Beach Metro Community News
One of the most common problems that I hear from patients is that they do not get enough sleep. In many cases, this lack of sleep is by choice (staying up late to watch TV, going out with friends, etc.) however, for some individuals, sleep deprivation is not something they voluntarily choose. Insomnia is a common complaint and affects at least one out of every four people in Canada and can be quite severe and even debilitating at times.
Lack of sleep not only results in fatigue, but it can often also lead to depression, forgetfulness, and in the worst case, accidents. (statistics show that the incidence of car accidents increases by 23% on the Monday following Daylight Saving Time when clocks go forward).
Why is sleep so important?
While you are sleeping, your body makes extra protein molecules to help repair cell damage caused by stress, infection, pollutants, etc. Sleep also helps to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, stress and inflammation in the body, thereby reducing the risk of heart attacks and stroke. Getting adequate rest also improves memory, concentration, and brain function in general. Sleep can also help with weight loss, as it affects hormones such as ghrelin and leptin, which are responsible for controlling appetite. Lastly, sleep can help prevent depression as it impacts many biochemicals (including serotonin), which are related to depression. For all of these reasons, it is vitally important for everyone to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.
Address the cause of insomnia
As with any condition, it is important to identify the cause of the insomnia. With my patients, one of the most common things that prevents them from sleeping is stress. Often people may feel exhausted, but cannot shut their minds off when they go to bed. Thinking about the stress at work or in their family life keeps them alert and unable to fall asleep. Other causes of insomnia can include: discomfort from pain, restless leg syndrome, hormonal imbalances, blood sugar fluctuations, food allergies, sleep disorders, and the consumption of foods, supplements, or medications that are overly stimulating.
Naturopathic treatments for insomnia
Herbs such as chamomile, lemon balm or passionflower can promote relaxation, while Valerian can be sedating for some, but stimulating for others. Herbs such as rhodiola, licorice, or Siberian ginseng can aid the body to cope with stress. Nutrients such as calcium and magnesium taken before bed can also be helpful for inducing sleep. Other herbs or nutrients may be more beneficial for an individual, depending on the cause of the insomnia. There are also many homeopathic remedies which can help to address the reasons why a person may have difficulty sleeping, but this would require further investigation.
Other recommendations for insomnia
If the insomnia is stress-related, practise deep breathing, meditation, or some form of exercise that is not too stimulating at night. If you cannot turn your mind off before going to bed, keep a journal near you to write down things that you do not want to forget.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and processed foods. Eat wholesome and nutritional foods instead. Determine what your food allergies are as these can contribute to a disruption in sleep. Ensure adequate water intake for your body weight. Do not take B vitamins or other stimulating supplements close to bedtime. Also beware of taking medications late in the day which can increase energy (e.g. thyroid medication).
Make sure your bedroom is completely dark to allow the natural production of the hormone, melatonin, which helps to induce sleep. Remove electrical appliances such as an alarm clock, TV, cordless phone, computer, or electric blanket from your bedroom. Replace your mattress or pillow if they are affecting your quality of sleep.
If after following these above measures, your insomnia does not improve, you may need to see a healthcare practitioner to determine the true cause of your sleeplessness. After a thorough assessment, s/he will be able to develop an individualized treatment plan to treat the imbalances which may be causing the insomnia.
Note: This article is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace proper diagnosis and treatment by a qualified healthcare professional.