Are you an insomniac? Do you toss and turn and wake up in the middle of the night? And no matter how hard you try, you can’t get back to sleep…only to feel as though you’ve been hit by a truck when the alarm goes off and it’s time to start your day?
In our culture, we’ve come to believe many things we experience to do with the way we feel as being normal, such as headaches, stiffness, fatigue, sleeplessness, depression, anxiety, headaches, sore throats, flus, colds, and many others.
We medicate ourselves by going to the doctor and getting on antibiotics or taking over-the-counter products. But do those efforts really get us anywhere? And, are we improving our symptoms, or just covering them up? We take medications for awhile because we think they are working…only to find that the problem rears itself again in a few days, weeks, or months. This frustrating cycle does not cure us of our ailments, but rather just keeps it in a perpetual state.
If you’ve ever taken sleeping pills, you know exactly what I mean. I know hundreds of people or more who take these drugs. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. ultimately what I hear is that people still have trouble sleeping no matter what they do. And they don’t feel rested in the morning when they wake up.
For many years, I had chronic sleep issues. Sometimes I’d lie there awake for 2 hours or more, and not be able to fall back to sleep. Maybe I’d finally go to sleep again just before I had to get up. And getting up at that point was a herculean effort, to say the least. I’d drag myself through the day, wishing so badly I could just have some time to take a nap and catch up on my lost sleep. Usually there wasn’t time and then often I’d find myself feeling exhausted again by 5 p.m. and have to drag myself through dinner. And yeah, I thought this was normal.
Later I’d get ready for bed but by then I was almost wide awake again, and would watch something my husband and I had rented from Netflix because I wanted some time to myself…only to fall asleep during the video. Then when I finally went to bed I would have trouble falling asleep or I’d go to sleep and wake up again in a few hours…only to start the cycle all over again.
Then there were the times when I’d wake up at midnight, 1 or 2 p.m. and have severe panic symptoms. My heart would be racing, I’d feel as though I couldn’t breathe, and I was in full on anxiety mode in the middle of the night while everything around me was quiet and dark, and the world around me was asleep. Sometimes these episodes would go on for hours. I’d go back to sleep maybe for 20 or 30 minutes, only to be yanked awake again with the same symptoms which would last for another hour or so.
These symptoms went on for more than 20 years. I spent a lot of time researching natural remedies to make my symptoms go away. I had already been to doctors many times, been examined, been tested….only to find that my heart was okay, everything was okay. But, I needed a prescription for anxiety or depression. This didn’t make sense. How could I be okay and need drugs? I never took the prescriptions I was given because I was certain that it wouldn’t really get to the root of the problem and then I’d be hooked on meds. I didn’t want that.
I changed my diet pretty drastically. I cut out most processed foods and started eating more whole foods and regular meals. Instead of processed grains I started eating sprouted grain products. I stated eating more proteins and fats, and more fruits and vegetables. I had some improvement, but there was still something missing.
I went to see a colon hydro-therapist. She suggested that I try giving up wheat, since I was still eating it pretty regularly. I didn’t think I could do it, but I eventually stopped eating most breads, pastas, and grains. I always felt better when I didn’t eat them whether they were properly prepared with sprouting/soaking/fermenting or not.
My husband and son both had issues with dairy, so we decided to try what we’d heard was a success for many people and bought our first gallon of raw milk from Organic Pastures Dairy. We discovered that we could eat these foods and they didn’t bother any of us and they were delicious…and we never looked back.
I discovered traditional foods. I started preparing more of these for my family and our collective health kept improving all the time. But I still had health symptoms that I couldn’t shake whenever I would “cheat” and eat something I shouldn’t have. Usually it was some type of grain, sugar, or food with high carbohydrate content.
Just after the new year, I had a health crisis which forced me to think even more differently about what I was putting into my body. During this time, my family was going through a severe financial crisis and we were facing the prospect of losing our home. I started having chronic anxiety and panic issues during the night again which disrupted my sleep. This went on for 3 months. I tried everything I could to get it to stop, including many supplements, natural remedies, alternative care treatments, and it seemed nothing I did worked and my efforts were to no avail.
Never again will I underestimate the power stress has to deplete the body of essential minerals and other nutrients. If I had realized just how down my body was going to get from all the stress we were experiencing, maybe I could have taken precautionary and supportive steps to ensure that my health state didn’t get as low as it did.
