatively affect you, causing you gas and indigestion. You also need to avoid drinking water or other liquids just before bed, in order to avoid nocturia which can ruin your sleep.
Get out in the natural light in the morning
You may not know it, but exposure to natural sunlight or bright light during the day helps us keep a balanced circadian rhythm, improving our energy during daytime and our sleep during the night. Research has shown that for those who suffer insomnia, it helps in their sleep quality and duration, as well as their falling asleep time, to be exposed to daytime bright light. If you can’t go out in the sun, make sure you get yourself exposed to artificial bright light.
Minimize blue light exposure in the evening
Save your exposure to light for morning hours and towards the end of the day, try to reduce light exposure. This, again, will help you with you circadian rhythm, keeping it balanced so as to notify your body it’s time to sleep when the time comes, raising hormones like melatonin, which will help get you into deep sleep. If you expose yourself to bright lights in the evening or spend your time with electronic devices like smartphones, which emit large amounts of blue light, you may mess things up with your sleep. Best thing to do is to turn tv and smartphones off two hours prior to bed and read a book. Alternatively, you can wear glasses or download apps that block blue light on your smartphone and computer or laptop.
Have a steady routine
It helps your body, circadian rhythm and hormones, if you try to maintain an everyday steady routine of sleeping and waking up and be consistent with it. If you don’t work in shifts or have other everyday obligations that keep you from being consistent with your routine, try to keep it steady. Studies have shown that participants with irregular routines report non quality sleep while their circadian rhythm and melatonin levels alter, making things worse with their zzz’s. Try to keep up with your routine even in weekends as much as possible.
Prepare yourself for sleep
Most of the time we need to create the proper atmosphere to accomplish a goal (think of a date, party, even sleep). We all know it’s not that easy to just lie down and sleep if you don’t feel tired and sleepy, especially if you have sleeping problems. A good tactic is to start “creating atmosphere” optimizing your environment, in order to get yourself in the mood for sleep. You can minimize lights, close windows to exclude external noises, use clean and fresh sheets, make sure your pillow and mattress are suitable and comfortable have a relaxing bath, set the right temperature -which is about 20°C for many people- and use relaxation techniques to relax your mind, like massage, music, deep breathing, meditation or whatever suits you.
Regular exercise can help in cases of sleep problems, according to research. More specifically, it can help you reduce the time you fall asleep up to 50%, keep you from waking up at night, reduce your anxiety by up to 15% and increase total sleep up to 15%. Plus it’s good for your heart, your gut, your health and your mood. Make it a daily habit, but try not to exercise too late, as this can have opposite effect.
Check out supplements
When all else fails, talk to your doctor or dietitian about supplements that can help you. A popular one is melatonin that is used to treat insomnia and it’s basically the sleep hormone that tells us when it’s time to go to bed. Aside form that there are other options like magnesium that can improve sleep quality, ginkgo biloba that can enhance relaxation and reduce stress, L-theanine, valerian root, lavender. See which one is best for you and… sweet dreams!
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