One of my clients emailed me to say that he was concerned about his blood pressure. On the WFPB programme for nearly four weeks, his blood pressure has been dropping consistently from around 160/100 when he started, to 113/78 two days ago. Then it looked like it was starting to rise again. I sensed some panic in his tone…
When I looked at his nutritional/lifestyle diary for the past days I could see the problem – sleep or rather the lack of it.
A recent study of US citizens found that 1 in 3 were chronically sleep deprived. It is likely figures for other Western countries are similar. Sleep – or, rather, the lack of it – is a BIG problem for many people.
Health conditions associated with lack of sleep
And what few fully appreciate is that blood pressure (BP) rises if you have insufficient sleep. And raised BP is not all. The following are also associated with sleep deficiency:
- Raised blood pressure / heart rate (hypertension)
- Alzheimer ‘s disease (AD)
- General neurodegenerative disorders
- Coronary heart disease (CHD)
- Childhood obesity
- Adult obesity
- Metabolic syndrome
- Immunological changes
- Increased pain sensitivity (hyperalgesia)
- Chronic skin ageing
- Sexual dysfunction
- Increased susceptibility to the common cold
- All-cause mortality
- Impaired school readiness
- Increased aggression/violent tendencies
- Increased accident risk
- Increased sick leave from work
- Impaired memory & Reasoning
- Release of stress hormones
Suggestions for improving quality of sleep
So, how do we ensure that we stand the best chance of getting enough good quality sleep? The following are associated with improved sleep patterns according to both third-party studies and my own professional/personal experience:
- Improve your diet, high fibre/low saturated fat
- Eat more cherries and kiwi fruit
- Increase daily physical exercise
- Reduce alcohol consumption
- Reduce light in bedroom (eye masks)
- Reduce noise (earplugs)
- Use mindfulness techniques to get back to sleep (more about mindfulness in future posts)
A little more detail…
More on the benefits of plant-based diets
More advice on optimal amounts of sleep.
More on sleep and the immune system.
A note about melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone secreted at night by the pineal gland in the center of our brain to help regulate our circadian rhythm. Supplements are used to prevent and reduce jet lag. MIT got the patent to use melatonin to help people sleep. But melatonin “is not only produced in the pineal gland—it is also naturally present in edible plants.
For more information on melatonin.
The above is by no means meant to be a comprehensive list of the chronic health conditions associated with sleep deficiency; nor have I provided a definitive list of suggestions for improving sleep quality. If it forms a basis for discussion or for you to undertake your own research (and send me the findings, please!) then that is a sufficient achievement.
What I will add is that the four cornerstones of health that I continue to mention (diet, sleep, exercise and stress-avoidance) are all a part of the wholistic approach that I consider optimal for human health and well-being.
Diet is perhaps the most important element in all of this, since it forms the basis for being able to sleep well, recover from and endure exercise, and enjoy a positive, stress-reduced mental attitude. Part of the reason why it is able to do this is because it is fundamental to maintaining the body in a state of homeostasis (balance), rather than having to constantly detoxify, protect and repair itself from the inferior “foods” we have so often forced our poor bodies to eat.
Wholistic = Diet+Exercise+Sleep+Stress Reduction…They work together. They compliment one another.
A few final words from Dr Neal Barnard about high-protein foods and sleep
“While many people believe that high-protein meals are key to getting a good night’s rest, the opposite is true. High-protein foods block the brain’s ability to produce serotonin. Because high-protein foods contain more amino acids, tryptophan—the amino acid that eventually turns into serotonin—is crowded out of the brain. As a result, high-protein foods will leave you feeling alert.
High-protein plant-based foods, like tofu, beans, and lentils, are very nutritious. But if you’re having trouble sleeping, try eating these foods earlier in the day. You’ll feel more alert during the day, while favoring carbohydrates later on can help you rest at night.”
Dr Neal Barnard in his own words:
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