Sleep is a complex mechanism that depends on the balance between excitatory neurons and inhibitory neurons. When we sleep, we recover from physical fatigue and nervous tension, while producing essential hormones. Increasingly exposed to chronic stress, women are more affected by sleep disorders than men.
Encourage your body to produce melatonin & maintain it throughout the night
Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is naturally produced by the brain during the night by conversion of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps us "unwind" at the end of the afternoon. Consequently, everything that promotes the production of serotonin improves the synthesis of melatonin and inversely – that which hinders the production of serotonin inhibits the synthesis of melatonin.
The lack of serotonin is the main trigger behind food cravings. It is therefore essential to resist cravings for sweets as this will cause weight gain!
Furthermore, melatonin is a delicate hormone that is only secreted at night.
So, avoid turning on the light if you wake up in the middle of the night! If necessary, use a flashlight and remember to turn off the television and computer in your bedroom.
Keep your waistline in check (your spouse's too!)
I don't know what is worse for a good night's sleep: having a spouse who snores or snoring yourself...
Snoring may be the first sign of sleep apnea, a respiratory disorder that occurs when a person's breathing is interrupted for a few seconds during sleep, causing brief awakenings. And, even though these awakenings may be short, sleep is nonetheless interrupted, preventing individuals from having a fully restful night.
Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do!
Moreover, there is a link between sleep apnea and excess weight in the abdominal area. Losing a few pounds may even help to completely eliminate this unpleasant problem.
Although caffeine and nicotine immediately come to mind, certain types of medication may also have a stimulating effect, which is why it is recommended to take them in the morning:
- thyroid hormones
- theophylline, prescribed for asthma
- cimetidine, heartburn medicine.
Choose a good mattress
Often overlooked, the quality of your mattress impacts the quality of sleep and not only in individuals who have back problems.
Indeed, lying in a specific position for an extended amount of time deprives the skin of oxygen, leading us to automatically turn over. By changing positions, blood flow is restored although sleep is briefly interrupted.
Sleep experts agree that a firm mattress covered with a soft mattress topper is the best possible compromise. This combination is used by luxury hotels to ensure that their guests get high quality sleep.
Change your eating habits in the evening
Your evening meal directly influences the production of sleep hormones.
There are 4 elements to avoid:
- excess protein: a meal that is too rich in tyrosine increases the production of excitatory neurotransmitters: dopamine, noradrenaline, adrenaline, hindering the production of serotonin, the relaxation hormone
- alcohol, which exacerbates snoring and sleep apnea (see above)
- quick-release sugars that can trigger insulin peaks and rude awakenings in the middle of the night
- glutamate that stimulates excitatory neurons (otherwise known as the famous"Chinese restaurant syndrome”)
On the contrary, to improve the production of melanin precursor serotonin, eat low glycemic index food and try to finish your meal at least 2 hours before bedtime in order to prevent digestion from interfering with sleep.
Physical fatigue improves the quality of sleep, proving our grandmothers right in saying: "go outside and play!"
However, it is important to respect chronology: exercise at least 4 hours before bedtime if you wish to benefit from the release of endorphins (relaxing hormones), while ensuring that the adrenalin (stimulating hormone) produced during physical activity is eliminated.
Create a bedtime ritual
Do exactly as you do with your own children.
Set a time (10 pm for example) to turn off all electrical devices: television, computer, cell phone…
Psychologists who teach behavioral therapy recommend that we go to bed only when we begin to feel tired and use the bedroom only for sleeping (and sex!). So, unless you live in a studio apartment, avoid reading, watching television and working in your bedroom (and even less so in your bed.)
Synchronize your body's clock!
To encourage your body's natural wake-sleep cycle, make sure that you are exposed to daylight 30 minutes each morning.
If you don't have the opportunity to go outside, use a daylight therapy lamp.
Choose a method of relaxation
Although all methods of relaxation are positive, some require long periods of training.
If meditation and chakras are not your thing, I recommend cardiac coherence, which entails very little training. This method consists of following a specific breathing curve with 6 cycles per minute: 5 seconds for inhaling and 5 for exhaling... By regulating breathing patterns, balance is restored to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, naturally controlling stress hormones.
Free applications that you can download to your smartphone and PC are very easy to find.
Plants and dietary supplements
Do you need a little boost to improve the quality of your sleep? Plants and dietary supplements can help.
Plants with relaxing properties
- Valerian offers relaxing, sedative and antispasmodic action
- Lemon balm improves the capacity for rest and relaxation
- Escholtzia helps us fall asleep more quickly
Tryptophan is a natural precursor to serotonin and melatonin.
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- Medicinal plants for insomnia: a review of their pharmacology, efficacy and tolerability.
- Wheatley D1. J Psychopharmacol. 2005 Jul;19 (4):414-21.
- 5-Hydroxytryptophan: a clinically-effective serotonin precursor. Birdsall TC1. Altern Med Rev. 1998 Aug;3(4):271-80.
- Melatonin treatment for age-related insomnia. Zhdanova IV1, Wurtman RJ, Regan MM, Taylor JA, Shi JP, Leclair OU. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Oct;86 (10):4727-30.