Archive for the ‘winter holidays’ category

Ahhh . . . 10 hours of Sleep

December 29, 2009

The last two nights I’ve gotten 10 hours of sleep each night, and it’s been fabulous. All day I’ve had lots of energy, a sharp mind, and a sense of humor. All those things a person gets from being well-rested. A quote by Ovid comes to mind “Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”

A friend asked is it normal to sleep 10 hours? Here’s my answer.

Given how 47% of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep each night, it is thought that many people have an accumulated sleep debt. (One expert is said to have estimated the average American has a 50 hour sleep debt).  So sleeping longer once in a while will help.

However, some people are considered “long sleepers.” These are folks who sleep 10 to 12 hours for at least seven nights in a row.  This typically begins in childhood, and over their life they consistently need more than the typical amount of sleep.  Their sleep architecture and stages are normal, and there are no other signs of disorder.  About1.5% of women and  2% of men are long sleepers.  These folks tend to be slightly anxious or depressed.   It is thought that these people are on the high end of the normal continuum of sleep needs.

If you are one of the people who have a chronic sleep debt, or are a long sleeper, either way, get ready for the new year by getting the sleep you need – it will make all the difference!

Dr. Catherine Darley is a naturopathic physician who specializes exclusively in the treatment of sleep disorders using natural medicine.  Learn more at

Tryptophan for sleep: Truth or Turkey?

November 26, 2009

Many stories abound about how the tryptophan in turkey or a glass of milk before bed will help you sleep.  Is this true or not?  Let’s look at the information.

Tryptophan is an amino acid found in foods.  Many amino acids combine to make a protein.  These proteins are then digested and broken down into the amino acids.  Amino acids are carried by the blood throughout the body.  When we think about sleep, the important organ is the brain.  There is a “blood-brain barrier,”  which substances in the blood need to be transported across.  Tryptophan uses the same transporter as several other amino acids.  If those amino acids are in the blood at the same time, they will compete with tryptophan, so less tryptophan will cross into the brain.

Why is tryptophan relevant to sleep?

Several of the neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) of sleep rely on tryptophan for their production.  Among these are serotonin and melatonin.  Melatonin has been discussed in other blog posts here.  Increasing tryptophan by taking tryptophan supplements does help treat insomnia.  These supplements provide higher doses of tryptophan than can be found in food.  Cottage cheese has the most tryptophan per serving, at 400mg tryptophan in 1 cup.  A 3oz serving of turkey provides 283mg of trytophan, and 1 cup of milk 110mg.

Does the tryptophan in our Thanksgiving turkey help sleep?

Thinking about the tryptophan basics we first discussed above, the tryptophan in turkey probably doesn’t help you sleep.  This is because there are other amino acids in the turkey, some of which may compete with tryptophan to be taken into the brain.  That said, enjoy the sleepy reverie that often follows the Thanksgiving feast!

The Winter Holidays and Acute Insomnia

November 16, 2009

The winter holidays can be filled with fun activities, celebrations with friends and family, and snow sports.  But holidays can also be stressful as we both maintain our regular responsibilities and prepare for the additional activities.  This year many people are also concerned about the recent economic downturn.  The combination of the holidays and economic concerns can lead to acute insomnia, the topic for today.

What is Acute Insomnia?

Acute insomnia is the inability to fall asleep within 30 minutes, or spending more than 30 minutes awake in the middle of the night.  Acute insomnia is a completely normal response to life events, and something we will all experience periodically.  It becomes chronic when it has persisted for more than a month.  Although it is normal in times of extra activity or worry, there are still habits we can put in place to help us get the sleep we need to feel good.

Healthy Sleep Habits during the Holidays

Below are several ideas to keep you sleeping well during the holidays.  Remember the effects of insufficient sleep that we’ve talked about in other posts, such as having emotional ups and downs, difficulty concentrating, poor manual dexterity, and fatigue.  Getting enough sleep allows us to really enjoy this season more fully.

– Plan a little time (20 to 40 minutes) to wind down before you get into bed.  This will allow you to fall asleep more quickly.  Spend this time doing something you enjoy that does not involve bright light like TV or computers.

– If your thoughts start to spin once you get into bed, start the habit of journaling.  The goal here is to put your thoughts to bed before you put yourself to bed.  Spend 10-15 minutes (no more) every day putting those thoughts down on paper a couple hours before bedtime.  Then if they arise during the night, tell yourself gently but firmly “I’ve thought about that already, and I’ll have time to think about that tomorrow.  Now is the time to rest.”  Although this sounds simple, it is amazingly effective.

– If you are going to stay up late for a party, plan to start the following day a little later, or slower.  Another option is to take an afternoon nap before your late night.  Don’t take a nap if you will be going to bed at your regular time, as it will make it more difficult to fall asleep.

– If there are regular tasks you do that can be suspended or rescheduled until after your holiday plans, consider doing it.  This will help preserve the time you need for sleep.

– Remember that drowsy driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving, so plan accordingly.