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Woman sleeping

Getting A Good Sleep

Getting a good sleep, one that’s restful and restorative, is essential for our physical and mental well-being.  Yet many of us are not getting enough sleep to function well.

The UK seems to be a nation of insomniacs, with up to a third of adults reporting regular issues with sleep disturbance.

The consequences of not getting a good sleep are more serious than simply being under par the next day.

Not getting a good sleep regularly, one that’s restorative, can lead to a whole host of health problems. It can age us prematurely if left unchecked.  Chronic insomnia can also lead to weight gain, diabetes, inflammation and even heart disease.

So, what can you do if you seem to spend the night tossing and turning?

Positive steps

What positive steps can you take if you’re wired but tired and suffering from chronic sleep issues?

The answer lies not only in what you do in the evening but what you do in the rest of your day and in the rest of your life.

It is important to think about the usual suspects, such as avoiding screens or cutting down on caffeine as you head towards bedtime.  But the chances are that if you’re not getting a good sleep on a regular basis there is more going on and you’ll need to dig a little deeper to get back on track and restore good sleep patterns.

In most chronic health problems, there is often a perfect storm. Insomnia is no exception.

Types of insomnia

You’re unlikely to connect that skipped lunch with waking up at 3am or link your weight gain with not sleeping well.  It’s only by stepping back and looking at your overall health and well-being, your diet and lifestyle, that you can start to resolve chronic sleep issues.

And the chances are that if you have chronic insomnia you will need some help doing this.

There are different types of insomnia, too, all of which need to be managed very differently. Do you have trouble getting to sleep or are you waking frequently? Maybe you wake up too early or you may even experience all three.

If you have a problem with getting off to sleep in the first place, it might be enough to choose sedative herbs such as valerian, passionflower or hops and use them at bedtime.

Chronic insomnia

For chronic sleep issues, with wakeful episodes through the night, herbs are needed during the daytime, too, but you need to give a more detailed case history before we can join up the dots.

For chronic insomnia, restorative work with deep-acting adaptogen herbs such as withania (also called ashwagandha) or schisandra will help restore your circadian rhythm.

Boosting reproductive hormones like oestrogen or neurotransmitters like dopamine might settle hormonal flux which can be behind not getting a good sleep.

Toning the vagus nerve with digestive bitters will promote rest and digest, and increasing anti-oxidants will help with free radical damage and inflammation.

Signs of restorative sleep

There is no simple answer and no simple remedy, but that doesn’t make getting a good sleep impossible. We just have to put in some effort with some detective and restorative work. The results will be worth it.

If you seek good health and longevity, sleeping well should be equally as important to you as eating well and digesting well.  The three are intimately connected and all need to be considered if you are looking to function at your best.

Check out our herbal medicine clinic if you think you need help with insomnia.

Having a good sleep, waking at the same time every day without the need for an alarm clock and feeling refreshed when you wake up are all signs you are achieving truly restorative sleep.  The beauty of it is it’s totally achievable, too!

 

Mental health during lockdown e

GABA For Mental Health During Lockdown

What is GABA and how can you increase it to support your mental health during lockdown? GABA is short for gamma-aminobutyric acid.

It’s a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, that we produce naturally in the body. We find it in the nervous system, particularly in the brain. It inhibits excitability and slows function without having a sedative effect, so it helps to reduce anxiety, stress and feelings of fear. It may help to improve sleep, too.

There are natural ways that you can boost it to improve mental health during lockdown. Eating certain foods, taking specific supplements or medicinal herbs and exercising or practising meditation can all help to increase GABA.

Amino acids

Eating a balanced diet, rich in whole foods, healthy fats and clean proteins, is a cornerstone of good health and should provide all the nutrients you need to produce GABA.

Make sure you get plenty of these two amino acids – glutamine and taurine. Also check that you’re getting adequate levels of vitamin B6 and magnesium.  It may be beneficial to boost these two key nutrients with a supplement to support your mental health during lockdown. They’re particularly helpful if you’re under chronic stress, not eating well or if you are a woman who suffers from pre-menstrual exacerbation of anxiety and tension.

Healthy diet and lifestyle

My key treatment focus in my herbal clinic is not only to encourage a healthier diet and lifestyle but also to prescribe tailor-made herbal medicines, targeting individual needs.

I usually do this after unpacking a detailed case history. But sometimes there’s no need for depth in order to achieve fast and effective results. That’s especially true if you’re desperate to feel better.

I prescribe several herbs for anxiety that are known to boost GABA levels. These include valerian, ashwagandha and lemon balm. The great thing is that they’re available to buy over the counter. That’s great if you don’t have access to a medical herbalist to prescribe for you. Or you may want to start taking something until you get professional help for your mental health during lockdown.

L Theanine supplement

L Theanine is another great supplement that’s available over the counter in health food shops. This amino acid is extracted from green tea or black tea and has been shown to effectively reduce anxiety.

Studies suggest L Theanine increases serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, so it works on several pathways to support your mental health. It works quickly to boot. I have found personally that there’s a noticeable effect within about half an hour of taking it as a supplement.

If you’re suffering from anxiety, feeling fearful and in need of some mental calm, you might want to put the kettle on and have a cup of tea. Then look up other ways you can boost your GABA levels to support your mental health during lockdown.  Having a cuppa is a good starting point to get you feeling back in control.

Find out more about supporting your mental health by listening to this interview for UK Health Radio now on YouTube.

How to identify a good herbalist

For an in-depth approach, it’s always better to work with a medical herbalist. To make sure you find somebody suitably qualified, look for the letters MNIMH after their name. That signifies gold standard training.

If you don’t have a practitioner to support your mental health during lockdown, rest assured there is a whole natural products industry out there. Some great ethical producers are manufacturing some well-formulated products.

But please do shop with a reputable independent health food store. They have the training and the proven effective remedies you can trust. They also need your support in these challenging times.

Keren Brynes MacLean MNIMH, Medical Herbalist