From time to time we all have trouble sleeping – but before you reach for the sleeping pills, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions. Sleep difficulties can have numerous causes, and many of them have simple solutions.
There’s nothing quite as frustrating as tossing and turning in bed, unable to fall asleep and growing increasingly concerned. While it can be tempting to turn to medication to help you get enough rest, it’s important to check out if there may be an underlying emotional or medical cause. Ask yourself:
- Are you worried about anything?
- Could you be suffering from depression?
- Could you have sleep apnoea, do you sleep walk or talk, have restless legs or grind your teeth?
- Is there a health problem that affects your ability to sleep, such as pain, breathing difficulty, acid reflux or a night cough?
- Do you drink too much alcohol?
If you answered yes to any of these you’re best to see your doctor.
If your answers were ‘no’ and you still have trouble sleeping (at least three nights a week over a period of at least a month), then it’s possible you have primary insomnia. Primary insomnia is defined as sleeplessness (or the perception of poor-quality sleep) that cannot be attributed to a medical, mental health or environmental cause.
We find it useful in these cases to talk to people about bedtime routines and habits. For example:
- Not everybody needs eight hours of sleep. Maybe you could turn in a little later? If you usually get up at 6am, try going to bed at 11pm instead of 10pm, for example, and see how you feel over the next few days. The key is to wait until you’re drowsy and ready to sleep before going to bed.
- If you are not asleep within 15-20 minutes of going to bed, get up and do something quiet and relaxing. Return to bed only when you’re drowsy, because it’s important for your bed to be associated with being asleep – not with being awake and having difficulty getting to sleep.
- Before bed try to do quiet, relaxing activities, such as taking a bath or reading. Ensure that your bedroom is suitable for sleeping. The bed should be comfortable, the temperature not too hot or cold, the room dark, and noise minimised.
- Think about screens, clocks, and bed partners. Looking at a screen in the hours before bed may delay sleep onset (the light waves emitted reduce the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep); looking at a clock during the night can delay sleep onset and cause frustration; the light also stimulates the brain. If partners are disturbing your sleep (by excessive movements or snoring) they probably warrant their own assessment with a GP.
- During the day, limit your caffeine to one cup in the morning. It’s a good idea to limit alcohol too – because even though it can act as a relaxant and help you fall asleep more easily, it also causes you to sleep more lightly. This reduces sleep quality.
- Avoid napping during the day as this delays sleep onset at ‘bedtime’.
- Regular daily exercise can help improve sleep, but it’s best to avoid exercising too late in the evening.
- Sleep support products may help – typically in the short-term, and preferably when we know what’s causing the insomnia:
- A magnesium-based product could be useful for you, as magnesium aids muscle relaxation and relieves tension.
- A product containing the sedative herb valerian may support your sleep.
- Or you could try 5HTP or a tart cherry-based product; these may aid melatonin levels in your body.
Your pharmacist will be able to advise you on what sleep support products may be right for you, taking into consideration your life circumstances and any other medical conditions or medicines you may be using.
For more information and advice on getting a good night’s sleep, talk to your Unichem Pharmacist.
5 reasons to love omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for good health, yet eating enough of the right foods to get the doses you need can be tricky. Louise Bishop, a Living Well contributor, gives us the full story.
Evidence of the heart-protective effect of omega-3s is growing, with strong data showing it can significantly reduce the risk of a second cardiovascular event in people who’ve had a heart attack. Omega-3s have also been shown to lower triglycerides (a type of fat or lipid found in your blood): too many of those increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
They’re good for brain development
Essential fatty acids concentrating in the brain can have an important role in cognitive memory and performance. Some studies have shown omega-3s can benefit the developing brain and so may be beneficial for children to take.
They improve joint mobility
A Cochrane* review of studies looking at the effect of omega-3s in people with rheumatoid arthritis found it improved joint mobility, which may mean sufferers need to use fewer arthritis medications, under their doctor’s guidance.
Clinical trials have found it can help with depression, however it can take months to incorporate these good fats in the body’s stores, so it’s not a quick fix.
