The Ins and Oms of Insomnia
Updated: Jan 28
Trouble sleeping? Maybe you toss and turn for too long trying to fall asleep or you fall asleep easily, but wake in the middle of the night and can't go back to sleep for ages. You're not alone. According to the Australian sleep-health foundation 30-40% of Aussies suffer from inadequate sleep. It affects daytime performance, mood, judgement and just generally makes you feel like you're barely surviving life, instead of living it.
Prescription sleeping pills don't necessarily solve the problem either. Listed side effects include drowsiness, light-headedness, memory loss and poor concentration - the very things you are trying to avoid! They can also be very addictive - causing you to feel more aggitated and unable to sleep, so that your need for them increases.
It's always better to address the underlying causes of your sleep problems, rather than bandaid the issue with drugs. So let's look at the biggest culprits in the conspiracy against your great night's sleep.
1. Overstimulation at the wrong time of day
Our bodies were designed to wind down with the sunset. The production of melatonin, our sleep hormone, is first triggered in the morning from sunlight, then builds up until nightfall allowing us to sleep. With the invention of artifical light, it can feel to our bodies like the sun just never goes down. Computer screens and handheld devices have compounded this problem. They trick the body into believing it's still daytime and you need to stay awake. Avoid using screens after 6 pm if you want to fall asleep more easily. Turn the lights low. Create a low light atmosphere and maybe go read an old fashioned book!
2. Prevention of REM sleep by wifi
A group of year nine students attracted international attention when they conducted an experiment showing the devestating effect of wifi on living cells. While water cress sprouts grew normally in a room without wifi, those next to a router not only failed to grow but some actually mutated and died. Further studies on the direct relationship between poor human sleep and wifi use have confirmed that wifi and deep sleep don't mix. So get that phone or iPad out of your bedroom when it's time to sleep! Put it in another room far away from you. Some sleep experts even advocate for turning off the household modem at night. Bring back the old fashioned alarm clock with the bell on top;)
3. Depression and/or anxiety
Melatonin, which controls your sleep, is made from serotonin, the 'happy' neurotransmitter. When we are depressed, seratonin can be low, with not enough to make adequate melatonin. Anxiety also can be related to low seratonin relative to dopamine, the 'focussed' neurotransmitter, and adrenaline, the 'fight or flight' one. As you can imagine high levels of the latter two can cause feelings of anxiety and fear. It's rather difficult to fall asleep when your mind is racing and your heart is pounding. The causes of depression and anxiety are usually both chemical or physiological as well as emotional. If something sad or bad has happened to you and you've been feeling unhappy for a long time, your seratonin levels will drop leading to long term depression. Counselling may be needed to overcome the emotional challenges that have got you into this situation. Antidepressants may also help for a season, either prescription drugs, or various herbal alternatives. You could also talk to your Dr about taking straight melatonin itself, which is available on prescription. Sour cherry juice is also often recommended as it contains high amounts of natural melatonin. As far as sleep goes, you need to get your body to produce more seratonin again, as the precursor to melatonin. Which brings me to the next point...
4. Nutritional deficiencies
It all comes back to food! After all , we are what we eat:) Various vitamins and minerals derived from foods become the building blocks for making seratonin and melatonin. These include vitamin D, B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium. The body can easily become depleted in these vitamins and minerals when the diet is typically high in starchy foods and low in vegetables, proteins, and whole grains. Unfortunately poor agricultural soil quality is also contributing to these deficiencies, leading to a need for supplementation from time to time. Genetic factors may also be at play with certain mutations causing the body to 'wash out' high amounts of zinc and B6, or prevent the uptake and conversion of vitamin D, folate or B12 into forms the body can use. Genetic testing may be warranted when there has been a family history of depression and anxiety that may be related to your sleep issues. See a qaulified practitioner specialising in epigenetics.
5. Water and food intake
Dehydration literally halts your body in its tracks and can prevent the formation of hormones like melatonin. Drinking water has the effect of 'waking' the body up and is another signal that it's daytime and energy expenditure time. Putting the body into a hibernative 'fast' during your night time sleep is a normal part of your sleep/wake cycle and the body cannot relax late at night if you are still putting water or food into it. Your last meal and evening snack should be consumed three hours before bedtime to allow time for digestion to be completed. Drink your full 8 glasses of water early in the day, with very little to drink after 7pm. You should not be waking up thirsty to drink during the night. This is an indication that you have not had enough water during the day. It will also cause your body to 'wake up' and make it difficult to go back to sleep. Midnight snacking might have been fun on school camps, but it's not for those with insomnia!!
Of course there are other even more complicated reasons for chronic severe insomnia due to various neurochemistry issues that can occur, many of which may be genetic. The important thing is to take out all the hinderances that you can control, and then look into doing something about those things that seem more complex with the help of a qualified practitioner. Finding the root cause of any health issue and and changing the way your body is funcitioning is always going to provide a better long term solution than popping a pill;) Make a booking at www.smartnutrimed.com.au to explore further the ways you can naturally support a better night's sleep or deal with serious insomnia.