Don’t battle Insomnia alone
So many of us have some kind of trouble sleeping or insomnia, it is thought to affect between 30-40% of adults.
There are different types of insomnia or sleep problem:
- problems getting off to sleep
- problems staying asleep
- waking up too early that’s the main issue
- more than one of these issues appears at the same time.
Any disturbance in sleep can seriously affect your health. We all know that if we have a poor night’s sleep we don’t function as well the next day. But if we suffer from insomnia on a regular basis we are more likely to suffer from depression, obesity, type 2 diabetes, poor immune function, infections, dementia and even an early death!
So getting your sleep sorted out is important not just in the short term but also to help prevent these longer term issues from developing.
In my clinic there seems to be 8 main conditions or states associated with sleeping difficulties:-
- Current stress levels too high in the day time because of a current stressful situation e.g divorce, work pressure. If the stress hormones such as cortisol are very high during the day, and the sympathetic nervous system is in constant fight and flight mode, then it will be very hard for your system to come down from this state of high arousal/high alert to a state which will allow deep sleep. If cortisol levels rise or the sympathetic nervous system is active at night it will mean that you wake up, and will probably find it hard to get back to sleep.
- Pain in the body making sleeping uncomfortable e.g shoulder or back pain. It always surprises me how many people put up with physical pain at night believing there is nothing that can be done about it. In the majority of cases I find that either a course of osteopathy, or some other intervention that is appropriate to that individual will resolve the pain issue enough for the person to have much better sleep.
- Menopause and the peri-menopause period. It is well known that women go through phase of having difficulty sleeping whilst going through the peri-menopause and menopausal years. So for many women this can mean for 15 years or more sleep is an issue. Even for younger women the phase immediately before the period, when progesterone levels are rapidly decreasing can lead to poor sleep.
- Babies and young children waking us up. Of course all babies will need time to create their own day and night patterns and will go through several months of night time waking as they adjust. However, this shouldn’t go on indefinitely and should start to be less of an issue by 6 months of age. If your child is still waking you every night past this then you might want to seek help, for their sake and yours!
- Aging, as we get older our ability for deep restful sleep declines for many of us. This is not fully understood, but is likely to be linked to melatonin production, and the production of many other hormones including both the male and female sex hormones.
- Poor sleep hygiene (how we prepare for bed and sleep). See below for more information.
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome . In those with chronic fatigue sleep can often be disturbed. Day time tiredness and even sleepiness is replaced by an inability to sleep at night. This then exacerbates the next day’s tiredness and so creates a vicious cycle that can be hard to get out of.
- Unresolved emotional issues – even from many years previously can still be stored in the body and affecting sleep. Although this may seem unlikely to some people, traumatic events from our past can still affect us in the present, even if we think we have gotten over them or forgotten all about them. Sometimes sleep issues go right back to childhood. Many people first report issues sleeping as a small child for example going to bed hearing their parents arguing, or feeling fear or anxiety about a particular situation.
There are many more causes of sleep problems than these 8 things, as sleep can be affected by many other medical conditions, but I have listed the ones I see most often in my practice.
What you can do to get a better nights sleep tonight!
Also known as good Sleep Hygiene:-
- Don’t watch screens of any kind right up to the point of going to bed – the blue light emitted from them can affect the pineal gland decreasing melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone which helps us get off to sleep, and is only produced under certain circumstance. It is produced in time with our circadian rhythm, which is why plane travel to a different time zone can affect it and cause jet lag. Really it should be called circadian rhythm lag! We also need pitch blackness, and ideally a gradual reduction in natural daylight, as we would have experienced in watching a sunset, then being in the gloom or low light with a fire or candle.
- Make sure out bedroom is a relaxed and welcoming environment without a work desk or clutter if possible. I personally feel it is not a good idea to have a TV in the bedroom either, and it is not recommended to go to sleep by watching the TV.
- A good mattress and pillow, and correct weight duvet for the season is also vital, although sometimes finding the right mattress and pillow can be like finding the holy grail!
- Having a bed time routine where you take time to wind down is also very important, and not doing jobs and chores right until the point you jump into bed!
- Making sure you switch your phone off, or at least put it on to flight mode over night, and ideally turn all wifi off in the house as well.
- Make sure your room is as dark as possible or wear of night mask, as I said earlier this assists in the production of melatonin.
- If there is noise (e.g. from a partner snoring) make sure you wear ear plugs to minimize this form of disturbance, or even sleep in a spare room if you have one!
How can natural medicine help with sleep?
OK, so you’ve done all of the above and you’re still not sleeping………..
Natural medicine will try to identify the cause/s of your sleep issue and address these one by one. Whilst at the same time we may provide symptomatic relief with the use of herbs and nutritional supplements.
Some sleep issues are relatively easy to resolve, but the majority are complex and take time. If the sleep issue is part of a wider health issue such as chronic fatigue or peri-menopause or fibromyalgia, then often sleep does not fully resolve until the underlying health condition is much better. Having said that there are many natural products that we can use to improve and support sleep whilst we work on the underlying conditions.
It is also important to address any other symptoms that are affecting sleep. These can range from digestive issues, bladder issues, muscle or joint pains, emotional distress and even side effects of medication.
Many people will have heard of valerian and hops two of the most well known herbs to help sleep. However, they are not well tolerated by everyone, but there are many others such as Passion flower, Melissa, Chamomile, Wood Betony, Wild Lettuce, Astragalus, Lavender and Skull Cap. If these are selected for you personally then we can create a personalised sleep tonic.
In addition the minerals magnesium and zinc can be useful and the nutrients pyridoxine 5-phosphate (P-5-P).
So in summary the natural approach to better sleep includes addressing all sleep hygiene factors, working on the underlying emotional, stress or health complaints whilst utilizing natural remedies to encourage sleep.
If sleep is a problem for you or someone you know please fill in the form or send an email to schedule a 20 minute FREE mini- consult to find out more.