Omega-3s are safe for most people to take but pregnant women and those on blood-thinning medications should avoid omega-3s.
Your body can’t make omega-3s so you need to get them from other sources, such as food or supplements. Plant sources include walnuts and flax seeds but omega-3s are also found in the oil from fatty fish, like salmon and kahawai, and canned mackerel and sardines.
Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for cell structure and functioning, help to produce hormones to regulate blood and artery health and are important in controlling your genes.
Pharmacist Stuart McDonald from Unichem Faulkners Pharmacy, Tauranga, advises: Eating enough of the right foods to get therapeutic doses of omega-3s can be tricky. The recommended dosage would be 800-1500mg per day. Fattier fish like salmon and kawahai have about 1000mg of omega-3 per 100g serving, so you would have to be consuming quite a lot of fish on a regular basis. With supplements, it pays to research where the product has been sourced. The higher quality products use oil obtained from fish from deeper waters, meaning they’re less likely to contain toxins or impurities.
Your local Unichem Pharmacy stocks a number of omega-3 supplements. Talk to your Pharmacist who can discuss any other medication or supplements you’re taking and recommend the best product for you.
*Cochrane reviews are systematic reviews of primary research in human health care and health policy, and are internationally recognised as the highest standard in evidence-based health care.
5 reasons to love Vitamin C
Our immune systems love Vitamin C – that’s no secret! But did you know not all Vitamin C supplements are created equal, and recommended intake guidelines have changed? More importantly, did you know that Vitamin C has uses well beyond boosting immunity? Here are just five of the many reasons to love this versatile vitamin.
- Our immune system loves Vitamin C
Studies show that Vitamin C is a powerful supporter of the immune system in fighting viruses and infections. It’s also an impressive antioxidant, helping to protect against free radicals and the oxidative damage they can cause.
Smoking and stress can also cause Vitamin C deficiency – and while course quitting smoking and reducing stress are important, building yourself up with Vitamin C supplements is a good start.
- You can fight allergies with high doses of Vitamin C
This is due to Vitamin C’s antihistamine properties. Research is starting to show it can support the immune response (which is to produce too much histamine when it encounters an allergen) in people allergic to pollen. Good news for hayfever sufferers at this time of year!
- Vitamin C aids iron absorption
Low iron is the top nutrient deficiency in the world, with women particularly susceptible. Iron supplements are usually used to re-build stores, and experts recommend ingesting a source of Vitamin C when taking them.
- Your skin, gums and cells need Vitamin C to stay healthy.
A depletion of this vitamin can cause scurvy, which occurs when a lack of collagen weakens your strong connective tissue. Vitamin C also helps to strengthen capillary and cell walls.
- Some health professionals now recommend higher doses of Vitamin C
The benefits of Vitamin C’s efficacy at greater strengths are emerging. The NZ Nutrition Foundation’s recommended daily intakes for Vitamin C vary from 35mg per day for infants to 40mg per day for adults. Many nutrition experts say a diet full of fresh food is the best way to get the Vitamin C you need, with good sources in most fruit and vegetables, including capsicum, citrus, kiwifruit, berries, tomatoes and silver beet.
Some Vitamin c supplements are better than others
Lypo-spheric Vitamin C has been called the ‘rock star’ of Vitamin C, with recognised advantages over traditional supplements. New encapsulation technology helps protect the Vitamin C, increasing its bioavailability and transporting it directly into the bloodstream and cells. Clinical trials have shown lypo-spheric Vitamin C can be twice as effective as some other supplements.
Pharmacist Sammy Leung advises that the way that Vitamin C is processed definitely makes a difference to how it’s absorbed in your body. You may need to take a lower strength Vitamin C than higher strength types, because your body won’t utilise all of it.
For example, a standard dose of a lower strength Vitamin C would be about 500mg daily, but you could take more – 1000g to 3000mg – over the course of a day if you have acute symptoms.
Esterified or lypo-spheric Vitamin C is more bioavailable and stays in your system longer, so doses can be 500-1000mg per day.
Talk to your Unichem Pharmacist to find out which dosage level and supplement type is right for you, and take advantage of the many benefits of Vitamin C!