Insomnia and Sleep Disorders

a woman having trouble sleeping

Ten to fifteen percent of adults who visit their general practitioners complain of chronic insomnia. It can cause much stress and worry, and prescription sleeping pills are no long-term solution. There are generally three categories of this sleep disorder: sleep latency, or difficulty falling asleep; frequent waking after going to sleep; and waking early, which may stem from depression.

There are many natural remedies that may help one fall asleep, but it should be noted that some people have disrupted sleep at night due to blood sugar imbalance, hormones, caffeine intake, side effects of prescription drugs, and the daily stress of life.  Those prone to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) should snack between meals and before bedtime on a complex carbohydrate. Those with diabetes (high blood sugar) should work with their doctor to lower levels for better sleep.

In some people, regular exercise in your schedule may help to balance stressors (mostly adrenal stress) that can contribute to insomnia.  Listening to soft music before bed, taking a warm bath, and visualizing peaceful, relaxing images can also be utilized.

A person may suffer from more than one category of insomnia. There can also be disruption of short-wave sleep and disruption of paradoxical or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which may induce mental exhaustion, tension, and irritability.

TIPS TO HELP YOU SLEEP:

  • Don’t drink alcohol to “help” you sleep.
  • Follow a regular bedtime routine.
  • Exercise a few hours before bed to tire yourself out.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine (a hot bath or aromatherapy.)
  • Associate your bed with sleep by creating a quiet sleeping space.
  • If you have insomnia, don’t nap during the day.
  • High levels of manganese and/or iron in the body.

SLEEP APNEA

a clock, set to 12:32, entwined in bed sheets

Sleep apnea is a serious disorder in which people stop breathing repeatedly during the night.  These gaps in breathing (known as apneas) usually last at least 10 seconds and are commonly accompanied by snoring.  Sleep apnea can severely disrupt normal sleep cycles and prevent patients from getting a restful sleep. Consequently, these people often complain about daytime sleepiness.  Sleep apnea may affect up to 12 million Americans, and it frequently goes undiagnosed. There are generally 4 categories for treatment:

  • Lifestyle changes can be helpful for patients with mild obstructive sleep apnea.  If overweight, they can be encouraged to lose weight. Patients are encouraged to avoid alcohol, sedatives, and antihistamines that may make the airway more likely to collapse during sleep.  Additionally, patients can change sleep positions (from supine to lateral) which may promote easier breathing. Keep the bedroom cool, quiet, and go to bed the same time each night.
  • Drug Therapy is generally not highly successful, but most physicians will try it to see if benefits are gained.  Antidepressant drugs, tranquilizers, and hypnotics are prescribed to try and minimize the effects of apnea.  Natural supplements can also be utilized for benefit. Sometimes, thyroid hormone replacement therapy may decrease apnea attacks in patients suffering from hypothyroidism.
  • Devices provide continuous airway pressure (CPAP) during sleep and are considered the treatment of choice for all types of sleep apnea.  CPAP is typically used along with supplemental oxygen. CPAP involves having the patient sleep with a nose and face mask connected to a mechanical device that delivers oxygen at a controlled pressure.
  • Surgery – interventions with surgical procedures may be necessary with obstructive sleep apnea patients who continue to have impairment despite CPAP.  Some procedures include tracheotomy and tonsillectomy.

DIET

Attempt to eat a healthy diet. Sleeplessness is often a sign of poor nutrition. Eliminate caffeine, chocolate, soda and cola, and coffee especially before bed. Eliminate other heavy, stimulating foods (spices, fried foods, fatty foods, meat) before bed. Alcohol should be restricted. Avoid foods high in tyrosine before bedtime (bacon, cheese, eggplant, ham, sausage, wine, tomatoes), which increase the release of nor epinephrine, a brain stimulator.

It is beneficial to eat more foods containing tryptophan in the evening (figs, bananas, milk, tuna, turkey, whole gains, yogurt, nut butter), which promote sleep.

