Life is never stressless. In fact some stress is good! Stress can boost immune function, sharpen clarity and lend strength in emergencies. However, ongoing stress (chronic stress) is harmful to our health. Chronic stress (from any source) imbalances hormones, depletes important nutrient, steals our sleep, and increases our risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. High levels of stress interfere with sleep due to high cortisol levels, worry and ruminating thoughts keeping us awake at night or inhibiting our restorative REM sleep.
I have spent years treating fatigued, sick, and stressed patients and it is rare that I hear one of them say “I have no problems with my sleep”. Usually, I hear that they are so tired they can’t stay awake without an afternoon coffee, or that they never feel rested after sleeping. Alternatively I just as often hear patients say that they can’t fall asleep until the early hours of the morning and that when they try and go to sleep earlier they lay awake trying to not look at the clock and count the hours until they need to wake up.
Often these patients don’t have great boundaries with electronics before bedtime or drink caffeine late in the day desperate to make it to the end of the work day and through the families night time routine. If you need help improving your sleep you can read more about the sleep “secrets” I tell my patient here.
The Sneaky Sleep Medication that Leads to Poor Sleep…
In some cases, we need a little help getting to sleep, but with a lot of over-the-counter medications and supplements available it’s hard to know which one is the right one. Some of my patients take Benadryl to fall asleep at night which is not a good idea for most people.
Benadryl (aka diphenhydramine), is a class of over the counter medications called antihistamines which have a side effect of making people drowsy by blocking the chemical histamine in the brain. Histamine also plays a role in producing allergy symptoms in other areas of the body like your nose, eyes, lungs and skin. This antihistamine is often snuck into widely available non-prescription sleep aid medications. I encourage my patients to find other sleep aids.
Why I say “No” to Benadryl as a sleep aid.
When you take antihistamines for sleep, you might get drowsy and fall asleep faster, but you likely will not wake rested which is the point of sleeping. Antihistamines block an important neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which regulates your REM cycle. The REM cycle of sleep is the part of the night that involves dreaming and is when deep, more restorative sleep happens. So when you take an antihistamine based sleep aid you are increasing the time you spend in light sleep which is less restful and will likely cause you to feel more sedated or lethargic mentally and physically the next day. That next day side effect, which I call “the sleep hangover,” goes beyond just physical and mental fatigue. It includes forgetfulness, dry mouth, dizziness, and challenges focusing.
What to take to help your sleep instead…
If you need to supplement with a sleep aid here are some ingredients to look for on the supplement label.
Melatonin: Melatonin is a neuroendocrine hormone that is primarily produced at nighttime and helps regulate our circadian rhythm. Melatonin is primarily synthesized from an essential amino acid tryptophan by the pineal gland. A variety of factors (dietary and environmental) affect our ability to make melatonin including blue light from screens and daytime spectrum light bulbs and dietary choices like caffeine and vegetable intake. Taking melatonin supplements 30 minutes before bedtime can address melatonin deficiency.
Glycine: A non-essential amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter. Glycine aids in sleep multiple ways including increasing serotonin our sleep hormone, reduces and regulates body temperature at night. Science suggests a drop in body temperature when you fall asleep helps the body go to sleep more quickly and stay in REM (deep) sleep phase longer.
Magnesium (especially glycinate and citrate forms): There are many forms of magnesium, and all are generally safe but not all are well absorbed or help with sleep. In general the glycinate, fumarate, citrate and gluconate forms are better absorbed with the glycinate form being the least likely to cause diarrhea. Often a combination of several forms of magnesium works for sleep. Magnesium is an important mineral for regulating melatonin (sleep hormone) production.
L-Tryptophan/ 5-HTP*: These amino acids are precursors to several neuroendocrine hormones including serotonin (happiness hormone) and melatonin (sleep hormone). Several other vitamins and minerals are important for converting this amino acid/ amino acid constituent to melatonin and including vitamin B6, vitamin B9, zinc and magnesium. *If you take certain classes of antidepressants, you should avoid using supplements with L-tryptophan or 5-HTP as it can cause life threateningly high levels of serotonin...
Lithium orotate: is the naturally occurring form of lithium and not the prescription used to treat bipolar disorder. Small or micro doses of lithium orotate help regulate the neurotransmitters that govern mood, sleep, and appetite. Lithium also lowers cortisol (stress hormones) and increases acetylcholine (neurotransmitter) which improves the REM (deep sleep) phase of sleep. Many people use Lithium situationally to block the anxiety thought spiral that keeps people awake at night. If you have kidney disease you should consider alternative sleep aids.
It's never too late to get better sleep and wake rested.
When you sleep well your stress hormones are lower, you think clearly and it’s harder for things to annoy you. If you are looking to improve your health, then addressing your sleep challenges is a critical step. Diet and lifestyle also play a major role in insomnia and stress management, which may be surprising to some. If you need more help and guidance, call us for a free “Discovery Call” at (206) 291-6543, or book online, we are happy to help!