Sometimes I pity my poor brain as I fear I overwork it with all the things I have to remember, but usually it is able to keep up with me. In fact, sometimes it seems to work even harder than I do and I find it hard to turn it off. This is particularly inconvenient at times when I’m trying to relax or go to sleep. Whether you call it mind chatter, mind babble, or as a friend in a 12 step program refers to it “the committee has convened”, we need to be able to have some times when our minds aren’t running like a hamster on a wheel. Quiet, solitude, and silence are also necessary. Not only for the body to get rested and refreshed, but also the brain. Finding this balance of work and rest for the brain comes much easier to a brain that is healthy and well nourished.
Nutrition for A Healthy Brain
The brain is responsible for voluntary and involuntary body functions, including movement, personality, heart rate, emotions, mood, thoughts, and storing knowledge. It acts like our control center sending out signals to the body on how to react to situations and conditions. Like most other body cells, brain cells have mitochondria and about a third of these in the brain move on axons aiding neurotransmitters to pass on signals. The strength of these signals and good brain function depends on mitochondria being healthy. This means getting a balance of amino acids which produce about 10 to 15% of our metabolic energy. Amino acids are made when proteins are broken down making them able to pass through the blood brain barrier. Researchers have found that one of the highest and most balanced sources of amino acids is from bluegreen microalgae. Human brains need around 10 times more energy than other land mammals and in addition to the right balance of amino acids, they require fatty acids to maintain healthy brain function, especially DHA (docosahexanoic acid), which is the fat found most abundantly in the brain and absolutely necessary for neurons to function properly. It also requires that we get AA (arachidonic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) in the diet. These fatty acids are hard to come by in many foods, but are easily obtainable through marine and coastal food chains – that means food chains that start with microalgae. This is the reason fish is such a good brain food – fish eat algae. You too can eat algae with high quality supplements such as one that is produced with the cell wall removed to allow it to more easily cross over the blood brain barrier. In addition to a balance of amino acids and fatty acids, the brain also needs glucose which is its main source of energy.
Foods for a Quiet Mind
When we are stressed as a result of conditions such as anxiety, anger, or depression, cortisol is released in the body which raises blood sugar levels and blood pressure. This reaction can interfere with getting to sleep, can decrease our energy levels, cause memory problems and interfere with cognitive functions. A healthy brain is a well-functioning brain. Not only do we want our brains to stay sharp and working well, we also want to be able to shut them down at times and stop thinking. These are times to rejuvenate, get a break and reduce stress reactions. B vitamins, especially B-12, help us relax, soothe our nerves and help us deal with stress. When we are stressed, we tend to use up our body’s supply of B vitamins just when we need them most and need to replace them. Having healthy probiotics in your gut can give your body a boost to keep producing these vitamins and help your body cope with stress. Good food sources for B vitamins include fish, meat, poultry, eggs, potatoes and peanuts. Vitamin D is another good vitamin to help with relaxation, sleep and turning off a chattering mind. Research has shown that vitamin D can help in producing serotonin, melatonin and in regulating your circadian rhythm. Exposure to sunlight is a good way to get the vitamin D we need, but for those who don’t get out enough you can also get vitamin D from fortified dairy products, salmon and other fatty fish, eggs, and fortified cereals.
Magnesium can also help you relax as it is a natural muscle relaxant. Whole grains, maca root powder, seaweed, almonds, dark chocolate, spinach and bananas are some of the foods you can add to your diet for magnesium. Bananas not only have magnesium to help your muscles relax, but also trigger melatonin and serotonin to be released to help you relax and get to sleep. Next time you are having trouble getting your mind to shut down so you can relax and get to sleep, try a cup of chamomile tea or a glass of warm milk. Milk has tryptophan, an amino acid which helps in producing serotonin and can help make you sleepy. You can also get tryptophan from almonds, pistachios, cashews, whole wheat bread, and turkey. Adding a baked potato to the mix helps get rid of acids known to interfere with tryptophan. Or have a bowl of oatmeal to help you sleep as oats increase your melatonin level to help you get drowsy.
Lion’s Mane mushroom, also known as Hericum erinaceus, has substances such as erinacines that stimulate production of nerve growth factor and that will pass through the blood brain barrier. Research on Lion’s Mane has shown it can help not only protect the nervous system and keep it healthy, but also can boost cognitive processes. An easy way to get Lion’s Mane into your diet is with this algae and Lion’s Mane supplement. Not only do you get the brain boosting power of Lion’s Mane mushrooms, but also lots of antioxidant nutrition from noni and wheatgrass juice, bee pollen reported to have a high amino acid content useful for stimulating memory and concentration, and Gingko biloba which has been used for a long time to promote increased memory and mental concentration by increasing circulation and providing increased oxygenation of brain cells, as well as AFA bluegreen algae to feed the brain with essential fatty acids and other nutrients a healthy brain needs.
Quieting the Mind
Not getting enough sleep or quiet rest time can cause the brain’s emotional centers to be 60% more reactive. This explains why we get grumpy, cranky and are more likely to snap at others when we are not well rested. We also have less energy leaving us less able to focus, solve problems, and make decisions, that affects memory, and causes us to be less productive in general. Food is only one way to help your brain turn off and allow you to relax or go to sleep. There are other ways to quiet your mind. If you find your mind racing thinking of everything that happened during the day, try getting it all out before going to bed. That could mean journaling or talking to someone. Just get it all off your chest so you can put it aside for the night. If your problem is more thinking about everything you have to do the next day or week, spend some time making a list and possibly putting it on a timeline. With this written reminder you don’t have to worry about forgetting everything you have to do and you’ll have a plan of action waiting for you.
You can also work on training your body to know when it is time to be active and when it is time to relax and prepare for sleep. Set up your environment with signals such as dimming the lights at a certain time each evening, turning off the TV or any other stimulating activities, and you might include a mediation time or sitting in silence for a few minutes around the same time each night. Experts find that having a set bedtime and wake up time every night is also helpful. That includes the weekends. Include a routine of relaxing activities before going to bed and your brain can learn it and start signaling the body to get ready for sleep. Your routine might include a bedtime snack if you find hunger pains often keep you awake. If so, stay away from anything heavy, sugar filled or that has caffeine. A snack that includes complex carbs and dairy like cereal and milk or cheese and crackers make an excellent choice as they have nutrients that help bring on sleep.
You can’t force sleep, but you can at least give your body some rest. If you find you can’t go to sleep, don’t turn on the TV or computer. If you can’t fall asleep after around half an hour, try going to another space in your home and just sitting in silence for up to 20 minutes. Then go back to bed and start over. If you still can’t go to sleep after another half hour, try again. This gives you a chance to disrupt the frustration and start the night over so to speak and if nothing else, at least your body physically gets some rest if not sleep. Another alternative from international speaker and author, Deborah Deras, is to take 60 seconds to close your eyes and breathe deeply to shift your mind from its chatter. She also advises paying attention to any negative chatter and look for the lesson in it instead of fretting and obsessing over it. Observe it, own it, learn from it and move on.
A healthy brain does equal a quiet mind and you need that quiet mind to get the sleep necessary to rejuvenate the body. So the next time your mind starts chattering away, give some of these foods and natural solutions a try. You’ll find it’s not as hard as you thought to turn down the mind noise so you can get the rest you need.
Bruno, PhD, Jeffrey, Eat Light and Feel Bright