Vicki Kobliner, RDN, CD-N, describes nutritional and lifestyle strategies for improving sleep and overall health for autistic people. She discusses circadian rhythm and balancing cortisol and melatonin cycles throughout the day. The speaker considers screen time restrictions, environmental adjustments, and relaxation techniques that assist with sleep onset and quality. Kobliner emphasizes the connection between diet and sleep and highlights critical nutrients for balanced sleep cycles. She lists valuable herbs and supplements and summarizes the presentation before the Q&A. 

Handouts are online HERE (.pdf)

In this webinar: 

1:35 – Sleep
5:36 – Circadian Rhythm
7:36 – Lifestyle and sleep
11:30 – Journaling and relaxation
16:20 – Nutrition and sleep
18:10 – Carbs, melatonin, and vitamin D
21:30 – Magnesium and B vitamins
23:49 – Amino acids
26:45 – Herbs and supplements for sleep
33:46 – Adaptogens
36:18 – Summary
37:40 – Q&A

Sleep cycles and circadian rhythm

Kobliner outlines recommended sleep times (total length of sleep) for different age groups and notes that lack of sleep leads to impulsivity, attention deficits, forgetfulness, learning deficits, obesity, impaired immune function, anxiety, and depression in both children and adults (2:30). Circadian Rhythm, the speaker continues, is a cycle maintained by the body that influences the balances of cortisol and melatonin throughout the day. She highlights that healthy sleep patterns, or balanced cortisol and melatonin cycles, are associated with benefits to mental health, cognition, and development (5:36)

How lifestyle affects sleep cycles

The speaker discusses several aspects of lifestyle and how they affect sleep patterns. For example, you must decrease your core temperature by two or three degrees to initiate and maintain sleep. Kobliner suggests taking a hot shower 60 – 90 minutes before bed or wearing socks to sleep to support radiation of heat through the extremities, thus cooling the body (7:36). Upon entering sleep, she continues, cortisol levels should be at their lowest, so winding down before bed is important (8:40). Some common techniques for winding down include avoiding electronics one to two hours before bed, stretching/relaxing body movements, and meditation (10:20). Kobliner discusses the correlation between gratitude journals and sleep quality, noting that research shows a 50% decrease in sleep onset in those who journal (11:30)

To ensure sleep-supportive lighting, the presenter suggests avoiding LED, dimming the lights an hour or so before bed, using sleep masks, and eliminating blue wavelength light (from screens), which shuts off melatonin production (12:00). Kobliner recommends not eating within three hours of sleep to regulate body temperature and emphasizes the importance of consistent bedtimes (13:40). Exercise should be done earlier in the day and not less than 2 hours before bed because it can raise cortisol levels and increase core temperature (14:40). The presenter notes typical consequences of sleep obstruction including apnea, snoring, daytime fatigue, and attention deficit, among others (15:20)

How nutrition affects sleep cycles 

Kobliner outlines research showing that a lack of crucial nutrients like calcium and magnesium, as well as vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, are associated with sleep problems. Nutrient consumption affects circadian hormonal pathways, making diet a critical aspect of balanced sleep cycles (16:20). Carbohydrates support melatonin production but can also increase time to sleep and drowsiness. Therefore, the speaker states, carbs should be consumed three to four hours before bed and should be whole grain, not processed (18:10). Calcium is necessary to convert tryptophan to melatonin and can be found in dairy, boned fish, almonds, broccoli, and sesame seeds. Deficiencies in vitamin D, which can be absorbed from sunlight, egg yolk, and fatty fish, are linked to insomnia (20:28)

The presenter explains that magnesium supports neurotransmitter production, reduces restless leg syndrome, makes it easier to fall asleep, and improves sleep quality. Good sources of magnesium include leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and soy (21:30). Vitamins B6 and B12 are necessary for melatonin production. Kobliner emphasizes balanced vitamin B levels, highlighting that deficiencies are linked to insomnia and depression while high doses are not safe. Sources for B6 include bananas, carrots, spinach, potatoes, eggs, fish, whole grains, milk and cheese. B12 can be absorbed from dairy, eggs, meat, fish, and shellfish (22:45)

Amino acids are proteins’ building blocks, and some are critical to sleep. For example, tryptophan turns into serotonin, which ultimately turns into melatonin. Therefore, Kobliner asserts that we need to support this pathway with the food we eat. She lists some foods that support healthy sleep, including eggs, fish, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, tofu, and more (23:49). All of these foods are highlighted in the Mediterranean diet, which the speaker repeatedly notes as supportive of sleep. Other crucial amino acids include GABA and L-TEHTANINE, which work together to reduce anxiety, time to sleep, and overall sleep quality (25:49).

Herbs and supplements for sleep

Kobliner outlines potential melatonin doses and comments on its long-term use (26:45). She lists herbs and supplements that support sleep, noting specific qualities for each: valerian (28:40), lemon balm (29:09), Zyziphus (jujube) (30:08), passion flower (30:45), chamomile (31:15), skullcap (31:44), and lavender (32:20)

Adaptogens are compounds that help our bodies deal with stress (33:46). Stress medications are often one way, meaning they reduce stress but then may keep the stress response from acting appropriately overall. However, adaptogenic herbs support and improve the body’s stress resilience and, because stress induces cortisol production, positively affect sleep cycles and quality (34:45). Kobliner highlights three adaptogenic herbs and their benefits to sleep: Rhodiola, ashwagandha, and holy basil (tulsi) (35:00)

The speaker summarizes her presentation, reiterating the importance of circadian rhythm and balanced cortisol and melatonin cycles. She reminds viewers that poor sleep affects everything from energy to blood sugar to hormonal balance. Lifestyles, including diet, should aim at reducing stress and modulating cortisol to enhance sleep onset, duration, and quality. She notes that all of this can seem overwhelming and recommends starting with the “low-hanging” fruit or changes that are easier to implement (e.g., electronic schedules, bedtime snacks, adding protein to the diet) (36:18). During the Q&A the speaker discusses sources for essential nutrients, strategies for relaxing before sleep, and much more (37:40)

Vicki Kobliner MS RDN, CD-N, is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist and owner of Holcare Nutrition. She has lectured nationally and internationally about the role of nutrition in chronic disease and acts a faculty for the Autism Research Institute and the Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs. Her career has been devoted to guiding families to navigate the clinical, nutritional, environmental and lifestyle changes they can make to optimize their lives. She utilizes a functional nutrition approach to maximize health, reduce disease risk and help her clients heal from chronic illness. Vicki is also devoted to giving future moms a roadmap to help beat the 1 in 4 odds of having a child with a chronic illness.

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