Summer means longer days, warmer nights and, often, troubled sleep. You know the annoying routine. You lie awake, your mind keeps racing and you can’t fully relax. Luckily, a natural botanical and lifestyle adjustments can restore restful sleep and help you avoid a prescription nightmare.
Midsummer Night’s Insomnia
What causes sleep problems when no amount of tossing and turning seems to make a difference and summer becomes the worst season to get your zzzs? While certainly everyone’s situation is unique, the longer, hotter days may have a lot to do with it. Since the beginning of time, so to speak, we have been creatures of schedule with every aspect of our existence influenced by natural rhythms and cycles. I’ve written on circadian rhythms here in the past, and the summer season (with its longer days) is a perfect time to revisit this important topic. Circadian rhythms are our biological response to the oscillations of the natural world, in particular the 24-hour solar cycle, and these natural rhythms can have a profound impact on our bodies and overall health.
For example, recent research has demonstrated how altered sleep schedules affect shift workers. Do these people adjust to the unnatural schedule, or does working at night and sleeping during the day disrupt the body? As it turns out, living counter to our natural cycles can be harmful and damage cellular health.
In particular, ignoring circadian rhythms can interfere with melatonin production, a process governed by the cycles of light and dark. Melatonin controls our sleep patterns and other important metabolic functions. On top of that, melatonin is a powerful antioxidant, and we need sufficient darkness for our pineal glands to produce it.
Circadian rhythms also affect the hormone cortisol, which is activated in response to stress. Cortisol is produced early in the morning to help us wake up. So you can see how disrupting the natural rhythms governed by light and darkness can be affected by our sleeping habits.
Obviously, we can’t turn off the solar cycle. When summer comes, days get longer (especially the farther North you live); and we tend to stay awake later. But by understanding the powerful impact these external changes have on our bodies, we can take steps to harmonize ourselves with nature’s rhythms and hopefully get a good night’s sleep.
While there are many pharmaceutical solutions available, they come with a long list of side effects and can be habit-forming. These sleep aids aren’t designed to be gentle, but rather to put you out like a light. However, these powerful drugs can interfere with other critical health functions in the process.
For healthy relaxation and sleep, there are more natural solutions. Many health practitioners including myself are now recommending honokiol, an extract from magnolia bark that has long been used in Eastern herbal traditions. Honokiol is earning a reputation among health professionals for its many benefits, including healthy relaxation and a good night’s sleep.
Honokiol’s Additional Benefits
Honokiol performs a number of useful tasks in our bodies. It provides excellent support against abnormal cells and, as a result, offers protection for numerous areas of health. In addition, honokiol is a powerful antioxidant that demonstrates free radical scavenging abilities 1,000 times more powerful than vitamin E. It also promotes immune health and healthy responses to inflammation. But most importantly for this discussion, honokiol provides a natural, calming effect that supports a healthy mood and can aid the transition to sleep.
Embrace The Big Picture
Like most biological processes, sleep is complex. So for best results, it’s important to take a holistic approach. Start with your diet. Don’t let your hectic schedule dictate the quality of your food. Eat regularly scheduled meals of healthy, nutrient-dense foods rather than grabbing whatever you can find on the run. Be sure to incorporate lean protein and leafy green vegetables. Regular eating habits can help to promote a regular sleep schedule. Proper nourishment with a wide variety of whole foods can have a natural calming, effect on the nerves.
Also, engage in regular exercise. A good workout modulates adrenaline and cortisol levels and helps your body better respond to stress. Exercise can also help to regulate sleep patterns.
Finally, minimize light exposure, both natural and artificial, for a few hours before bed. Dark curtains that block out light are helpful. Turn off electronics. Special low-watt light bulbs are available that can minimize artificial light exposure and may not reduce the production of melatonin by the pineal gland.
Let’s face it: Having a hard time sleeping can be very unpleasant and affect numerous areas of life. But, unfortunately, prescription pharmaceuticals for sleep often do more harm than good. Alternately, regular exercise, healthy diet and supplementation with natural solutions such as honokiol can help you regain your innate sense of calm and ease you into restful sleep. For more practical health and wellness information, visit www.dreliaz.org.