We’re an exhausted world, yet millions of people suffer from insomnia. Those who need sleep – who may even be desperate for it – yet cannot fall asleep and stay asleep suffer from insomnia. The National Sleep Foundation Recommends getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Most of us are happy to eke out five! Insomnia is a big reason for this problem.
What Causes Insomnia?
The causes of insomnia are many, including exercising too late in the day, and eating at irregular intervals, thus interrupting healthy circadian rhythms (sleep-wake cycles).
Poor sleep can also be attributed to our habit of staying “plugged in” at all hours of the day. Research has shown that simply turning off our cell phones and computers at least an hour before bed may help the brain to make more of the hormones we need to sleep better.
Additional health issues may be contributing to your insomnia such as:
- Upper respiratory distress (asthma, a cold, flu)
- Gastrointestinal issues (acid reflux)
- Sleep disorders such as snoring, sleep talking, sleep walking, etc.
- Chronic Pain
- Neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s
- Change in sleep patterns due to the aging process
The Master Clock
Within each of us is a “master clock.” This is a group of cells in the hypothalamus area of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN. The SCN contains about 20,000 nerve cells. The way these nerves communicate with the rest of the brain indicates when we get tired, when we get hungry, and when we should wake up. These are all controlled by hormones.
When it is time for us to sleep the body usually creates melatonin and serotonin, both precursors to DMT. Some people know this hormone for advancing human experience, but DMT, along with its precursor hormones is also very important to our sleep cycles.
When the SCN is disrupted due to lifestyle choices, it can make getting to sleep, and staying asleep very challenging. The following things can negatively impact the SCN:
- Jet-lag from travel
- Lack of exercise
What Does Insomnia Do to Your Health?
Insomnia can cause all kinds of additional health problems, aside from making you interminably sleepy. Without being addressed, insomnia can cause:
- Neurological impairment
- Low energy
- Increased risk of accidents at work
- Poor work performance
- High blood pressure and heart disease
- Obesity (Poor sleep leads to poor food choices as it causes us to crave sweets and simple carbohydrates to get a false hormonal high.)
Allopathic Cures for Insomnia
Over-the-counter sleep medications and pharmaceutical medications account for more than $3.83 billion in sales, with profits expected to grow past many pharmaceutical meds. If you look at the money trail alone, you can see that this is a serious problem affecting far too many people. Do allopathic medications really work to help someone get a good night’s rest, though?
First, sleeping pills can be highly addictive. They can also be very dangerous when mixed with other medications. Studies further suggest that some OTC sleep-aids only help you to fall asleep 6 minutes faster. This isn’t a very impressive benefit for the possible side effects that these medications can cause.
Then there are the prescription sleep drugs. One of the most popular sleeping pills prescribed can cause:
- Muscle aches
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Memory loss
- Double vision
- Swollen neck glands
- Voice changes
- Body aches, and the list goes on.
Natural Cures for Insomnia
Some people turn to natural remedies to help them fall asleep. Many of these can be very helpful. Natural remedies do not cause addiction nor the myriad side effects that accompany the use of pharmaceutical and OTC drugs.
The use of aromatherapy is not only a pleasant way to help you sleep better, but can support your health in additional ways. Our olfactory nerves (the nerves that terminate in our noses) send a signal to the brain to relax when we smell certain scents. Aromatherapy also calms the autonomic nervous system which normally triggers our fight-or-flight response. Try the following:
- Lavender – Not only does this essential oil help you sleep better, it can also reduce anxiety and depression.
- Yuzu Citrus – This is a heady, happy smell that is in most citrus fruits. A new study from Japan suggests that this scent can lower your heart rate in just ten minutes, and also help to support better sleep.
- Clary Sage – This aroma can reduce anxiety and calm the mind while helping you sleep better at night.
- Bergamot – This scent can lower your heart rate, reduce stress, and has been used for centuries for stress and insomnia.
- Ylang Ylang – This scent can lower your stress levels, calm the nervous system and support better sleep.
- Roman Chamomile – This plant can be used in aromatherapy or even brewed as a tea to support sound sleep.
Some people prefer to supplement melatonin – the hormone which helps us sleep – to cure their insomnia. .05 to 5 mg of melatonin is the most-often used amount of melatonin.
Our bodies make their own melatonin. Normally, these levels naturally begin to rise in the mid-to late evening, preparing us for sleep. They remain high for most of the night, and then drop in the early morning hours. We can interrupt the body’s ability to make melatonin by not getting enough sunlight in the day time, and by being exposed to artificial light at night.
When our bodies don’t seem to make enough of this important sleep hormone, people turn to supplements. However, this method has a few possible side effects such as:
- Reliance on melatonin to get to sleep (addiction)
- Vivid dreams
- Morning grogginess
- Lower body temperature
- General sleepiness (throughout the day)
- Changes in blood pressure
There are many herbal remedies you can try for insomnia as well. Try:
- Kava Kava
- Chamomile Tea
- Passion flower
- California Poppy
You don’t want to practice a vigorous yoga session with a hundred Sun Salutations just before bed – as their name implies, these yoga postures were meant to help you great the new day. Instead, try some relaxed postures and some deep breathing to help prepare your body for sleep.
Meditation is one of the most successful ways of inducing a relaxed sleep that will help you drift off to sleep at night. It changes your brain wave state from active, theta and gamma to a more relaxed alpha state.
to Try an especially successful meditation technique called yoga nidra. It will have you sleeping like a baby in no time.
Traditional Chinese Medicine for Insomnia
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can also help to address sleep problems. TCM practitioners usually try to reduce excess heat in the body with acupuncture, herbs, qi gong, and moxibustion.
Practical Life Advice for Getting Better Sleep
Some of the best ways to get better sleep are also the simplest. Here are a few practical tips, in closing, to help you fight insomnia:
- Turn of all electrical devices with bright lights (phone, television, computers, tablets, etc.) at least two hours before going to bed.
- Don’t try to go to bed too This can throw off your body’s regular sleep cycles. If you are exhausted, simply go to bed 30-45 minutes earlier so as not to disrupt your master clock.
- Avoid caffeine at least five hours before bedtime.
- Reduce noise. If you can’t control noise outside your home that is keeping you up, try some foam earplugs. They are a life saver.
- Get regular exercise. Though you should avoid exercise in the late afternoon and evening if you suffer from insomnia, regular exercise in the early part of the day is great for good sleeping!
- Skip the nightcap and avoid alcohol. It may knock you out now, but it can lose its ability to do so over time. Instead, drink some cherry juice just before bed. It is naturally high in melatonin.
- Make your room as dark as possible with heavy curtains or use a sleep mask to keep light from entering your eyes at night. This will help your body make more natural melatonin and regulate the master clock.
- If you have a busy mind at night, try meditation or soft music just before drifting off.
- Anxiety and stress are big contributors to sleep loss. Try breathing deeply, or get a massage a few hours before bed time to reduce anxious thoughts.
- Swiss researchers found that a rocking motion like you would find in a hammock or rocking chair can help soothe the nervous system and contribute to better sleep.
- Sleep isn’t an on-off switch. It takes a little time for a healthy body to prepare for rest. So, start your bedtime ritual well before you plan to go to bed. Take a hot bath, read a book in a quiet place, and let your body and mind unwind.
- Count sheep – literally. One of the best remedies for a too-busy brain before bed is counting sheep. The activity forces you to think about something repetitive and calming instead of all the things that have your mind racing.