I finally decided that I needed something completely different and made a plan to start Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride’s GAPS protocol. I thought my diet was already healthy enough, but as it turned out…I was wrong.
GAPS gave me what I needed to get my body back on track, loose the anxiety and panic issues, and start sleeping again. If you’re like me, not getting the sleep you need can set you up for a disaster. If it continues and is chronic, you know you simply can’t function. If I had not decided to do GAPS, I don’t know what would have happened to me.
But what if I don’t want to do the GAPS diet? It’s too overwhelming!
Even if you don’t take on the full GAPS diet, just implementing some of the basic principles of GAPS into your diet can improve your health and quality of your sleep immensely. If you do decide to do full GAPS, there is a good chance that you will be able to solve many or at least some of your major health issues. GAPS is not a cure-all protocol, but it has been helpful for thousands of people and at the very least, you will realize some noticeable health benefit from doing it.
GAPS uses healing and nourishing foods that were some of the most basic nutritional elements discovered by Dr. Weston A. Price in his travels all over the world to find out what healthy societies were consuming and what was causing disease and dental issues in people he knew and treated in his dentistry practice in the U.S.
Here are 13 ways I’ve found are very effective to improve your the quality of your sleep and overall health:
1. Drink bone broth and/or use it liberally in the foods you eat daily.
This is one of the best agents I’ve ever used to make sure I sleep well each night. Bone broths are full of minerals, and if you are low on minerals, you can be sure you won’t get a good night’s sleep.
Don’t wait until bedtime to drink it. Use throughout the day by sipping a cup with meals or use in soups, stews, chili, casseroles, sauces, rice and bean dishes and other foods. Wherever a recipe calls for using water (that would be savory recipes, not desserts or sweet recipes), replace with broth from chicken, beef, lamb, pork, or fish bones.
Broth is extremely easy to digest, and is a great source of minerals and gelatin which are healing to the digestive tract. It is also a rich source of collagen and amino acids. All of these nutrients are essential for good health and can greatly improve digestion and absorption of nutrients from other foods you eat, which greatly affects sleep.
2. Make infusions with nettles and other herbals that you like and drink daily.
Nettles are another abundant source of minerals. We make and drink nettles daily and we usually add some type of mint to it because we like the taste (either peppermint or spearmint). Like broth, nettles are easy to digest and are a good source of minerals that help sleep cycles to normalize: calcium, magnesium, potassium, silica, sulfur, and iron, chlorophyll, and amino acids.
Nettles infusions are very effective for their blood-building properties, bone and muscle-building abilities, oxygen transport from the lungs to the cells, reducing inflammation in the body and helping to replace depleted nutrients. For a good recipe to make nettles infusions, visit Susun Weed’s web site.
3. Prepare and eat fermented foods.
Fermented foods are vital to health as they contain a diverse selection of friendly bacteria (probiotics) which aids in digestion and immune system health, and culturing foods increases the availability and amount of nutrients in foods. Consuming cultured vegetables like pickles and sauerkraut, kombucha, water kefir, dairy kefir, beet kvass, and others are highly beneficial foods that will improve your overall health and quality of sleep.
4. Eat healthy fats every single day.
If you are currently eating any of the following, eliminate them from your diet: canola or any other type of vegetable oil such as soybean, corn, or safflower, sunflower, peanut oils, margarine or butter substitutes or vegetable shortening. Real fats are nutrient-dense and contain vital elements you need for health – fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, K2, Omega 3s, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), and minerals.
Replace all unhealthy fats with real fats such as butter, ghee, olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil and animal and bird fats such as lard, tallow, chicken (schmaltz) and others from healthy animals and birds raised on pasture without pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
5. Eliminate processed, packaged, and canned foods.
Processed foods are full of chemicals like MSG (under names you may not even recognize if you read the label such as maltodextrin, citric acid, natural flavors, hydrolyzed soy protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, soy protein, and many others), food dyes, preservatives, genetically-modified organisms (such as soy, canola, corn, and cottonseed oil), sugar, and many other ingredients that are intended to preserve foods and increase shelf life. For more information on how processed foods harm your health, read Is Cheap Food Really Cheap? The Hidden Costs of Industrial Food and Fortified and Processed Food: Are Label Claims About Nutrition True?
