Insomnia is a very common cause of low energy, poor mood and decreased productivity. Up to 40% of adults in the United States report at least occasional insomnia, and about 8% have severe insomnia. Nutrition can fix the underlying cause of your insomnia and it is the safest and most effective way to achieve long lasting results.
In order to find the underlying cause, a full history, consultation, physical exam and lab findings are often needed to pinpoint the exact cause and several problems can contribute simultaneously making sleep even a tougher case to crack.
One thing to remember is that most of the time sleep is a secondary problem, not the primary problem. In other words, you have a sleep problem because there are imbalances in the function of your body and poor sleep is just the symptom. It’s a sign that something else is going wrong which is interfering with your sleep.
What are the possible causes?
Hormones! Fluctuating thyroid hormone levels can cause anxiety, restlessness and difficulty sleeping as well as high levels of adrenal hormones which may keep you in flight or fight mode when trying to sleep.
Puberty, pregnancy, peri-menopause and menopause are all times when hormone levels are changing and imbalances are magnified when poor dietary habits and nutritional deficiencies are contributing to the imbalance.
A drop in blood glucose levels in the middle of the night can also wake you up due to the body releasing adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones), in an attempt to bring your blood sugar up to normal levels.
Environmental toxins (such as mercury, lead, petroleum-solvants, pesticides, etc.) or chemicals in our food, water, air and environment can also negatively affect the nervous system and disturb sleep. Toxins can effect hormonal equilibrium, inflammation, poor immunity and proper nervous system function. Many of the clients in our office have reported better sleep after finishing our 3-week purification program.
Prescription Drugs (which the body perceives as toxins) are also a common cause of insomnia. These include blood pressure drugs, cholesterol lowering drugs, weight loss pills, thyroid medications, oral contraceptives, progesterone, cortisone, bronchodilators, anti-cancer drugs, amphetamines and even over the counter cold and pain relievers such as Anacin, Excedrin, or decongestants like Sudafed.
A much over-looked cause of insomnia is chronic low-grade infection, usually caused by a bacteria, virus or parasite. When your immune system is working over-time, night-sweats can occur which may disturb sleep or sometimes your nervous system just becomes “wired” due to the adrenal involvement when fighting the infection. The proper nutritional immune system support is critical in handling these types of problems.
Having a chronic health situation shouldn’t always mean your sleep is doomed. Physical disorders such as restless legs syndrome, prostate problems (and it’s subsequent trips to the bathroom), aches and pains in the body, acid reflux, sleep apnea, heart arrhythmia, MS, asthma, heart disease and many other disorders can affect sleep and many of these conditions can be helped with nutrition.
Chronic stress and mental disorders (anxiety/depression etc.) can obviously be connected to insomnia, however nutritional therapy can restore neurotransmitter function and simple vitamin or mineral deficiencies, when corrected can bring about relief in these areas. Some of our patients just need some calming herbs at the end of a hectic work day to calm down and relax before going to sleep. Different herbs work for different people. Finding out whats best for you is the key, that’s why we design a program unique to each individual.
Tips For A Good Night’s Sleep
Good “sleep hygiene” is critical to success when finding the underlying cause.
Avoid Stimulants. Avoid caffeinated beverages, particularly from late afternoon to bedtime. Coffee, chocolate, soda, tea, diet drugs, and some pain relievers (Anacin, Excedrin etc.) contain caffeine. Smokers tend to sleep lightly and often wake up in the early morning due to nicotine withdrawal. Alcohol can rob you of deep sleep and REM sleep, because it tends to keep you in the lighter stages of sleep. Eating too much sugar or carbohydrate before bed can effect your sleep and it acts like stimulants for certain people.
Set a bed-time schedule. To help stabilize your sleep-wake schedule, go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Although this is not always possible when you have kids, a spouse and a busy life, do the best you can and force yourself to rise at the same time each morning, no matter how little sleep you got the night before.
Relax before bedtime. Have a particular routine that relaxes you and helps you get into the mode of sleep. Reading a book, a warm bath, watching a television comedy or whatever relaxing ritual you choose may help you fall to sleep more easily.
Cool your room. A nighttime drop in body temperature is nature’s way of telling your body it’s time for sleep. If your room is too warm, run the air conditioner or a fan to keep your body slightly cool.
Warm your feet. Although you normally want your room a little cool, you definitely don’t want to be cold or have cold feet! Warming up cold feet (with an old-fashioned water bottle) can help some people fall asleep. Or wear warm socks to bed.
Don’t lie in bed awake. If you can’t get to sleep, just lying in bed may contribute to more anxiety and sleeplessness. Do something else relaxing until you feel tired.
Exercise. It is extremely important to exercise for at least 20-30 minutes a day. Get your exercise early in the day or at least 5-6 hours before going to bed (not too close to bedtime). People who exercise tend to go to sleep faster and sleep longer compared to people who are sedentary. Exercise helps to relieve stress, which is usually one of the reasons why so many people have trouble falling asleep. Exercise in the sunshine, especially at the beginning of the day. Sunlight helps the body’s internal biological clock reset itself each day.
Eat Well. Eat a whole-foods diet rich in tryptophan and amino acids such as turkey, chicken, grass-fed beef, eggs, nuts and small amounts of whole grains such brown rice are helpful for some people. Numerous vegetables and local farm fresh foods are imperative for proper nutrition. Avoid sugars and excessive consumption of carbohydrates, especially right before bed. This may cause a blood sugar drop in the middle of the night and wake you up.
In addition to your diet, specific vitamin and mineral deficiencies can be handled by your nutritional practitioner to find out what you are not absorbing or getting in your diet. These deficiencies can lead to insomnia in many people.
Control your environment. Darken your room, make sure it’s quiet and use a white-noise machine to block out other sounds when you are trying to fall asleep. Don’t go on your computer within a few hours of going asleep. Too much computer time or video games can have a stimulating effect on your nervous system.
There are different causes of insomnia and it requires patience and some detective work until you can get your body in sync with it’s normal rhythms. It’s tempting to just take a sleeping pill and not worry about it, however the imbalance in your body will continue to worsen until the underlying problem is addressed. Although it’s tougher to find the underlying cause, it is well worth it in the long run. Ask your nutritional practitioner for help and give your body the natural rest it needs.