Simple Measures for Insomnia

Many people have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep the whole night.  If this is you, have a medical exam to make sure there’s no medical reason for it.  Coming to see me, you can expect that I balance your body’s systems (including the nervous system which is responsible for many sleepless nights… but not all) so that your body isn’t dependent on medication or supplements.  However, there are times they come in handy.  Not only are they needed before the body starts being able to regulate itself, but they’re useful during those infrequent times that people, without health problems, occasionally find themselves in. 

So, here are some simple measures to try for getting restful sleep.  Often times not a single one of these simple measures will work all by itself; therefore, consider a combination of them.  Since this is a blog-post, I’m not able to give dosages.  If you want specific help with sleep maintenance I would be happy to work with you.  Or, if you feel your body should know how to sleep without the use of sleep aids, please make an appointment with me.

Psychological Factors
1. Use one’s bed only for sleep (i.e. no reading or watching TV in bed)
2. Maintain stimulus control by going to sleep when sleepy.  If you’re not asleep in 15-20 min get out of bed and return when sleepy.
3. Get up at the same time every morning.
4. Avoid napping in the day.
5. Partake in mild sleep deprivation (but do not decrease sleep below 5 hrs a night or if you’re having trouble functioning during the day).  Cut out 15-20 min of sleep each night until you become sleepy.  Continue to increase sleep deprivation in 15-20 min intervals until you find the amount of time that gets you sleepy.

Lifestyle
1. Are you getting enough exercise?  Is your exercise too close to going to sleep so that you’re energized rather than sleepy?  Play around with the amount of exercise and the timing of exercise.  Using cars as an analogy, getting the engine to rev up can burn through gunk in the carburetor allowing for fuel to be more efficiently used.
2. Do you have muscle tension?  Exercise, stress and just living causes muscles to tighten up.  Adding a 10-15 min session of stretching every evening has fixed many sleep troubles.
3. Eating a wholesome diet with a good combination of wholegrains, vegetables, fruits and quality protein support good sleep through not only providing vitamins but also chemicals, such as L-tryptophan which is found in turkey, that promotes sleep.
4. Avoid artificial flavors, colors and chemicals in foods.  Some people are highly sensitive to these.
5. Avoid stimulants in the diet, such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and sugar, close to your bedtime.  Some stimulating herbs, like cinamon, ginger, and pepper (among others), should also be included in this list.  Some people are so sensitive to caffeine that even one cup of caffeinated tea or coffee in the morning will prevent a restful sleep 14 hrs later.
6. Noise!  Some people have trouble sleeping if it’s too quiet and some people have trouble with the slightest noise.  White noise often helps people in both scenarios.  Try a fan or invest in a white noise machine.
7. Moderating light machines.  Check out NightWave.  It’s a machine that emits blue light that increases and decreases in intensity to bring about relaxation.
8. Relaxation techniques: Remember to count sheep; imagery has been shown to benefit relaxation.  Use progressive muscle relaxation by tensing and releasing minor parts of your body and progress to larger areas.  Consider having a biofeedback session with a psychologist that uses this technique.

Vitamins and Supplements
1. Calcium-Magnesium or Magnesium alone: Both of these vitamins help support muscle relaxation.  Beware: too much Magnesium can cause diarrhea.
2. B-vitamins: These vitamins have a sedative effect on nerves and support the adrenal glands (the glands that produce adrenaline) in order to regulate stress.
2. Melatonin: Some people are strongly affected by the effects of melatonin while it has no effect on others.  Melatonin is made from serotonin and so those who have an imbalance in serotonin are more likely to be positively effected by melatonin.  Remember that lower milligrams is better than higher milligrams in regards to sleep.
3. L-Theanine: Surprisingly this is a chemical found in and extracted from green tea.  It can be very effective in helping sleep.
4. Inositol and 5-HTP helps the function or production of serotonin, a calming neurotransmitter, and they can deepen REM sleep.  They should not be used in people taking serotonin altering medication.
5. Amino acid compounds, such as L-tryptophan, GABA, Glycine, and Taurine: While these are effective for some people they can aggravate conditions such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and mania.

Herbs (try these in tincture, tea, or capsule form)
1. Sedatives (i.e. causes sleepiness): Hops, Skullcap, Lavendar, Avena or Oatseed.  Some people place lavendar flowers in their pillow cases or place the essential oil on their pillow.
2. Calming to the nerves: Passion Flower, Kava Kava, Valerian, Lemonbalm, Verbena, California Poppy, Avena or Oatseed.  While St. Johns Wort is also calming to the nerves it’s strongly ill-advised to take for anyone who is also taking medication for depression that increases serotonin levels as St. Johns Wort will increase it too.  St. Johns Wort is also ill-advised to take alongside many medications as it can increase the transit time of some drugs making them less effective.

Homeopathic Remedies
Note: homeopathic remedies are highly specific.  If they don’t work, you haven’t matched symptoms well enough or more symptoms need to be taken into account.
1. Coffee: used if the insomnia is caused by an active and alert mind.
2. Aconite: used if the insomnia is accompanied by a fearful anxiety with restlessness.
3. Nux-v: useful in any circumstance involving overuse of stimulants or when anger, irritability or impatience is involved.
4. Arsenicum: used if the insomnia is experienced by a restlessness, anxious, tense person.
5. Arnica: most useful in jetlag insomnia.
6. Cocculus: useful for those who’ve had their sleep cycle thrown off from caring for the sick or working the nightshift.
7. Ignatia: useful in times where insomnia is caused by grief.

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