13 MAR 2018: Sleep is one of the best things we can do for our wellbeing. Too many of us take it for granted or deprioritize it because it seems like a waste of time where nothing really happens. We close our eyes, and then next thing we know? It’s 2 am and we’re fumbling in the dark to get to the bathroom. Then we toss and turn as we try to fall back asleep, and then after what feels like hours, we manage to fall back asleep, only for our trusty alarm to rouse us from the dead.  

Our bodies do most of our housekeeping when our system shuts down. When we are not properly rested, we haven't had enough time to clear out and reboot.

More than just our beauty suffers when we don't sleep properly. We are simply not as effective.

Our brains become fuzzy and slow as mental and cognitive abilities decline. Attention span, memory, and decision-making abilities are affected. We get sick more frequently, we are more likely to gain weight, and we are plain old grumpy. And when poor sleep nags for many years, we are at a higher risk of developing serious health issues including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

If you have trouble sleeping, there are many different products available, all boasting promises of beauty sleep bliss. But if I can give you one piece of advice in the quest for restful sleep, avoid the over the counter sleeping pills!

What I don't like about many sleep aids (including some natural sleep supplements) is that they artificially induce a prolonged sleep that leaves you struggling to peel yourself up off of your pillow the next morning. Your sleeping pill doesn't much care that you have to catch the early flight to make your morning meeting at the company headquarters with the big cheese.

If you need an extra push to fall into that elusive restful slumber you do still have a fantastic and effective option. While melatonin has gained popularity and can be helpful in benefitting good sleep and beyond, there is another supplement that gets my first choice ribbon.

It's a little something called 5-HTP.

The body’s sleep/wake cycle is regulated very intricately through a domino effect or cascade. Melatonin is a brain messenger (neurotransmitter) that makes us feel groggy in the darkness that encourages us to hit the dusty trail at night. While melatonin is definitely effective at helping you sleep better, you jump the line and skip over a few other important steps.

5- HTP, is an amino acid (read: protein building block), that is essentially the first step in the conversion pathway that makes us fall asleep. 5 HTP is what the body uses to create melatonin and other sleep-inducing substances, but the difference is that it allows the body to follow the natural steps in appropriate quantities. We are giving the brain the right tools for the job, instead of artificially simulating a sense of sleepiness, as accomplished by melatonin or other over the counter sleep aids.

Because of this difference, 5 HTP has been shown to improve quality and depth of sleep without prolonging it. It reduces the time it takes you to fall asleep and minimizes the amount of nighttime sleep interruptions.

The effective dosage of 5 HTP is between 300-500mg, and like anything, it is always a good idea to start low and work your way up. You can split the dosage or take it all at once; 30 minutes before eating or on an empty stomach is preferred. It is important to consult with your doctor if you are currently taking any medications (ESPECIALLY anti-depressant medications) to avoid potential unwanted interactions.

If supplements aren't for you, try sleeping in a dark room and avoiding exposure to stimulating blue light sources from electronics such as televisions, computers, tablets or cellphones. Turn your devices off at least half an hour before you want to sleep to help your body effectively transition into sleep mode. Reading a book on paper or deep breathing exercises are other effective relaxation techniques to calm the mind.

Ultimately you can only control what time you go to bed, as your wake-up time tends to be dictated by obligations or a brain with other intentions. Make sleep a priority and try going to bed an extra half hour or even an hour earlier. It can mean the difference between confidently taking charge of your day, or stammering for your words as you try to explain why your shoes don't match and your shirt is inside out.

Sleep better to be better, it can be that simple.



Sabrina Santer

Sabrina Santer uses her academic and holistic nutrition background to share insight and inform readers on travel wellness tips and healthy eating around the world. A witty sense of humour sprinkles her work as proof that healthy need not be boring. 

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