Natural health: How do I get my sleep back on track? 

Megan Sheppard takes a look at sleep issues and low iron levels 
Natural health: How do I get my sleep back on track? 

I'm starting back at college soon with some early lectures. Is there a natural remedy I could take? File picture: iStock

Q. My sleeping pattern went out the window during lockdown and over the summer. I’m starting back at college soon with some early lectures. Is there a natural remedy I could take?

A. Adrenal support is a good place to start, especially when stress is a key underlying cause of your disrupted sleep patterns. The adrenal glands, situated on top of the kidneys, secrete aldosterone, sex hormones, adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, and dopamine into the bloodstream — all of which are crucial in responding appropriately to stress, regulating sleep, and coping with illness.

Certain chemicals, enzymes, amino acids, nutrients, and hormones combine to help regulate sleep patterns.

While many foods have low levels of these compounds, only some have a high enough concentration to make a significant difference.

One such food is milk. Warm milk is an old home remedy for sleeplessness and with good reason. It contains sleep-promoting tryptophan, calcium, vitamin D, and melatonin.

Turkey is another good source of tryptophan — it’s also found in foods such as chicken, potatoes, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, turnip, brassicas, and seaweed.

A natural remedy useful in helping to restore sleep patterns is a B-complex supplement. The B vitamin group helps to support nerve health, and it is common for individuals who have undergone a long period of stress to be deficient in one or more of the B vitamins.

The mineral magnesium is also a nerve supportive nutrient and can help with insomnia, muscle pain and cramping, anxiety, and restless legs. Magnesium is most effectively absorbed when applied topically.

If you are concerned about feelings of overwhelm on return to your studies, then consider the herbal remedy Withania somnifera. Known in Ayurvedic medicine as ashwagandha, it is an adaptogenic herb that helps to reduce cortisol levels and balance mood by facilitating the release of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. You can take it as a tea, tincture, or in capsule form.

Q. A recent blood test has revealed that my iron levels are low. Could my vegetarian diet be to blame?

A. It is difficult to definitively state the cause of your low-iron results. Ferritin is a protein which is responsible for storing iron in the body, and a blood test showing low serum ferritin levels should certainly not be dismissed.

Iron deficiency is linked to low ferritin since the body will rob the iron stores if the blood levels are low. While your diet may play a role in your low iron levels, it is certainly possible to obtain sufficient iron from a vegetarian or vegan diet. Spinach, broccoli, prune juice, kidney beans, chickpeas, nettle, and raspberry leaf are all iron-rich foods.

Citrus fruits and juices, berries, capsicum/peppers, kiwifruit, tomatoes, broccoli, and spinach will all help to fortify your iron levels due to their vitamin C content. Iron levels can also be affected by the common condition hypochlorhydria, or insufficient stomach acid. Symptoms include reflux, heartburn, post-meal bloating, and flatulence.

The amino acid L-lysine, commonly recommended to help prevent cold sores, helps the body to store and absorb both iron and zinc. You will need to supplement with around 1,500-2,000mg daily in order to increase your ferritin levels. However, it should be noted that it can take up to six months to get iron stores well within the healthy range of 20-200ug/L.

One other nutrient worth serious consideration when following a vegetarian or vegan diet is vitamin B12. Also known as cobalamin, this vitamin helps to prevent anaemia by assisting in the formation of red blood cells, while being crucial to nervous system health, energy production, and calcium absorption. Food sources include nutritional yeast, raw milk, sea vegetables, and soy products.

NOTE: The information contained in this column is not a substitute for medical advice. Always consult a doctor.

More in this section

Lifestyle
Newsletter

The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up