Have you ever noticed that, as a rule, children sleep better than adults? I have spent the last week with a five-year old girl and an eight-year old boy. Once they get their bedtime story and put their heads down to sleep, they are out cold. We have probably seen this many times in our life: children passed out in their parents' arms; children sleeping on a couch in a room full of people. Not all children are like this all the time of course, but in general, the rule holds.
Why is this? Why do children sleep better than adults? Answers coming out of innovative areas of neurology and bio-psychology indicate that due to stress, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, and in particular the use of stimulants (coffee, tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs, recreational drugs) adults are experiencing neurotransmitter imbalances and disturbed neurotransmitter receptor sites that are translating into poor sleep. On the other hand, children -- especially well-fed, well-loved children and breast-fed infants -- have a healthier balance of neurotransmitters and pure neurotransmitter receptor sites and thus sleep better.
The indication is that neurotransmitters play a crucial role in sleeping and how well we sleep.
What are neurotransmitters? They are chemicals that process information transferred from neurons (nerve cells) to other types of cells. These chemicals can carry messages that calm, or messages that excite, the nervous system. Chronic anxiety and depression can occur if certain neurotransmitter levels are too high or too low.
Neurotransmitters associated with healthy sleep include:
- GABA (Gamma-Amino-Butyric-Acid)
There are three problems that can occur with these neurotransmitters that can affect our sleep:
- The development of an improper balance of these neurotransmitters.
- Sensitivity of our neurotransmitter receptor sites that does not allow the neurotransmitter to deliver its message.
- Recycling of neurotransmitters too early by monoamine oxidase and other enzymes.
Medical science approaches these neurotransmitter discoveries with manipulation through drugs. Natural science approaches these discoveries with more exercise (to release more calming neurotransmitters) and in particular better nutrition and innovative herbs. I prefer the natural nutrition approach, so that is what we explore here in order to create a strategy to sleep better.
The following natural two-step strategy is recommended for better sleep:
(1) Select a complete protein superfood (suggestions listed below). Take superfoods during the day as part of your diet in smoothies and as snacks. Because superfoods are known to have highly-bioavailable forms of amino acids and protein we do not need as much. Supplementing our diet with only five to 10 grams of protein from clean superfood sources is enough for each day. It is from these amino acids and protein compounds that we form healthy neurotransmitters and maintain neurotransmitter balance. For example, from volatile, heat-sensitive tryptophan, we form serotonin, melatonin (a hormone), and dimethyltryptamine (the dream molecule) all of which are associated with healthy sleeping.
(2) Select a calming herb (suggestions listed below). In the evening, as you wind down, take a calming herb. Calming herbs can help clear clogged or damaged neurotransmitter receptor sites. They can also increase the production of healthy neurotransmitters.
Some Popular Complete Protein Superfoods (friendly for vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores):
Goji Berries: An easy high-protein snack that tastes great. The goji berry is a 100 percent natural, real food.
Chia seeds: These should be soaked in pure water for at least 15 minutes until they "gel" up. Heating this gelatin-like chia seed water creates a wonderful alternative to oatmeal. Add honey and berries. Chia is a wonderfully-rich, complete, non-stimulating protein source that is gentle on digestion. The greatest runners in the world (The Tarahumara Native Americans) rely on chia as their primary protein source.
Hempseed protein: Another increasingly-popular, complete protein source that is free of stimulants.
Rice Protein: Rice protein is hypo-allergenic (friendly to those with allergies) and easy to digest. Rice protein tastes a little chalky, but when blended in a smoothie this taste disappears.
Calming Herbs: Passionflower tea (two to three cups) or Passionflower powder in capsules (2,000-5,000 mg): Passionflower is usually used for calming an excited nervous system. Internet and book research indicates that ingesting passionflower can increase levels of the sleep-friendly neurotransmitter GABA. Passionflower blocks the monoamine oxidase digestive enzyme and as a result can have a positive effect on dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
Chamomile tea (two to three cups): Chamomile is a time-proven, effective, calming herb that can be safely used by children and adults alike. Chamomile tea is used regularly worldwide for insomnia, irritability, and restlessness.
Reishi Mushroom tea (two to three cups) or Reishi mycelium powder in capsules (2500-5000 mg): Reishi is well-known in Chinese medicine to great feelings of "well being" and spiritual calm. This is a personal favorite. Reishi mushroom is also high-regarded for assisting our immune system health.
St. John's Wort tea (two to three cups) or St. John's Wort extract powder in capsules (300-1000 mg): This common, yellow-flowered herb has become an important part of the new surge of interest in natural medicine. It has a long history of use dating back to the ancient Greeks. Scientific research has demonstrated that it can help relieve chronic insomnia and mild depression. Because this herb can sensitize the skin to sunlight, take it in the evening after the Sun has set.
*Special note: Organic superfoods and herbs are recommended. Help save the planet by shopping organic.
David Wolfe (http://www.davidwolfe.com) is the author of five bestselling books including Eating For Beauty, Superfoods, The Sunfood Diet Success System, Naked Chocolate, and Amazing Grace as well as numerous bestselling audio and DVD programs including The LongevityNOW Program.