SLEEP, ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION. Six to eight hours of good sleep is one of the cornerstones of health, so what can we do to achieve it?
Sleep in complete darkness, or as close to it as possible. Even the tiniest bit of light in the room can disrupt your internal clock and your pineal gland's production of melatonin and serotonin. Even the tiniest glow from your clock radio could be interfering with your sleep. All life evolved in response to predictable patterns of light and darkness, called circadian rhythms. Modern day electrical lighting has significantly betrayed our inner clock by disrupting our natural rhythms. Little bits of light pass directly through your optic nerve to your hypothalamus, which controls your biological clock. Light signals your brain that it's time to wake up and starts preparing your body for ACTION.
Keep the temperature in your bedroom less than 70 degrees F.
When you sleep, your body's internal temperature drops to its lowest level, generally about four hours after you fall asleep. Scientists believe a cooler bedroom may therefore be most conducive to sleep, since it mimics your body's natural temperature drop.
Move alarm clocks and other electrical devices away from your bed. Mobile phones and WIFI should at best be kept outside the bedroom. If these devices must be used, keep them as far away from your bed as possible, preferably at least 3 feet. Remove the clock from view. It will only add to your worry when you stare at it all night... 2 a.m. ...3 a.m. ... 4:30 a.m.
Consider separate bedrooms. Recent studies suggest, for many people, sharing a bed with a partner (or pets) can significantly impair sleep, especially if the partner is a restless sleeper or snores. If bedfellows are consistently interfering with your sleep, you may want to consider a separate bedroom.
Get to bed as early as possible. Your body (particularly your adrenal and immune systems) does the majority of its recharging between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. In addition, your gallbladder dumps toxins during this same period. If you are awake, the toxins back up into your liver, which can further disrupt your health. Prior to the widespread use of electricity, people would go to bed shortly after sundown, as most animals do, and which nature intended for humans as well.
Establish a bedtime routine. This could include meditation, deep breathing, using aromatherapy or essential oils or indulging in a massage from your partner. The key is to find something that makes you feel relaxed, then repeat it each night to help you release the tensions of the day.
Don't drink any fluids within 2 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.
Eat a high-protein snack several hours before bed. This can provide the L-tryptophan needed for your melatonin and serotonin production. ( these are the feel good hormones) Also eat a small piece of fruit. This can help the tryptophan cross your blood-brain barrier. Try to leave 3 hours after your evening meal before going to bed. Incomplete digestion will cause discomfort and disturbed sleep. Think about what you are eating for your last meal as things like cheese cause indigestion for some.
Avoid before-bed snacks, particularly grains and sugars. These will raise your blood sugar and delay sleep. Later, when blood sugar drops too low (hypoglycemia), you may wake up and be unable to fall back asleep.
Take a hot bath, or shower before bed. When your body temperature is raised in the late evening, it will fall at bedtime, facilitating slumber. The temperature drop from getting out of the bath signals your body it's time for bed.
Wear socks to bed. Feet often feel cold before the rest of the body because they have the poorest circulation. A study has shown that wearing socks to bed reduces night waking. As an alternative, you could place a hot water bottle near your feet at night.
Avoid caffeine. At least one study has shown that, in some people, caffeine is not metabolized efficiently, leaving you feeling its effects long after consumption. So, an afternoon cup of coffee or tea will keep some people from falling asleep at night. Be aware that some medications contain caffeine (for example, diet pills).
Avoid alcohol. Although alcohol will make you drowsy, the effect is short lived and you will often wake up several hours later dehydrated and unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol will also keep you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, where your body does most of its healing.
Have your adrenals checked by a good natural medicine clinician. Scientists have found that insomnia may be caused by adrenal stress. If you consistently wake around 2 or 3 am you may have a magnesium deficiency. Consider having a Hair analysis. This is a non invasive test to establish both nutritional and also toxic minerals/ metals. This is a good idea both before and after pregnancy.
If you are menopausal or perimenopausal, get checked out by a good natural medicine physician. The hormonal changes at this time may cause sleep problems if not properly addressed. Increase your melatonin. Ideally it is best to increase levels naturally with exposure to bright sunlight in the daytime (along with full spectrum fluorescent bulbs in the winter) and absolute complete darkness at night. If that isn't possible, you may want to consider a melatonin supplement (with professional advice.) In scientific studies, melatonin has been shown to increase sleepiness, help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep, decrease restlessness, and reverse daytime fatigue. Melatonin is a completely natural substance, made by your body, and has many health benefits in addition to sleep.
But, wait a minute, you have just had a baby and your sleep is broken and disturbed !!
Quite a bit of what I have written will still apply, so don’t dismiss it too quickly. One of the most important things I learned after my second child arrived was – REST WHEN YOUR BABY SLEEPS IF POSSIBLE. I was determined to have minimal disruption with our first child and used the time when baby slept to rush round like a mad thing, doing all the household jobs instead of resting and re charging my batteries. I was very soon worn out ! When No 2 arrived I was much more relaxed about the jobs and tried to rest as much as possible, even though No 1 was only 22 months by that time. I think I was also less worried about motherhood by this time which made a difference as well.
