Healthy Decisions for the Love of Health

Considerations In Combating INSOMNIA

An estimated 50 million Americans report they have trouble sleeping. Ten million of them consult a physician about the problem each year.

Much research has been done by medical science to solve the problem, but sure-fire cures have not been uncovered. Unfortunately, most people resort to sleeping pills when many other natural, more healthful alternatives exist. Experience gleaned by HealthSmart Nutrition over the years has led to the observation that generalizations regarding causes of insomnia are inappropriate. From HealthSmart Nutrition's perspective, it appears that causes of insomnia, like most health problems, are individual matters. What helps to alleviate the problem for one person may have no effect on another. Further, if a biochemical imbalance exists, what will help resolve insomnia in one may often worsen it in someone else.

As opposed to a problem that is essentially physiologically based such as insufficient HCL secretion in the stomach, insomnia may involve a more complex psycho/physio/biochemical relationship.

Regardless, it is believed that insomnia is an indication of metabolic imbalance, whether physical, biochemical and/or psychological. It has been observed that through an attentive, detailed, systematic approach to the problem, insomnia may often be combatted by eliminating factors which contribute to imbalancing one's metabolism and by properly addressing nutritional individuality, or in HealthSmart Nutrition's parlance, your Metabolic Type.

NON-BIOCHEMICAL CONSIDERATIONS

One or any number of the following may apply to any individual case of insomnia and therefore should be considered by any insomniac:

  • Reserve the bedroom for primarily sleep activities

Watching TV in the bedroom, using the bedroom for exercise, working at a desk in the bedroom or doing paperwork in bed may condition the mind for activity at that location instead of rest. Make the bedroom a sanctuary for rest and sleep only.

  • Spend no more than 20-30 minutes trying to fall asleep

After that time, if you haven't fallen asleep, get up and do something productive (out of the bedroom). Return to bed only when you become tired. This will help habituate the mind to sleeping in the bedroom. If you don't sleep, leave.

  • Engage in a regular exercise routine

Research has shown that regular exercise improves the quality of sleep. Naturally, it is best not to exercise just before going to bed. Be forewarned that occasional exercise will not be of much help, but that regular exercise can be.

  • Regarding waking and sleeping patterns

On this subject, there is considerable disagreement over what is proper. It is HealthSmart Nutrition's contention that there is no one answer that applies to everyone, that it is a matter, once again, of individuality.

Experience suggests that personal experimentation is usually required to identify what is appropriate for each person. One side feels very strongly that regular waking and sleeping hours should be kept and that you should get up at the usual time even if you slept fitfully the night before--otherwise, you won't be tired enough to fall asleep the next night.

The other side proposes just the opposite. From this perspective it is felt that because people are different, they naturally have different sleep cycles just as different requirements for sleep. Just because the normal societal work day is 9-5, this is not necessarily suitable for everyone; therefore, one should sleep when one becomes tired and arise when one awakes, even though the times may be unusual and the patterns irregular. Put another way, one should follow one's own natural rhythms.

  • Buffer yourself from noise when trying to sleep

Although you might not feel that you are normally bothered by noise, EEG (electroencephalograph) brain wave pattern tests show that noise disrupts sleep.

  • Try different methods to help you relax before going to bed

A warm bath; massage; mental relaxation techniques like meditation or visualization; slow, deep breathing; and, some light stretching or yoga may all help prepare the mind and body for sleep.

  • Regulate the room temperature to be suitable for your needs

Some people sleep more soundly in a warm room. Others sleep much better in a cool room. Experiment to find out what works best for you. A room that is too warm or too cold can disturb sleep by causing the body to "work" too hard to adapt to the environment.

  • Leave your window open to allow at least a little fresh air to circulate while sleeping

An ample supply of oxygen assists your body while sleeping in its repair and rejuvenatory activity.

  • Don't linger in bed after awakening from a normal rest period

Research has found that excessive time in bed may be related to fragmented and shallow sleep patterns.

  • Consider sleeping alone if you have insomnia

Sharing a bed can disturb rather than enhance sleep for some people.

GENERAL BIOCHEMICAL CONSIDERATIONS

In the opinion of HealthSmart Nutrition, the quality of one's sleep, like the quality of one's activity, is dependent on the quality of energy production in the body. When body chemistry is balanced, the body's cells, organs, glands and systems function efficiently and harmoniously. The result is defined as "good health". Part and parcel of this state is the ability to sleep well, both soundly and deeply.

In order to maintain a state of biochemical balance, it is necessary to address one's biochemical individuality by eating those foods which help maintain balance and staying away from substances which contribute to imbalance. Research suggests the following should be avoided by anyone having sleep problems:

Avoid products containing caffeine such as coffee, black tea, chocolate, colas and caffeine "pep" pills. Even if you think you are not bothered by caffeine, EEG tests prove otherwise. Caffeine stimulates the sympathetic division ("fight or flight" part) of the autonomic nervous system, and the adrenals and thyroid which are major energy-producing glands of the body's endocrine system.

Avoid using tobacco which contains nicotine and the heavy toxic metal, cadmium, both which act as stimulants and contribute to disrupting sleep by imbalancing body chemistry.

Avoid using alcohol. Although some may find that alcohol helps them to relax or even to fall asleep, research shows that sleep patterns will be disrupted and the quality of sleep will be diminished.

