It's harder to maintain high levels of energy and a sunny mood if you're constantly having trouble sleeping. Studies show that many of us fail to get adequate shut-eye despite following expert advice, such as setting a sleep-time routine, avoiding electronics at night and keeping the bedroom cool and dark. In desperation, we’re increasingly reaching for sleeping pills — use of these drugs has soared by 75 percent in recent years. Yet we’re still sleep deprived. The reason, says Ronald Hoffman, M.D., director of the Hoffman Center in New York City: “Artificial sleep produced by medications doesn’t provide the right balance of full sleep phases, so it’s not as restful as normal, physiological sleep. Plus, medications can produce side effects like next-day grogginess and mental confusion.”
While drug companies are working to create safer sleep aids (some experts say the new drug Belsomra shows promise), scientists have also been studying why we toss and turn — and they’ve identified some easy-to-remedy culprits.
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Fully 99 percent of women lack omega-3s, and sleep issues are a little-known sign of a shortage, says Michael Breus, Ph.D., author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan. “The body needs omega-3 fats to produce melatonin, the master hormone that regulates sleep. Plus, researchers have found that the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA lower levels of norepinephrine, a stimulating hormone that disrupts sleep.” Breus advises enjoying one serving of foods rich in the fatty acids (like salmon, flaxseeds or omega-3–enriched eggs) daily, and supplementing with 185 mg of EPA and 115 mg of DHA. One to try: Barlean’s Fresh Catch Fish Oil 1,000 mg ($17 for 60 softgels, Amazon.com). One capsule has the recommended dose.
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Eating refined or sugary carbs causes blood sugar to spike, says Dr. Hoffman, but the drop that follows can produce reactive hypoglycemia, which leaves us foggy or irritable 2 to 3 hours after eating, plus disrupts our sleep. “When blood glucose dips too low during the night, it causes the release of hormones like adrenaline and glucagon that trigger nighttime awakenings.” Dr. Hoffman’s advice: Eat a snack that combines complex carbs with protein (like an apple with peanut butter, or whole-grain cereal with milk) 30 to 40 minutes before bed. These pairings ensure a steady release of glucose that safeguards against awakenings.
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Deficits in the mineral magnesium make adrenal glands super sensitive to stress, causing them to pump out the stress hormone cortisol well into the evening. “That’s a recipe for insomnia since elevated cortisol interferes with the natural rise in melatonin that syncs the body into sleep,” notes Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., author of The Magnesium Miracle. Luckily, replenishing magnesium can calm the adrenals—and in a study in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, subjects who supplemented with the mineral saw a threefold improvement in sleep efficiency (time spent sleeping rather than lying awake). Dr. Dean recommends Natural Vitality Natural Calm Magnesium ($24 for 16 oz., Amazon.com). Simply mix 2 tsp. into water and sip 2 hours before bedtime.
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