SUPPLEMENT PROTOCOL

  1. MELATONIN
    The primary hormone of the pineal gland acts as a powerful “chronobiotic,” maintaining normal circadian rhythms in patients with sleep difficulties. Dosages of 1-5 mg a night can help get patients off prescription drugs. Try not to use it every night, but 3-4 times a week may be sufficient. Melatonin is a hormone and is contraindicated in patients with clinical depression and Parkinson’s disease. This supplement is also useful in jet lag.
  2. VALERIAN ROOT
    The active ingredients in this herb bind to the same receptor sites as drugs like Valium, but without the side effects. This natural herb is proven to help relieve tension and induce sleep, in addition to having a tranquilizing effect. Valerian allows you to wake up feeling refreshed and relaxed. Dosage: 400-900 mg before bedtime. One study showed that valerian-hops in combination with diphenhydramine (Benadryl) rated insomnia severity lower.
  3. CALCIUM with MAGNESIUM
    When taken in a ratio of calcium/magnesium 2:1, magnesium will help to relax the muscles and may be beneficial before bedtime to promote sleep. Taking these minerals together may nutritionally support sleep and general relaxation. Dosage: Calcium 1,000-1,500 mg daily; Magnesium 400-600 mg daily.
  4. 5-HYDROXTRYPTOPHAN (5-HTP)
    This amino acid is a nutrient that converts into serotonin, and then melatonin. It can be a safe substitute for drugs like trazodone. Especially improves sleep quality by increasing REM sleep, and is reported to reduce sleep latency and also decreasing waking time. Take 50-150 mg of 5-HTP at least 20-30 minutes before you go to bed.
  5. L-THEONINE
    An amino acid found in green tea, L-theonine is a safe alternative to kava and other prescription anti-anxiety medicines because it effectively relieves anxiety and promote relaxation without promoting sedation or grogginess. Theonine has the ability to promote deep muscle relaxation and improve quality sleep. Dosage: 50-200mg daily.
  6. PASSION FLOWER
    This is an effective sedative herb (from dried flowers and fruits of a vine in the family Passifloracae) that is prepared as a tea and a tincture. It can be safely given to children who have sleep problems or hyperactivity. Dosage for kids: 10-15 drops at bedtime or as needed. Adults can be given 4-8 grams as a tea at bedtime.
  7. B-COMPLEX VITAMINS
    The B vitamins help to promote a restful state. They are frequently referred to as the “stress” vitamins, not because they work like a tranquilizer, but because they aid in the rejuvenation of cells associated with the nervous system. Vitamin B5 is good for relieving stress, inositol enhances EM sleep, and niacin amide promotes serotonin production. Dosage: 25-100mg daily.
  8. ST. JOHN’S WORT
    St John’s wort is most commonly taken to treat mild to moderate depression, however, when taken over time it can help induce better sleep patterns. Dosage: 100 mg up to 3 times a day.
  9. RHODIOLA ROSEA
    Rhodiola rosea is an herb that has been categorized as an adaptive because of its ability to increase resistance to all types of stressors. This herb has been reported to reduce mental fatigue, improve sleep patterns, and enable a reduced need for sleep. Dosage: 30-600mg daily.
  10. LAVENDER
    Lavender is an aromatic essential oil that helps induce a state of relaxation. Dosage: Used as an essential oil, read the mixing instructions on the container.
  11. KAVA KAVA
    Kava kava is a large shrub cultivated in the Pacific islands. This effective but controversial herb (some liver toxicity has been associated with overuse of kava) improves sleep quality in healthy people, and may help with middle-of-the-night sleeplessness. Dosage: 50-100 mg before bed, but do not take every night.
  12. METHYLCOBALAMIN
    The use of methylcobalamin (Vitamin B12) in the treatment of a variety of sleep-wake disorders is very promising. Although the exact mechanism of action is not known, it is possible that methylcobalamin is needed for the synthesis of melatonin.
  13. VITAMIN C with BIOFLAVONOIDS
    Vitamin C and quercetin are important nutrients to relieve stress on the adrenal glands, thus contributing to relaxation. Dosage: 500-1,000 mg at bedtime.
  14. CATNIP TEA, HOPS, CAMOMILE TEA, SKULLCAP, LEMON BALM
    Medicinally these herbs act as true herbal sedatives. The sedative constituents are believed to be in the aromatic oils.  Hops has traditionally been used for nervousness, ulcers, and excitability. Dosage: See package.
  15. SUNTHEANINE
    Suntheanine is a Japanese-researched herb that can improve the efficiency of sleep. Patients experience fewer nightmares and a better mental state. Dosage: 200mg.
  16. CREATINE
    Researchers report that creatine supplementation ameliorates the negative effects of sleep deprivation. Extended lack of sleep will stress the mind, ability of the mid to concentrate, memory, and physical tasks performance.  Creatine can improve all these functions in a short period of time. Dosage: 5 grams 3-4 times a day.
  17. ACUPUNCTURE, BIOFEEDBACK, CHIROPRACTIC ADJUSTMENTS, HYPNOSIS, and THERAPEUTIC TOUCH

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