Getting adequate sleep each night is one of the cornerstones of maintaining optimal health. Most experts agree that getting 6-8 hours of restful, rejuvenating sleep each night is essential to maintaining optimal focus, concentration, mood and energy levels. Adequate rest also plays a crucial role in keeping immune function at its peak, which is an especially important consideration during cold and flu season.
Getting enough sleep also has many other benefits that many people don’t know about, the most compelling of which is its ability to slow the aging process.
During the day, our physiology is dominated by hormones, which support the body’s ability to function both physically and mentally. Cortisol is a commonly known stress hormone that circulates at high levels throughout the day. Its primary function is to help support the energy demands of the body by liberating sugars and fuel into the blood stream. It also suppresses immune function to reduce inflammation and blunt the immune response. When it falls to its lowest levels at night, immune function increases, which is why most people will spike fevers or feel worse when they are sick at night. All of those symptoms are created by an active immune system.
To offset the immune suppressing effects of cortisol production during the day, the body releases another hormone at night called growth hormone.
Human growth hormone (also known as HGH) is naturally released by our bodies every day. The most significant triggers for the release of growth hormone are strenuous physical exertion, and most importantly, sleep. When cortisol levels fall at night, our bodies are triggered to release growth hormone. Its role is to undo the physical stress exerted on our bodies by cortisol and injury incurred from daily activity. We literally heal when we sleep. We also know that growth hormone production significantly declines as we age, and it is thought that this decline is one of the primary contributors to the aging process. Although growth hormone has been synthesized and is available as a prescription, taking it as a hormone replacement is highly controversial and comes with the risk of some serious side effects.
The best way to ensure that growth hormone levels stay high as you age is to engage in strenuous physical activity every day and to get good sleep each and every night. Getting to sleep before midnight is vital, as this helps to trigger growth hormone release.
Although prescription sleep aids improve sleep patterns for many people, they do not always create the kind of restful, rejuvenating sleep that happens without drug therapy. Having your body cycle through the various stages of sleep throughout the night is critically important to getting restful sleep. Many prescription sleep aids prevent your body from cycling through those critical stages of sleep.
People with extreme insomnia issues may need to implement a combination of natural therapies in order to obtain good quality sleep. These are just some basic ideas that can be very effective for those with mild to moderate sleep difficulties.
5 Natural Sleep Aids
Natural Sleep Aid #1: Melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone that your brain produces every night when it is time to go to sleep. It helps to facilitate the transition between wake and sleep. What many people do not know about melatonin is that it is also one of your body’s most potent antioxidants, and has been associated with slowing the aging process. Extensive research has shown melatonin to be safe and it is a great first try for people looking for something natural to aid their sleep. As noted, it is best for people who have difficulty falling asleep. Doses range from 800 mcg to 3-5 mg.
Natural Sleep Aid #2: 5-HTP
5-Hydroxy tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses as a building block to make serotonin. Many people are aware of the role of serotonin in depression, but may not realize that serotonin also plays a critical role in sleep. As long as you are not taking a prescription antidepressant, 5-HTP is generally considered safe and well tolerated. 5-HTP can be helpful for getting people to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Natural Sleep Aid #3: Magnesium
Being the most gentle of sleep aids, it does not work for everyone. However, due to the fact that magnesium is one of the most critical nutrients your body needs for running enzymes there are little down sides to additional supplementation. This supplement is usually best for people who have a restless night sleep, not necessarily for those with more severe symptoms of insomnia.
Natural Sleep Aid #4: Exercise
Engaging in regular exercise daily helps to burn off stress and regulate stress hormones. It can be an effective tool for helping to regulate sleep patterns especially for those individuals who are under a lot of stress or have sleep issues related to anxiety.
Natural Sleep Aid #5: Hormonal Factors
Women very commonly experience sleep disturbances during peri-menopuase and menopause due to changing hormone levels. There are natural ways to support hormonal balance during these times. Black cohosh and dong quai are two herbs that have been shown to reduce certain symptoms associated with the hormonal changes that occur during menopause. Bio-identical hormones are also a good option to consider for women with more severe symptoms, and for women who do not respond to herbal therapy.
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