Dr. Hilary Chambers, ND
Do you wake up feeling well-rested every day? You should! However, 43% of men and 55% of women report trouble with falling asleep or staying asleep (1). We know how great it feels to fall asleep easily, get a deep and restful sleep and wake up feeling refreshed. What you may not realize is how important sleep is for our overall wellbeing.
Sleeping gives the body a chance to catch up on all the items on its to-do list without being interrupted by the daily functions it deals with while we’re awake. During sleep, we undergo muscle repair and growth (1), strengthen the immune system (2), and regulate appetite and blood sugar levels (1). Sleep also helps us regulate our emotions and cope more effectively with stress (3).
We also remove toxic waste and by-products from the central nervous system while we sleep. This is like giving the brain a chance to tidy up its house and take out the trash. A “clean” central nervous system allows us to file away long-term memories and sharpens learning, creativity, concentration, and problem-solving skills (4).
There are a few essential components of getting a great sleep. We need to be asleep for long enough to allow the body to finish all its sleep-tasks. The ideal number of sleep hours varies for each person, but it should fall within the range of 6-9 hours.
Tip: How many hours of sleep is your ideal amount? What time do you like to wake up each morning? Work backwards from your wake-up time, using your ideal number of sleep hours to set a bedtime for yourself, and stick to it!
To achieve great sleep, we also need to get into a deep, restful sleep state. Deep sleep prevents restlessness and waking during the night, and ensures sleep is restorative. In order to do this, we need to address three hormones involved in the sleep cycle: melatonin, serotonin, and GABA.
Melatonin is the hormone that controls our sleep-wake cycle, called the circadian rhythm. It is released in response to darkness and is inhibited by light, so its job is to let the body know when it’s time for bed (5).
Tip: Limit screen time before bed to boost natural melatonin levels. Light (especially blue light from screens) blocks the release melatonin, making it challenging for the body to wind-down when it’s time for bed.
Melatonin is also inhibited by cortisol, our stress hormone (6). This is why we often have trouble sleeping when we’re feeling stressed or anxious, and why we have trouble coping with stress if we didn’t get a good sleep the night before.
Tip: Spend 30 minutes winding down before bed with calming activities such as meditation, reading, or gentle stretching. L-theanine, a component of green tea, has also been shown to reduce stress levels and improve restfulness (6).
Serotonin is the hormone that regulates our sleep cycle. It reduces anxiety and helps us to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night (7).
Tip: Two precursors of serotonin, called 5HTP and L-tryptophan are helpful nutrients for increasing serotonin because they convert to serotonin in the body and brain. You can also boost serotonin by making sure to eat plenty of protein, including fish, meat, nuts, beans, and eggs.
GABA is known as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it acts like a “stop button” that takes us out of a stressed state (called fight-or-flight) and puts us into a relaxed state (called rest-and-digest), allowing us to fall asleep quickly (8). GABA also regulates the NREM and REM stages of our sleep cycle, which is essential for ensuring we get a deep, restorative sleep (8).
Tip: Valerian, skullcap, and passionflower are herbs that activate GABA receptors in the brain to promote relaxation improve sleep quality. Loquat is a fruit that contains ursolic acid, which increases sleep duration by acting on the GABA pathway (9).
Focusing on sleeping well is one of the most important things we can do to support our health. When we don’t get a good night’s sleep, the body’s ability cope with stress, regulate hormones, repair muscle, strengthen the immune system, and support mental clarity and capacity are profoundly impacted.
Getting enough sleep is important, but we also need to support each hormone involved in the sleep cycle in order to achieve restorative sleep. A great sleep every night means waking up feeling refreshed and healthy every day! Need some help getting a good sleep? Check out our Sleep-Great Formula from Healthology!
- Chaput JP, Wong SL, Michaud I. Duration and quality of sleep among Canadians aged 17-79. Statistics Canada. Sep 20, 2017.
- Besedovsky L, Lange T, Born J. Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Arch. 2012;463(1): 121–37.
- Vandekerckhove M, Wang YL. Emotion, emotion regulation and sleep: An intimate relationship. AIMS Neurosci. 2017;5(1):1-17.
- Acosta MT. Sueño, memoria y aprendizaje [Sleep, memory and learning]. Medicina (B Aires). 2019;79 Suppl 3:29-32.
- Pandi-Perumal SR, Trakht I, Spence DW, Srinivasan V, Dagan Y, Cardinali DP. The roles of melatonin and light in the pathophysiology and treatment of circadian rhythm sleep disorders. Nat Clin Pract Neurol. 2008;4(8):436-47.
- Hidese S, Ogawa S, Ota M, et al. Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2362.
- Monti JM. Serotonin control of sleep-wake behavior. Sleep Med Rev. 2011;15(4):269-81.
- Hepsomali P, Groeger JA, Nishihira J, Scholey A. Effects of Oral Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) Administration on Stress and Sleep in Humans: A Systematic Review. Front Neurosci. 2020;14:923.
- Jeon SJ, Park HJ, Gao Q, et al. Ursolic acid enhances pentobarbital-induced sleeping behaviors via GABAergic neurotransmission in mice. Eur J Pharmacol. 2015;762:443-8.