Restful sleep is a must for health, vitality, longevity and fat loss. Researchers found that sleeping four hours a night interferes with your ability to secrete and regulate hormones, which in turn promote aging, increase appetite, add inches to your waistline and increases your risk of developing diabetes. Lack of sleep promotes an environment prime for inflammation and catabolism (muscle loss).

According to Canadian sleep expert, Stanley Coren, you lose one IQ point for every hour of lost sleep you didn’t get the night before. Cognitive and mood problems develop, along with an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease are just a few consequences of too little sleep.

Healing of the mind, body and spirit occur during deep sleep, and your energy is restored and replenished. Brain waves normally shift to a lower vibrational frequency as we shift from the initial stages of sleep to the deeper stages, such as the rapid eye movement stage (REM).

Are you unable to fall asleep? Do you wake up often throughout the night? Do you feel well-rested when you awake in the morning? Do you want to improve your quality and quantity of your sleep? Symptoms of forgetfulness, headaches, lack of focus, itching, moodiness, cravings, headaches, and neck and backaches often disappear with a good night’s sleep. Try some of my tips:

• Consider foods you may be sensitive to. Dairy, sugar, soy, wheat and gluten can cause sleep apnea, excess congestion, gastrointestinal upset and disrupted sleep.

• If you want to burn significantly more body fat, go to bed as early as possible. Our systems, particularly the adrenals, do a majority of their recharging or recovering during the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. This is when your gallbladder meridian is most active and dumps toxins. If you are awake, the toxins back up into the liver, which then secondarily back up into your entire system and cause further disruption of your health. Waking up between the hours of 1 to 3 a.m. may indicate liver toxicity/congestion. Consistently waking between 3 and 5 a.m. indicates oxidative stress. Also, consider hypoglycemia.

• The No. 1 supplement I like for restful sleep is magnesium (nature’s natural muscle relaxer) 400 to 800mg 30 or 60 minutes before bedtime.

• Create an environment for restful sleep as evening approaches, such as dimming the lights in your home an hour before bedtime.

• Avoid alcohol. Although alcohol might make you drowsy, the effect is short lived and you’ll often wake up several hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol keeps you from falling into the deeper stages of sleep, plus it disrupts and inhibits growth hormone production.

• For anxiety, consider inositol or a blend of valerian, hops and passion flower, an excellent herbal tranquilizer without side effects.

• Avoid before-bed snacks, particularly grains and sugars that raise blood sugar and inhibit growth hormone release.

• Working late, using the computer, cell phones and texting into the wee hours delay sleep and increase awakenings.

• Avoid caffeine later in the day. A recent study showed that in some people, caffeine is not metabolized efficiently and they feel the effects long after consuming it. Various meds and diet pills contain caffeine.

• Eat a high-protein snack several hours before bed. This provides your body with L-tryptophan needed to produce melatonin and serotonin.

• Loud alarm clocks can be very stressful on your body. If an electric alarm clock must be used, keep it as far away from the bed as possible, preferably at least 5 inches because of electro-magnetic fields (EMFs). These include electrical alarm clocks, electric blankets, plugging in your cell phone, etc., which disrupt the pineal gland and the production of melatonin and serotonin and come with a host of other negative effects. If you must use a clock, cover it and remove it from view. It will only add to your worry when constantly staring at it.

• Exercise regularly – at least 30 minutes everyday helps you fall asleep. However, exercising too close to bedtime may keep you awake.

• Get a handle on your stress. According to sleep experts, stress is the No. 1 cause of sleep problems.

• Read something spiritual. This will help you relax. Refrain from reading anything stimulating, such as a mystery or suspense novel - this may have the opposite effect.

• Go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, even on the weekends. This will help your body to get into a sleep rhythm making it easier to fall asleep at night and get up in the morning. Erratic schedules disrupt your body clock.

• Hydrate during the day. If you’re dehydrated, your body production of cortisol increases, which will disrupt sleep.

• Journaling and Gratitude Log. Before bed, log three or five things you’re grateful for.

• Keep bedroom temperature no higher than 70 degrees. Many people keep their homes, and particularly the upstairs bedrooms, too hot.

• Avoid the computer and television at least two hours before bedtime. Keep the television and your laptop out of the bedroom. If you are used to watching TV or doing work on your laptop in bed, it’ll be harder for you to relax and get restful sleep.

• Sprinkle a few drops of lavender oil or sandalwood oil on your pillow. Practice deep, belly breathing.

• Listen to white noise or relaxation CDs. Some people find the sound of white noise or nature sounds such as the ocean soothing for sleep.

• Lose some weight. Being overweight increases the risk of sleep apnea, which will prevent a restful nights’ sleep.

• Many meds, prescription and OTCs, affect sleep. Addiction to sleeping aids is often an indication of depression.

• Refrain from drinking fluids within two hours of going to bed. This will reduce the likelihood of needing to get up and go to the bathroom or at least minimize the frequency. If you do need to get up for the bathroom, refrain from turning on lights.

• Sleep in complete darkness or as close as possible. If there is even the tiniest bit of light in the room it can disrupt your circadian rhythm and your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin. Minimize light in the bathroom too, in case you get up in the middle of the night. Keep the lights off when you go to the bathroom at night. As soon as you turn on that light, you immediately stop production of the important sleep aid, melatonin.

• Take a hot bath, shower or sauna before bed. Add some Epsom salts to the bath (the magnesium is absorbed through your skin). This promotes muscular relaxation. Also, essential aromatic oils, such as lavender or sandalwood, provide a state of calm, enhancing sleep.

• Test hormones and adrenals. Hormonal disruption occurs during peri-menopause, menopause and andropause and a high stress lifestyle. Insomnia is often a symptom of overtaxed adrenals (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, August 2001; 86:3787).

• Wear socks to bed. Your feet have the poorest circulation in the body and will usually feel cold before the rest of the body. A study has shown that wearing socks to bed may reduce waking up throughout the night.

• As a last resort, consider melatonin and its precursors, L-tryptophan or 5-HTP. If behavioral changes don’t work, melatonin may help you. However, use extreme caution in using it, and only as a last resort, as it is a powerful hormone. Ideally, it is best to increase levels of melatonin naturally with exposure to bright sunlight in the daytime (along with full spectrum fluorescent bulbs in the winter) and absolute complete darkness at night. Your room should be completely dark so no light is coming in from the outside. Also, 5-HTP should not be used during pregnancy or lactation by individuals taking antidepressant drugs or those with cardiovascular disease. Always discuss with your health care practitioner prior to using.

You can’t just throw a hormone into the system because levels are low. There is the potential to disrupt the entire balance.

I am not implying that one should never opt for hormones, however, I look at why you’re low in the first place and bring your body into balance through diet, nutritional supplementation, lifestyle modifications and the appropriate type and amount of exercise first. If that fails to bring hormones back into balance, then consider hormones.

Sweet Dreams!

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Paula Owens is a nutritionist, fitness expert and weight loss coach with more than 20 years of experience. Reach her at

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