I have Insomnia and I can’t Sleep !!!
If you suffer from some form of Insomnia then you are not alone. Around 30% of Australians have some form of Insomnia ranging from a disturbed restless sleep to full blown Insomnia or the inability to sleep. People with insomnia often have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep as long as desired.
Why is Sleep Important?
It is during sleep that most of the body’s repair happens. The body is in an anabolic (Building) state and it is during this time that we build muscles, repair injuries, strengthen our immune, cardiovascular and nervous systems. A large proportion of the body’s detoxification also happens during sleep as does a large amount of our emotional processing. Following a good sleep not only do we feel more energized and refreshed but we often have less aches and pains and have an increased ability to tackle the daily stressors of life.
Studies have shown that if you get on average less than 6 hours of sleep per night you function the same as if you have a blood alcohol reading of 0.10. Studies also indicate that an adult should sleep on average 7.9 hours per night, a teen 8.5 – 9 hours and school age children between 10 – 11 hours per night. But what happens if we don’t get enough sleep?
Consequences of Sleep Deprivation
The most obvious consequences of not getting enough sleep is tiredness, fatigue, brain fog, irritability and lack of motivation. We all know that we become snappy or have less tolerance when we are tired. Extended insomnia can also lead to an increase risk of depression, anxiety, stress and lower performance levels.
However there are many less obvious consequences of sleep deprivation such as an increase risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. People who sleep poorly often have higher blood pressure and often have a tendency to put on more weight. Sleep specialists also say that sleep deprived men and woman report lower libidos and less interest in sex.
Lack of sleep has been shown to prematurely age your skin and increase wrinkles. Sleep related fatigue is a common cause of car accidents and fatalities.
Top 3 Common causes of Insomnia
Increased stress levels in my opinion is the most common trigger for insomnia. Stress leads to an overactive nervous system which in turn is often characterized by the common presentation of ‘Not being able to stop thinking or to shut my mind off’. Prolonged stress also affects the adrenals ability to cope and often leads to an overproduction and incorrect distribution of our bodies stress hormone Cortisol.
Cortisol is supposed to increase as the sun rises and helps provide our ‘get up and go’ and then reduces over the afternoon and evening to allow us to sleep.
When Cortisol is out of balance this will often lead to people being tired during the day and then wide awake as soon as they are trying to get to sleep.
2) Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and Depression can be both a cause and a symptom of Insomnia. When people are chronically tired they often have a higher risk of developing anxiety or depression. However one of the main causes of depression is a serotonin deficiency. This is the main neurotransmitter (Brain Messenger) that antidepressants target. A person with low serotonin will often present with Depression and / or Anxiety, Irritability, Crave Sugars and have Poor Sleep. The reason that they have poor sleep is that Serotonin converts to Melatonin at night. Melatonin is what puts you to sleep. Therefore if you have low serotonin you will also have low Melotonin. Raising your serotonin levels using natural supplements will decrease your depression and also improve the quality of your sleep.
3) Emotional Processing
A lot of our emotional processing happens while we sleep. The body processes most of our emotions from the day between 11pm – 1am. Any unresolved emotions are then distributed and stored in our connective tissues such as shoulders, neck and lower back etc… which is often why we tend to get pain or stiffness in these areas. This final process happens during liver time which is between 1am – 3am and is why the most common time people wake is at 1am. If this is you then you may need to look at your stress levels or emotional state and / or your liver.
Other causes of Insomnia include:
Excessive weight: leads to difficulty sleeping and breathing and therefore often causes insomnia. I’m amazed at how often people say to me that their sleep has improved by losing weight. If you need to lose weight visit www.CapalabaNaturalHealth.com.au/weight-loss/
Sleep Apnoea: Where breathing stops momentarily during sleep. This often leads to people waking during the night and feeling fatigued on waking.
Digestive Disfunction: Excessive eating prior to bed or lack of digestive enzymes has been shown to impair the bodies ability to drop into a deep sleep. While the body is busy digesting food it often doesn’t allow us to slip into the deepest sleep phase and therefore our sleep is unfulfilling.
Caffiene: Drinking too much caffeine during the day or caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, green tea or soft drinks plus dark chocolate prior to bed can affect sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant and therefore promotes wakefulness. Also drinking anything, such as water, too close to bed will often make us wake up. It is a good idea to cease all fluids 2 hours prior to going to bed.
How to Get to Sleep and Stay Sleep
One of the mains skills of a Naturopath is to determine the driving force behind people health complaints or their symptom picture. If your main presenting complaint is sleep for example I would ask you various questions to identify which of the above causes may be behind your inability to sleep properly.
Once this has been identified then the appropriate Naturopathic treatment would be prescribed. For example if you are stressed then I would seek to prescribe nutrients such as magnesium or herbs to relax your nervous system. I would also use nutrients to support your adrenals and their ability to help you cope with the everyday stresses of life. This will help increase your energy levels and re-establish your correct cortisol pattern.
Anxiety would be treated using magnesium but also herbs that are specific for reducing anxiety and panic attacks. Herbs all have different functions and can be prescribed to match the specifics of your health problem.
If you can’t get to sleep due to a serotonin deficiency, which also means that you are likely to suffer from depression, then I would likely prescribe you 5-HTP. This is the natural precursor to serotonin. Your body will take the 5-HTP and convert it to serotonin. This in turn should help reduce or eliminate your depression and also allows your body to produce more melatonin at night to help you sleep.
In my experience these are the main causes of insomnia. Liver support, emotional support and also weight loss can also be causes though are less common.
I will often also prescribe either liquid herbs such as Zyziphis, Passionflower or Kava or a homeopathic remedy designed to put you to sleep. I always look for the underlying causes but sometimes its good to use sleep inducing formulas to help a person to reestablish their natural sleeping pattern. Often once a person’s pattern has been re-established then sleep becomes more natural and fulfilling.
Written by Award Winning Naturopath Tony Daniel ND