A reader asked me for ideas about sleep and that reminded me I had never written a blog on that topic. We know that people who routinely get fewer than 7 hours sleep are subject to increase risk for a variety of unpleasant health issues, but sleeping pills may not be the best answer. Read the fine print on the package insert for sleep medications and you will see that there are potentially many very alarming side effects. There are some that are perhaps even more serious but that are not yet required to be in the warnings. In any case, sleep meds are not supposed to be used as a permanent solution. (We do not suffer from a deficiency of drugs.) Each person is different and means that there are many possible causes of sleeplessness. If you or someone you care about is looking for an answer, maybe there is a clue in the lists below.
Causes of sleeplessness and insomnia remedies:
- Medications that list insomnia in the fine print about side effects. Perhaps your doctor can find one that doesn’t affect sleep.
- Eating a heavy meal late at night may be fashionable, but it isn’t conducive to restful sleep. The body’s resources are busy trying to deal with the meal instead of doing the repair and restoring that is necessary to starting fresh the next day. It is best to allow at least two or three hours after eating before donning the night cap.
- Stimulating beverages or foods late in the day make it harder to relax. Most of us would soon catch on if we were kept up by coffee with dinner, but we don’t always think of tea, iced tea, sodas like Mountain Dew, double fudge cake or some headache medicines as sources of caffeine. Also, caffeine can stay in the system up to 24 hours. Most likely it will stay longer when the liver and detox pathways are not performing well.
- Not keeping the bedroom dark enough. Light wakes up our brains. The worst kind of light is from electronic screens such as the computer and phone. Television right before bed might not be the best idea either.
- Being keyed up. Reading or meditating can help. For me, although it breaks the light rule, a few minutes of a talk show comedy monolog helps me tune out. Focus on breathing. There are a number of systems of for doing this. Here is one from Andrew Weil, MD. I occasionally need something to keep my attention off of my work, so I recite the states alphabetically in my head while I breathe with each one. Anything may work that occupies your mind a bit but doesn’t stress…books of the bible, a vegetable for each letter, etc. If you are still keyed up, try the homeopathic Coffea Cruda which acts a bit like the opposite of caffeine.
- Lack of a regular schedule. It is easier to alter a schedule by setting an alarm to get up earlier than it is to force yourself to go to sleep at a certain time.
- An uncomfortable bed. Our sponsor, Naturepedic, has wonderfully comfortable beds, but also because they are organic, you won’t be breathing in chemicals all night.
- Nutritional deficiencies. The most obvious deficiency might be calming magnesium (see below), but the B-vitamins are important to normal nerve function. Even the tiny powerhouses in our cells (mitochondria) must have energy if we are going to sleep well. So, we could probably draw a dotted line from any nutrient to sleep.
- Friendly bacteria in our gut help with and respond to our circadian rhythms, so there’s another reason to take probiotics.
- Hormone imbalances can be a factor. For example, hot flashes for menopausal women. There is a lot of natural help for that problem.
- Exercise helps early in the day, but close to bedtime can rev us up.
- Bad habits such as staying in bed struggling for sleep make us expect trouble. We don’t want the bed to conjure up visions of frustration.
- Keeping the room too warm. If you don’t want to cool the whole house, is a window unit a possibility? Ceiling fan? Ideally, a warm bath followed by cool room.
- Pain is certainly a cause, but I can’t cover natural solutions today. Likewise, adrenal burnout. (But, if you suspect adrenal fatigue, don’t take adrenal boosting combinations late in the day. Adrenal Fatigue For Dummies by Richard Snyder, DO is a good book on the subject. Here is an interview we did with him.
Other potential remedies. (Not everyone has the same need or reaction, so some experimentation might be in order.)
- Take your magnesium at night with dinner or something like magnesium threonate even at bedtime (e.g. Brain Magnesium). There is also a topical magnesium that can be applied. Or, take an Epson salt bath.
- Melatonin works for some people for sleep as well as jet lag. I only need it infrequently and get by with ½ mg. But some need 3, 5 or even 10 mg. When taken in too large a dose for the person’s chemistry, some people will metabolize it into something that actually excites the brain. So, it is best to start small and work up.
- Herbal combinations with Valerian root are popular.
- Think about puppies.