Tonic Herbs & The Science of Great Sleep

Many neglect sleep or simply do not understand the importance of sleep. If we look to nature we find that every single animal on the planet sleeps at some point in time. Getting adequate rest is not only a great way to stay young, it is one of the single most important factors in recovery and strong immunity – without good sleep, the body inevitably deteriorates.

Your body isn’t the only thing affected by sleep, the brain and emotional body are highly affected by the quality of our sleep. There’s clear ‘research’ that confirms what most of us already know and have seen for ourselves — our moods, cognition and attitude are diminished when we lack good sleep. Have you ever paid attention to the differences in your willingness to help others, listen or pay attention when your body is hardly able to keep it’s eyes open? This is a larger gradient of sleep deprivation but a perfect example.

Sleep Cycles & When to Sleep

Long story short, quality of sleep is far more important than quantity. In order to get the more restorative sleep, we must get to bed earlier in the night – this is when the most slow-wave deep sleep is available. Also, we secrete the most growth hormone (youth hormone) during the first part of our sleep cycle.

As the saying goes,  “early to bed, early to rise makes you healthy, wealthy and wise.” Not just that, getting to bed on time will help you look and feel younger. Growth hormone is the ‘youth hormone’ it keeps everything about our bodies young and radiant.

To get adequate growth hormone its imperative to get to bed by 10 pm and sleep deeply from 12 – 2, this is when the most GH is released. Also, staying asleep until 2 – 4 will supply you with further growth hormone for repairing the brain. We need at minimum these two, two hour sleep cycles to feel become rejuvenated.

Sleep cycles go in 2.5 hour cycles, so 5 hours of sleep is minimum. However, only 5 hours might not be enough to obtain enough youth hormone, as further pulses of growth hormone are secreted in a third sleep cycle. This last stage of sleep is what we known as rapid eye movement (REM) or “dream” sleep. It is most active later in sleep cycles and usually just before we wake – hence the importance for that third cycle. REM sleep is important for the development and health of the brain. Hence the suggestion to get at least 8 hours of sleep nightly – equating to a minimum three cycles of sleep.

Cortisol & Melatonin 

IN order to sleep well, we need low cortisol and high melatonin. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is secreted during the first portion of our day. It wakes us up and puts our bodies in a state for work and action. However, cortisol suppresses melatonin, which is necessary for sleep and is one of the most potent antioxidants in the body.

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland, it increases with darkness and causes drowsiness. It  decreases in the morning as the sun rises and cortisol is secreted. Because melatonin is suppressed by light, being exposed to computer light, phones, televisions or simply working late into the night can lead to melatonin deficiency, insomnia and lowered immunity and aging.

Light isn’t the only thing that leads to poor melatonin production though. Since cortisol inhibits melatonin production it is imperative we control this stress hormone throughout the day.

Tips for Sleeping Deep

Many people look for shortcuts when it comes to their health; a pill, a supplement or some magic sleep technique. However, that’s not how it works. There’s not magic pill for great sleep and good health. Here are a few workable tips for great sleep:

  1. Reset your circadian rhythm. Our natural rhythm is still very much aligned with the Sun and Moon (light and dark) as mentioned earlier. If you’re not all ready, start getting up early and within the first 15 minutes of waking get outside and expose your eyes and skin to the sun light. If you’re rested well enough, some light stretching or a basic sun salutation yoga sequence can help energize you by naturally secreting cortisol. I personally go for a morning walk. A light morning routine in the sunlight can help you sleep better at night by resetting your natural sleep rhythm.
  2. Set time every night to relax. As bedtime approaches – about an hour before – start to celebrate the sleep by winding down. When we jump from our busy day right into bed our bodies are still surging with cortisol and often times many incomplete cycles of thought, communication and action. We need time before before to complete these cycles and simply let our minds finish their thinking. This might involve journaling in a quiet space, taking a hot de-stress bath, lighting candles, playing mantra or doing bedtime yoga.
  3. Take calming herbals. Some herbs are great for calming the mind and relaxing the body for sleep. You may enjoy a simple, non-caffeinated tea such as chamomile, holy basil, or skullcap. Or you could enjoy a more therapeutic, medical Chinese ‘Shen’ herb, which lift the spirit, calm the heart and relax the mind. Bupleurum & Dragon Bone is great for relaxing an overactive mind. It works to move mental energy into your heart, giving you a sense of well-being and being “at home” in your own body. Bupleurum & Dragon Bone is grounding and can also help with other compulsive anxiety behaviors like smoking, drinking, drug use and overeating.
  4. Try melatonin. In cases of jet-lag or severe sleep problems you can supplement with a high-quality, biofermented melatonin for the short-term. Keep in mind that melatonin also suppresses your  create more serotonin (which then turns into melatonin).desire for sex, so there is no permanent solution, especially when it comes to supplements. Start with the lowest amount and increase if necessary. Take it about 45 minutes before bedtime during your night time routine.
  5. Get at least 7.5 hours of sleep. It’s best to sleep in cycles (2.5 hours is one complete sleep cycle.) If you wake up in the middle of one of these cycles you will wake feeling groggy and fatigued. With three or even five complete sleep cycles you’ll experience deeper REM sleep and wake up feeling more energized.
  6. Eat light at night. Avoid eating heavy at bedtime and not too close to bedtime. Ideally, dinner would be around 3-4 hours before bed. So if you sleep by 10, eat by 6 or 7. Also, make your last meal something light and grounding like a moderate carb based meal such as cooked sweet potato, butternut squash or if you can digest it, sprouted quinoa or buckwheat. These healthy carbs contain tryptophan that help create more serotonin, which then turns into melatonin.
  7. Create a sleep schedule. The body loves routine, getting to bed and waking up around the same time helps set your biological rhythm. This way, come bedtime your body will be accustomed to feeling sleep.
  8. Cut the electronics & lights. Light pollution is a major problem in today’s modern world. Too much light from electronics and EMF interferes with melatonin production, so your best bet is to remove all electronics from the bedroom, put the phone on air plane mode and minimize light exposure after 7.