Did you know that calcium, the most abundant mineral in the human body, is not only essential for strong bones, it also supports healthy functioning of the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and nervous systems? Research shows a relationship between calcium intake and risk for heart disease, colorectal cancer, kidney stones, PMS, and managing a healthy weight. When it comes to sound sleep, insufficient dietary calcium has been associated with insomnia. Calcium is instrumental in the way our brains cycle through the stages of sleep and in the ability to generate brain chemicals, including tryptophan, associated with deep sleep.
All leafy green vegetables and grasses are high in calcium, as well as iron, magnesium, vitamin C, and many of the B vitamins. Dairy is said to be high in calcium but it is also very pro-inflammatory. If you opt for dairy, see that it is organic and preferably from the farmer's market. Vegan sources of this mineral include celery, cauliflower, okra, onions, green beans, avocado, black beans, chickpeas, almonds, dark leafy greens, and tofu.
Calcium neutralizes the acid created by eating animal protein. When you consume acidic foods, the body attempts to return it to an alkaline state by withdrawing calcium from your bones if there isn't enough on hand in the food itself to do the job. Kidneys also use the calcium from bones to eliminate excess nitrogen consumed from animal protein.
For a healthy adult, the recommended intake for a Calcium supplement is 1,000 - 2,000 mg daily, depending on health status and lifestyle habits including exercise. This is based on an average American diet which has 1.5 to 4 times as much protein than necessary, creating an unnatural demand for calcium. Osteoporosis is a calcium robbing problem not a calcium deficiency problem.
There are many factors and forms of calcium supplements (e.g., carbonate, citrate), that affect how well the body absorbs the mineral. Also, calcium supplements can interact with other medications. Too much calcium can stress other bodily systems, leading to health problems. For these reasons, consult with a health practitioner as to which type and dosage of calcium is best for you.
Lavender (Lavendula species), Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Oats (Avena sativa)
Three herbs well known for calming effects are Lavender, Chamomile, and Oats. Perhaps, not quite as well known as the first two herbs, Avena sativa (Oats Milky Seed or Oatstraw) is the grain* source of oatmeal. The entire plant is abundant in minerals and trace nutrients, in particular the B-vitamins, calcium, and magnesium, which help soothe and strengthen the nervous system. As an herbal remedy, oats can ease the effects of stress, anxiety or exhaustion and resolve sleeplessness. Oats contain the amino acid tryptophan, which research shows promotes sleep. In fact, Scottish folks suggest a bowl of oatmeal before bedtime to ensure restful sleep!
Of its many medicinal uses, lavender is known worldwide as an herbal "rescue-remedy" for reducing stress, anxiety and tension. Its strong, relaxation-inducing scent is used in massage therapy lotions, candles, bath salts, tinctures and essential oils. As one of the few essential oils that can be applied directly to the skin, a dab of lavender on the inside of your wrist can help soothe a stressful moment. Lavender is also used in teas, often paired with chamomile. If you aren't a tea-drinker, dried lavender can be added to a sachet and placed beneath your pillow to help induce sleep.
Chamomile has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy for easing stress and insomnia. Today, these uses continue and we also have good clinical evidence for the safe use of chamomile preparations to help reduce inflammation, promote more restful sleep, ease colic and digestive upset, and facilitate wound healing when used in a cream. While chamomile seems to reduce the effects of anxiety, which can contribute to sleeplessness, more research is necessary to demonstrate the specific properties of chamomile that contribute to its effects.
Since there are many different ways to prepare these herbs, and some people can be allergic to certain herbs, do check with your wellness practitioner for the best approach to help you relax and get a good night's sleep.
*If you have sensitivity to gluten, be sure to use an oat product produced using gluten-free manufacturing practices.
NATURAL THERAPIES FOR A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP
Before your head sinks into the pillow at bedtime, there are some very simple things you can do to prepare your mind and body for a night of deeply restful sleep. The evening hours are a time when the busyness of your day should begin to wind down. It's important to create a bedtime ritual that will help tame the thoughts that may still be racing through your mind and which can prevent you from falling or staying asleep throughout the night.
In addition to the lifestyle tips for better sleep that are described in this month's feature article, try adding some of the following naturopathic and holistic approaches to your evening routine.
- Enjoy a warm bath including Epsom salts and/or lavender oil.
- Listen to the relaxing sounds of ocean waves, classical music, or chimes. There are specialized acoustic recordings that are orchestrated to affect specific brain wave patterns for relaxation or sleep.
- A guided recording of progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, restorative yoga poses, can help the body create the 'relaxation response'.
- Herbs and other botanical or aromatherapy treatments are useful for calming down after a stressful day. In addition to the herbs discussed in this month's newsletter, you might want to ask your physician about teas, tinctures or capsule preparations of valerian, skullcap, passionflower, or lemon balm.
- Try meditation, beginning with just 10 minutes a day. Meditation has numerous health benefits and recent studies show it can significantly affect quality of sleep.
- Install and change your laptop screen light setting using a natural screen dimer that will help you ease your eyes from bright screens. We use f.lux.
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "Meditation May Be An Effective Treatment For Insomnia." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 June 2009.
- Corliss, J. "Mindfulness Meditation Helps Fight Insomnia, Improves Sleep." Harvard Health Newsletter. 18 February, 2015.
- Murray, M. "Insomnia." As cited in Pizzorno, Joseph E. (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine. St. Louis, MO Elsevier. (chapter 182).
- Mars, B. & Fiedler, C. (2015). The Home Reference to Holistic Health & Healing. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press. (pp. 29-29, 45, 193, 200).