Missing out on Restful Sleep?
Sleep deprivation is the number cause of fatigue and can lead to a combination of other problems. Disturbances of sleep can be due to a number of causes including hormonal changes, stress, a drop in blood sugar, pain, nervous system imbalances, eating patterns, overindulgence in alcohol and other factors.
Hormonal causes of sleep disturbance include menopausal changes or thyroid imbalance. Estrogen and progesterone have an effect on brain cells and fluctuations of these hormones are one of several changes in menopause that can cause insomnia. If circulating thyroid hormones are too high our basal metabolic rate increases, reducing the ability to engage in deep REM sleep. It may be difficult to know if your sleep disturbance is caused by hormonal changes and you should consult a physician if you feel this is a possibility for you. Menopause related insomnia could be alleviated with evening primrose oil, try taking 2,000 mg at bedtime. Black Cohosh is also helpful; 100 mg at bed can be effective. Black cohosh does not increase estrogen levels and therefore can also be safely taken by women undergoing breast cancer treatment.
Stress is a major culprit of sleep deprivation. It can be difficult to turn off our mind from our worries. This can make it difficult to get to sleep and to then stay asleep. We often don't unwind after working all day or we practice unhealthy self-soothing behaviors. For stress sufferers, make sure the last hour in the evening is relaxing. Don't watch TV or read action novels. Try calming your mind with meditation. Tapes can be helpful for this, or soft, relaxing music. Teas like chamomile or mint are gentle muscle relaxants and can promote restful sleep. Blocking out sensory stimuli is very helpful. Try wearing earplugs and make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible. Make sure you are warm enough for comfort. Interestingly, people who wear socks to bed fall asleep 50% faster than those who don't wear socks to bed.
Some people experience waking in the night because their blood sugar levels have dropped causing an internal alarm to go off. Strangely, they don't wake hungry so this type of "reactive hypoglycemia" goes undetected. If you have tried other methods for insomnia without success try having a protein (NOT carbohydrate) snack before bedtime. Peanut or other nut butters, cheese, tuna, chicken, turkey or a small protein drink without sugar can resolve insomnia for some.
Pain is a ruthless enemy that knows no boundaries. Chronic back pain or other pain can wake us during the night and make it difficult to return to sleep. Back pain can be worse at night for several reasons. As we work and move through the day our muscles shorten creating more tension in the back. Also our production of cortisol, our natural anti-inflammatory, drops in the evening leaving us susceptible to the elevation of pain causing chemicals. If you experience pain make sure you stretch before bed. Just ten minutes of stretching can make a big difference. Epsom salt baths help achy, sore muscles to feel better. Put a generous four cups of Epsom salts in your bath to create the right mineral concentration that allows muscles to relax fully.
Nervous system imbalances can create insomnia. Insomnia is a common symptom that accompanies depression and we know that depression is a brain, or nervous system, chemical imbalance. 5-hydroxytryptophan (5- HTP) has helped people sleep, as it is the precursor to serotonin, the brain chemical that helps us sleep and feel happy. Try taking 100 mg of 5- HTP with 10 mg vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is required for 5- HTP to be converted to serotonin. Many herbal and homeopathic remedies help balance the nervous system. The herbs hops, lemon balm and passionflower and valerian are two of many herbs called "nervines", that restore nervous system calmness. The homeopathic remedy "Calm's Forte" works great, and is safe and gentle.
Be cautious about eating too close to bedtime or over indulging in alcohol. Alcohol at higher levels prevents production of the brain chemicals needed for REM sleep, the deep last phase of sleep. If the digestive system is over active at bedtime this can interfere with restful sleep and cause strange dreams, leaving you puzzled at your relationships with others!
Remember that chronic insomnia is a disorder that must be properly diagnosed and treated. Lack of restful sleep will lead to fatigue, depression, increased pain and judgement impairment. Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that occurs during sleep that also should be ruled out if someone suffers from chronic fatigue. Sweet dreams!