6. Eliminate refined sugars and processed carbohydrates.
Reducing your sugar intake drastically by removing crackers, cookies, juice, soda, cereals, chips, pretzels, bagels, muffins, pastries, etc. and any type of convenience foods that are high in refined carbohydrates.
For many people this also includes eliminating bread and grains, since most breads and grain products you can buy are highly processed and not properly prepared, include many other additives and chemicals, you will want to avoid these foods for a period of time to see how you feel without them. Once you determine if these foods are upsetting your sleep, you may decide to ditch them forever or only to indulge on special occasions.
You will find that the more you eliminate processed foods and add plenty of healthy fats to your diet, sugar cravings often subside. Your body needs the nutrients in real food and healthy fats, and sugar cravings are often a sign of yeast overgrowth, dysbiosis, parasites, and other imbalances which cause our bodies to crave carbs and sugar. For more information, read Dietary Changes & Supplements for Removal of Candida Overgrowth, Part I and Part II.
For more information on why wheat and grains could cause health issues, read The Truth About Wheat and Grains – Are They Good for Your Health?
Also read 14 Ways to Eliminate Sugar Cravings
7. Make sure you get some sun exposure everyday and a bit of activity as well.
Regular and safe sun exposure are vital to health, and helps with hormone levels which in turn help our sleep cycles to normalize. If you are someone who has spent a lot of time avoiding the sun, you are probably deficient in Vitamin D and other nutrients such as Vitamin A which are necessary for absorption of minerals like calcium. The more you expose yourself to regular sun, the more your body will begin to produce Vitamin D and it will protect you from disease as well as sunburning.
We also need a good supply of magnesium in our diets to absorb Vitamin D, as well as vitamins in the B complex. This is why good lifestyle and diet are so important. All of these nutrients are contingent upon each other to work in the body successfully.
Applying coconut oil and cod liver oil to your skin can be quite helpful in aiding your skin to be able to absorb nutrients from the sun.
Getting some exercise is a good idea, but don’t overdo it. Too much exercise can damage your adrenal glands and lead to adrenal exhaustion which can be harmful to overall health and take awhile to heal. Gentle and purposeful exercise like walking or moderate hiking or biking is good, but if you are out of shape, anything besides this should be avoided until you heal your adrenal glands. Chronic sleep issues are a sure sign of adrenal exhaustion, so take care of this before engaging in any strenuous exercise.
Suggested book reading and web site resource: The Vitamin D Solution, Dr. Michael F. Holick
8. Eliminate commercial sources of meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy foods from your diet.
Meat and animal products from industrial and factory farm sources are not only harmful to your health due to hormones, antibiotics, GMOs (genetically modified organisms), pesticide and herbicide residue, but they are much less nutritious than their sustainable-produced counterparts that are raised in healthy environments and on pasture, without all the chemicals and above-mentioned substances.
Definitely be certain to eat grassfed meats, game meats, organ meats, pasture-raised eggs and poultry, and other animal foods that are rich in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2, Omega 3s, CLA, and minerals. These nutrients are vital to health and it should go without saying, but if you are lacking in these elements, your health and your sleep are likely suffering. The only real source of retinyl palmitate (true Vitamin A) comes from animal foods. It is then easily converted to retinol in the small intestine.
These foods contain as much as 3-5 times the amount of these nutrients as compared to their industrial counterparts, and should be free from hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, herbicides, pesticides, and other nasty chemicals.
9. Stop using vegetable oils and margarine in your cooking and salad dressings.
If you are using vegetable oils, throw them out immediately. Vegetable oils such as canola, soybean, cottonseed, corn, peanut, safflower, and artificial butter spreads such as margarine (and others like Earth Balance, Smart Balance, and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter) do not reduce inflammation and cholesterol in the body. In fact, they make this situation worse and contribute to Metabolic Syndrome (of which heart disease, diabetes, obesity, stroke, and high blood pressure are a part).
Although medical authorities have told us for decades that these oils are healthy, they are in fact one of the worst “foods” you can eat. They are modern oils which have been highly processed and subjected to heat in a factory. These delicate polyunsaturated oils do not bode well under heat and become rancid after processing. They also contain far too many Omega 6s, which contribute to disease. Most vegetable oils are also from a GMO-source, and if the label says they are “organic” you can bet they aren’t. Contamination from GMO crops is eminent in our agricultural system.
