Studies have shown that 40 per cent of Canadians suffer from sleep disorders, while the country ranks third in the world as most sleep-deprived. What is preventing us from getting decent shut-eye?
“Sleep deprivation is very much a lifestyle choice, like nutrition and physical activity,” says Reut Gruber, associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University and director of the Attention, Behaviour and Sleep Lab at Douglas Mental Health University Institute. “People have to decide to make it a priority.”
There is a difference between a sleep disorder and sleep deprivation, she says. The former includes issues like insomnia and sleep apnea, requires professional intervention and benefits from cognitive behavioural therapy. The latter is actually more difficult to rectify because it’s addressed by conscious habit-changing decisions, like turning off all your digital screens no less than 30 minutes before bedtime.
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“Like any lifestyle issue, it’s simple and complicated at the same time,” Gruber says. “Why do we eat junk food? Because it’s easy and tasty, and we don’t think about the consequences. Lack of sleep is the same thing. We have to become more aware and make changes.”
The guidelines for sleep aren’t concrete, but the average recommendation for adults is seven hours per night. Getting less can lead to short-term ramifications like irritable mood and poor focus, and long-term health concerns like obesity, cardiovascular disease and a weakened immune system, Gruber says.
In response to this problem, a number of companies have released what they call “anti-energy” drinks — beverages that work to relax the mind, calm anxiety and ultimately help people fall asleep.
These drinks contain popular natural sleep aids like melatonin and valerian root, which have long been touted for their soporific qualities — melantonin is especially revered for jet lag, while valerian can address insomnia.
“Melatonin is a compound that is actually produced by the brain to regulate sleep,” says Desiree Nielsen, registered dietitian and author of Un-Junk Your Diet. “There is a decent amount of evidence to show that it improves insomnia, and as a bonus, it has antioxidant properties.”
Otherwise, she advises consuming tryptophan-rich foods like walnuts and calcium, which are supportive of natural sleep metabolism, and tart cherry juice, which has a little bit of actual melatonin in it.
While she says that it’s difficult to measure the effectiveness of natural sleep aids because they’re clouded by the placebo effect, she admits that for the most part, the ingredients in anti-energy drinks can work to relax you after a long day.
We’ve rounded up a list of sleep drinks that claim to have the ability to relax, de-stress, and gently nudge you into a sweet and satisfying slumber.
In addition to decaffeinated black tea, pure cane sugar, fruit juice and triple-filtered water, Mellow Mood also contains a signature relaxation blend that should help usher you into the land of sweet dreams. The blend comprises chamomile and passion flower to reduce anxiety, hops extract to promote relaxation, lemon balm to calm and valerian root to promote relaxation.
Marketed as a “mind cooler,” Canadian-made Slow Cow is for on-the-go people who are looking to relax from the pressures of everyday life. Although the description says it won’t cause drowsiness, consumer reviews on the product hail it as an effective sleep aid. The drink contains L-theanine that helps stimulate a sense of relaxation and well-being. It also has chamomile, valerian and hops, which are all lauded for helping combat insomnia; passiflora, which has anti-depressant and sedative effects, and linden for relieving stress.
Not unlike prescription sleep aids, Dream Water advises consumers to drink the beverage half an hour before bed and spend those extra minutes engaging in relaxing activities, like taking a hot bath or listening to soothing music to get you in the mood for some zzz’s. It uses GABA, an amino acid that inhibits neurotransmitters, to relax, reduce anxiety and block impulse transmissions in the central nervous system; melatonin to regulate the sleep cycle, and 5-HTP, a precursor of serotonin (also known as the “happy hormone“), to promote sleep and relaxation. It’s also calorie-free.
Billed as a liquid dietary supplement, Neuro SLEEP combines the same roster of ingredients the other drinks have (melatonin, 5-HTP, L-theanine) along with magnesium to help with relaxation, and superfruit extracts like pomegranate, acai and blueberry. It’s available in three flavours: tangerine, peach-apricot and mango.
A powder that can be dissolved in liquid or mixed into applesauce (for anyone who avoids liquids before bed), Zenbev uses organic pumpkin seeds that are cold-pressed and blended into a powder. The rationale behind the main ingredient is that pumpkin seeds are a natural source of tryptophan — the same amino acid that’s found in turkey meat, and that’s responsible for your post-Thanksgiving food coma — and metabolize differently in light or dark conditions. When taken during the day, the tryptophan becomes serotonin, the mood-regulating hormone; at night, it’s metabolized as melatonin. Start with one scoop for three nights and increase incrementally as needed.
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