The amount of time Australians spend asleep has been dropping for years. Census figures report we get an average of 8.5 hours, whilst diaries from the Victorian era show adults slept for as many as 10 hours a night.
Why do we need sleep?
We need sleep to repair and grow, consolidate memory, build a healthy immune system and to combat the build up of damaging free radicals in the brain. Lack of sleep contributes to anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease, insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, weight gain and dementia.Even short term sleep deprivation increases our susceptibility to colds and flus, and delays wound healing.Put simply, sleep is essential for your health and wellbeing.
What makes us sleep?
Sleep is initiated by a neurotransmitter called GABA, which is released through the action of melatonin. Melatonin is produced from the amino acid tryptophan, with the help of the nutrients magnesium, zinc, folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12. Its releaseis increased by darkness and reduced by bright light, so it increases at night and drops off during the day. Interestingly, studies have shown melatonin levels are lower at the time of the full moon, meaning that we may sleep slightly less and that our sleep is less restorative at this time.
What to do if you want more?
Let’s look at some diet and lifestyle solutions first. To ensure your melatonin levels are optimal you need to make sure you are exposed to bright sunlight in the morning hours and avoid bright lights such as television and computer screens before bed. It is also important to make sure you have adequate intake of the “ingredients” to make melatonin. These are tryptophan from high quality protein, and Magnesium, Zinc and B vitamins from whole-grains, nuts, vegetables and meat.
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I hope you sleep well tonight!