Our ancestors did not consume these modern oils. They thrived on animal fats, and there is plenty of historical and archaeological evidence of this fact. For cooking, baking, and frying use butter or ghee, lard or tallow from healthy animals raised on pasture without antibiotics, hormones, GMOs, pesticides, or herbicides.
Instead of bottled dressings which usually contain these oils and other chemicals, make your own salad dressing from healthy oils like olive and other real ingredients.
If you are still doubtful about the hazards of vegetable oils, read the history of cottonseed oil, the mother of all vegetable oils and how a company named Procter & Gamble replaced animal fats with their flagship product, Crisco.
The Coronary Heart Disease Epidemic : Possible Culprits, Part II – Whole Health Source
Suggested book: Put your Heart In Your Mouth – Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride
10. If you are on prescription or over-the-counter medications or drugs, consider eliminating them.
I know a lot of people who take prescription meds and they also have a lot of trouble sleeping. Medications alter your physiology, deplete your body of important nutrients, and can alter your sleep patterns greatly. “Certain heart, blood pressure, and asthma drugs, as well as over-the-counter medicines for colds, allergies, and headaches, can interrupt normal sleep patterns,” says James Wellman, MD, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Georgia in Augusta.
You’ll be surprised at how much better you sleep if you are not on prescription meds.
Read Is Your Medication Robbing You of Nutrients? and Is Your Prescription Robbing You of Nutrients, Part II by Dr. Hyla Cass, M.D.
11. Make sure your sleeping environment is clean.
Eliminate clock radios, televisions, computers, stereo systems, cell phones, and anything electrical that you can do without in your room. EMFs (electrical magnetic frequencies) and other interferences can negatively affect your sleep. Keep your room as dark as possible.
If you have a SmartMeter in your home, you should consider moving it or having it replaced with an analog meter. SmartMeters have been shown to cause disturbance in sleep and also affect health adversely.
For more information about how EMFs can damage health and cause premature aging of cells, visit Dr. Sinatra’s site (cardiologist)
Suggested book reading: Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? Clinton Ober, Stephen Sinatra, Martin Zucker
12. Retire at a reasonable hour.
Although there is no magic number of sleep hours that will do your body good, burning the candle at both ends doesn’t help you to feel rested, even if you believe you are sleeping soundly the whole time you are asleep. Going to bed after 10 p.m. can have a profound effect on how rested you feel the next day. Our digestive tract goes through a detoxification between the hours of 9 and 11 p.m in the lymph nodes (antibody system). If we aren’t relaxed or sleeping during this time, this process isn’t fully completed.
Our ancestors didn’t have modern technology with lights, computers, video games, and television to keep them up late after dark. They went to bed early and rose with the sun. Since the invention of the light bulb, our overall sleep hours have been reduced by as much as 500 hours per year! The natural circadian rhythm of our bodies dips down in the afternoon and in the middle of the night, causing us to feel tired. Supporting our bodies with nutrients and rest during these times is critical to health.
Do something calming and quiet before bed like meditate, take a hot bath, listen to peaceful music, have a quiet conversation with a loved one, or read. Watching television, playing video games, or looking at a computer screen can have an effect on the chemicals in your brain and entire body, and how easily you fall asleep after going to bed.
Read A Lack of Sleep Can Lead to Heart Attack and Stroke, Dr. Sinatra (cardiologist) and Lack of Sleep Can Lead to Weight Gain, Jennifer LaRue Huget
13. Avoid violence/heavy emotional subjects and conversations or television/movies/computers/bright lights/LEDs before bed.
Exposing yourself to these influences before bedtime can cause you to become keyed up and make any chronic sleep issues more acute. Do something relaxing and calm before bed. Drink herbal teas such as peppermint, lemon balm, skullcap, astragalus, wood betony, motherwort, valerian, linden flowers, or passionflower.
As recommended in #12, read or engage in something quiet such as prayer or meditation, or listening to calming music. Take a warm or hot bath in filtered water with epsom or magnesium salts. Mineral salts are calming and essential to the body for all functions, and especially sleep.