Insomnia affects more and more people every year. In fact, according to Dr. Mark Hyman, MD, Americans are sleeping about 2 hours less a night over the past 40 years. Generally, 7-9 hours a night is recommended. Trouble losing weight? Brain fog? Hormone imbalance? Poor immune system? Insomnia effects many systems in the body, because we basically don’t ‘plug in’ to enough rejuvenation time when the brain needs it most. Although there are many OTC and prescription medicines available, many either don’t work or have serious side effects. None of them actually correct underlying problems anyway. So what are the most common problems causing insomnia, and what can you do about it? First, you need to determine if it’s mainly an issue of falling asleep or staying asleep (if it’s both, then that’s past the scope of this blog).Falling Asleep - Assuming you’re not drinking caffeine at night, or having side effects from a prescription medicine, many cases are due to: 1) Excess cortisol, the stress hormone. Before you deny any stress in your life, stress can be a mental/emotional, biochemical, or physical issue. Either way, cortisol stimulates the hippocampus (brain processing center) and keeps us alert and awake. 2) Blood sugar imbalance. Most commonly this is excessive sugar consumed at night or throughout the day. 3) Too much light in the bedroom. 4) Too much stimulation (mental or physical activity) before bed. 5) Not enough daylight/sunlight exposure. 6) Insufficient exercise during the day. 7) Low levels of serotonin. For the above issues, consider: Herbal adaptogens such as holy basil, magnolia bark extract or ashwaganda. L-theanine, the amino acid found in green tea can be very helpful as well. One of our favorite formulas is called . Make sure to balance your circadian rhythms with adequate sunlight exposure during the day (even if through windows), and keep the room dark when ready to sleep. This helps the pineal gland in the brain secrete melatonin, the hormone which aids in falling asleep. So close the blinds, turn off the computer so the screensaver is off, and turn off all lights. Avoid all TV, computer-related activities (especially social media, games, online searching and checking email), video games, and playing around on your smartphone for at least 2 hours before bed. JUST SAY NO. These all stimulate excitatory processing centers in the brain. It’s the last thing you need if trying to get some rest. Keep cordless the phone, your smartphone, and any wi-fi components away from you and your bed by at least 10 feet. This applies to computers and routers as well! EMF radiation can be a serious issue for many people who don’t know it yet. Take a warm epsom salt bath, listen to classical music, read poetry or relaxing short stories. No books that involve action, drama or other suspense. Consider taking . Start at one half of 1mg about 20-30 minutes before bed. If no results by 2 days, increase dosage up to 2 mg. If you take too much, you will feel groggy the next morning. Try some . This is the building block for both serotonin (our happy hormone) and melatonin, the sleep hormone. Start at 50 mg, 30 minutes before bed, and ramp up slowly to 200mg if needed, in 50 mg intervals every few days if no relief. If no change after a week, it’s not going to work. Staying Asleep - This is often related to either: 1) Hypoglycemia. Start by eating a small amount of protein (a palm-sized amount) such as a piece of cheese, a rolled up piece of turkey, a tablespoon of nut butter, or a hard boiled egg. This will help stabilize the blood sugar during the night. How does this work? Basically, if we’re hypoglycemic during the day, you’ll feel tired or sleepy, maybe have brain fog or possibly irritable or a headache. During the night, however, we’ll feel awakened. This is due to the brain telling the adrenal glands to pump out adrenaline to break down glycogen from the liver and muscles to keep the sugar levels up. This is what tells the brain to awaken. Eating a bit of protein before bed keeps the sugar level stable. If this is the issue, you will feel better in 1-2 nights. 2) Liver/Gallbladder congestion. We’re not talking about pathology here, just stress in these areas. In Chinese and Ayurvedic medical philosophy, ‘stagnation’ or ‘congestion’ in these organs can cause irritation, and hence waking from sleep, especially anywhere from 1-3 am. Again, you may not have pain, pressure, jaundice or any usual symptoms that are typically seen with overt problems in the liver and gallbladder. Rather, simply see if basic steps can help reduce the tension and energetics in these areas. For this, consider:
- avoid eating all fatty, greasy or fried foods, as well as alcohol
- eat more bitter foods, which stimulate normal digestion and release liver/gallbladder tension such as dandelion greens, artichokes, asparagus, celery
- consider cleansing herbs such as milk thistle seed extract, dandelion root, bupleurum, ginger, turmeric, thyme and rosemary
- work on any un-resolved emotions, especially anger, frustration or resentment. These create havoc in the biliary system, according to Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Personally, I’ve seen these techniques work wonders for many yearson my patients, and I hope they can help you too.