Modern life can be stressful at any time and looking after a new baby can be both stressful and wonderful. It is important not to dismiss the effect of stress as the body’s chemical changes can be detrimental to both Mum and baby. Our body’s response to stress hasn’t changed since creation when we were fleeing from wild animals or enemies. Unfortunately, instead of a need to run away fast, modern life presents us with different stresses:- always chasing the clock, poor relationships, family dynamics, juggling work and home, single parenthood, ill health, caring for a relative, babies who are poor sleepers, etc., etc. It is vitally important when this happens to accept that whilst we may not be able to change it, we must give ourselves some “time out” to recover. Those that don’t eventually find themselves in something we Naturopaths call a state of “adrenal exhaustion”. The adrenal glands which control our nervous system have reached empty. “Time out” can take any form. A walk, a chat with a friend, a support group, a spell in the garden, Yoga, massage – anything that takes your mind (and body) away from the cause of stress for a short time, regularly. Don’t be shy about asking for help.
One of my favourite ways to relax is a soak in a hot bath with Epsom Salts and Lavender. This is a great stress reliever as Epsom Salt is a good source of magnesium and this mineral is quickly depleted by stress. Don’t be tricked in to paying a fortune as I have found a large bag in Poundland !
It is vitally important that us Mums look after our health and do not put ourselves second. If Mum is ill or exhausted, the effect filters down through the family. Paying attention to our diet, eating regular meals rather than trying to keep going on snacks, keeping well hydrated as well as getting enough sleep is key. During pregnancy the baby is drawing on nutrients from its mother and unless those nutrients are replenished after birth, the mother can suffer post natal depression. Postpartum depression affects up to 15 percent of mothers and typically occurs within 4 weeks of giving birth and possibly as long as 30 weeks after. It occurs when the levels of progesterone and estrogen abruptly drop which can trigger mood swings. The symptoms include insomnia, crying spells, poor concentration, fatigue, mood swings and anxiety. Sometimes the symptoms are short lived, but not always, and this is when Nutritional Therapy can be of valuable assistance.
Vitamin B is one of the most important groups of vitamins not only for pregnancy but also the nervous system. This complex group is water soluble which means it is required on a daily basis. Lack of B vitamins can lead to anxiety, and depression as well as fertility issues and birth defects. Good sources of B vitamins are: dark green leafy vegetables, fortified whole-grain cereals and baked goods, wheat germ, brown rice, green pea, lentils and nuts such as almonds and pecans. Milk and milk products such as yogurt and cheese, asparagus, spinach, chicken, fish, eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables, shell fish and beef.
As well as B vitamins, Vitamin D is also essential for preventing depression. This vitamin is known as the sunshine vitamin because the best source is sunlight. Unfortunately we live in the northern hemisphere and a temperate climate which means our sunlight is very limited, especially during winter months. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is caused by a deficiency in Vitamin D and one of the chief symptoms of SAD is depression. Supplementing with a quality D3 is recommended. Vitamin D is not very abundant in the average diet and deficiency is very common. Some sources are:: cod liver oil, sardines, salmon, mushrooms, tuna, whole milk, eggs.
If you seem to be depressed most of the time, and not due to pregnancy, it would be worth getting your thyroid checked with a full screen, not just the usual one offered by most GPs. An under active thyroid condition is often a major contributing factor in long term depression and hypothyroid is one of the most under diagnosed conditions, especially in women. There are many conditions affected by the thyroid and in women, too little thyroid hormone depresses libido and results in irregular periods with excessive and frequent menstrual bleeding (including miscarriages in extreme cases). Too much can reduce menstrual bleeding and even stop the menstrual cycle.
Obviously a good diet is the thing to aim for, however, processed food and unbalanced meals mean that many people are malnourished. Bad news for everyone, but particularly so for a new mother. Fortunately help is at hand with professional supplements which are designed to support a woman during her pregnancy and after the baby is born. I would go so far as to say that a professional formula is essential. These formulas are specially designed to help balance the huge shift in hormones and minerals at birth and to support a new Mum, especially if she is breast feeding.
Please don’t rely on a general Multi. Always choose a quality specialist product as cheap ones go straight down the pan !
If you feel depressed or have been diagnosed with post natal depression, please consider an appointment with a Nutritional Therapist before taking prescription drugs for depression. Nutritional therapy will address the deficiencies which are underlying the condition. This is particularly important both during and after pregnancy as minimal use of prescription medication is strongly advised.
Omega 3 fatty acids (best source is oily fish) as well as being essential, these oils have been shown to be hugely beneficial in preventing and treating depression. Vegetarians rely on flax seed or walnuts for O3, however this is not as reliable as fish as it requires an enzyme conversion which may or may not occur.
People with depression have been found to have low levels of folic acid. You can get folate naturally from foods like lentils, beans, avocado, sunflower seeds and dark leafy greens. . Herbal teas such as Chamomile flowers, Oat straw, Valerian, Lemon balm and Passionflower have wonderful effects on sleeping habits and are generally calming. There are some wonderful blends available, so search the shelves or ask at your local health food shop.
Many doctors are now recommending acupuncture as a treatment to reduce stress, balance hormones, and ease anxiety and pain during and after pregnancy.
For more information and help with your health issues, please contact me. An initial telephone or email enquiry is welcome