Avoid using sugar, especially near bedtime. Sugar can act as a stimulant, particularly in certain metabolic types. But, regardless of one's metabolic type, sugar is a very inefficient source of fuel for the body and will not provide a steady "burn" through the night.

Avoid using sleeping pills on a regular basis. According to medical researchers, sleeping pills, like alcohol, disrupt normal sleep patterns. You may also develop a tolerance to them, which means that in time you need more and more to have the same effect.

INDIVIDUALIZED BIOCHEMICAL CONSIDERATIONS

The kinds of foods that one should eat are a matter of nutritional individuality and can only be recommended after proper analysis of one's metabolic type (Contact HealthSmart Nutrition for information about determining your own metabolic type).

Food provides fuel for the body. Like the fuel for a car, if the fuel is not correct for the engine, the energy produced will be poor compared to what it can and should be. The result can be disrupted sleep patterns at best, and may prove to be a major causative factor in full-blown insomnia. Since people do have different requirements for nutrition, what may help one person to alleviate insomnia may cause it in another. Nonetheless, the following are the major areas of concern in all metabolic types:

EATING BEFORE BED To eat or not to eat, that is the question....or at least part of the question. The other part concerns what to eat!

In certain metabolic types (parasympathetics or fast oxidizers) there is usually a requirement to eat before going to bed. If these types don't eat, they usually will experience difficulty falling asleep, and if they do fall asleep they will invariably awaken in the middle of the night. Usually, their ideal fuel mixture is a snack that contains a good amount of protein and fat. A high carbohydrate snack may help some, but is usually not sufficient to carry them through the night. In these metabolic types, a high carbohydrate snack will actually be stimulating (by increasing the oxidation rate) and thus, prevent sleep.

Other metabolic types (sympathetics and slow oxidizers) generally don't do well eating before bed. They often complain that when they eat before going to bed, food feels like a rock in their stomachs. If they do eat a bedtime snack, they do best eating food high in carbohydrate with just a little protein and fat, like a small bowl of cereal with milk or some fruit and yogurt.

SALT Parasympathetics and slow oxidizers tend to do better including high sodium foods and some salt in their diets to help balance body chemistry. But, in the sympathetics and fast oxidizers, salt often has too strong of a stimulating effect on the adrenals and if eaten around bedtime may contribute to insomnia.

CALCIUM In the autonomic dominant, calcium usually acts as a stimulant by innervating the sympathetic system. Thus, in the sympathetic dominant, calcium supplementation before bed is not recommended. However, in the extreme parasympathetic dominant who has problems awakening in the night with hunger pains, calcium may help diminish the appetite by restoring autonomic balance. In this type, calcium supplementation before bed may help prevent the body chemistry from going too parasympathetic during the night.

In the oxidative dominant, calcium tends to have a sedating, calming effect by slowing down the rate of oxidation. When the oxidation rate gets too fast, carbohydrate is "burned" too quickly. The result is that one also runs out of fuel too quickly as well. When this occurs at night, insomnia may result. Calcium supplementation before bed for the fast oxidizer may help prevent this from occurring. (CAL-COM)

MAGNESIUM In the autonomic dominant, magnesium acts as a natural tranquilizer by inhibiting the influence of the sympathetic system. In the sympathetic insomniac characterized by racing thoughts or an inability to shut the mind off when trying to sleep, magnesium has been found to be an excellent bedtime supplement. (MAGNESIUM-COM)

POTASSIUM Whereas calcium is the mineral which acts as the major stimulator of the sympathetic system, potassium is considered the major innervator of the parasympathetic system. In the sympathetic dominant, magnesium and potassium work well together in producing a calming, sedating influence.

On the other hand, in the fast oxidizer, potassium tends to have a stimulating effect. The result may be a strongly increased appetite. (POTASSIUM-COM)

THYMUS Whereas the sympathetic system is responsible for energy, motivation, get-up-and-go, the parasympathetic system controls immune function, digestion and all repairing/rebuilding activity. Thus, it is the parasympathetic system which normally dominates during sleep. Certain glands are related to the sympathetic system while others are more related to the parasympathetic system. The thymus is considered to be the major "parasympathetisizing" gland of the endocrine system. Stimulation and support of the thymus has been observed to increase parasympathetic tone, particularly when employed along with magnesium and potassium. (THYMOTRATE)

Other parasympathetic glandulars, singularly or in formulas, may be used along with thymus for a stronger parasympathetisizing influence. (SYNERGY-COM #1, IMMUNO-COM).

TRYPTOPHANE This amino acid when taken before bed is known to encourage sleep, particularly when combined with some carbohydrate. It appears to be most effective for parasympathetics, but has not been found to be of much help in other metabolic types with insomnia. (TRYPTOTRATE)

ADRENAL In rare instances, insomnia may be related to adrenal insufficiency. This type of insomnia is characterized by being able to fall asleep, but "jerking" awake 20-30 minutes later. It may be accompanied by feelings of panic and/or a racing heart rate. Some adrenal support along with other nutritional support of the sympathetic system may be very helpful. Often a bedtime snack including meat or poultry is also of benefit. When adrenal insufficiency is the case, an herbal blend of capsicum, Siberian ginseng root, and gotu kola--normally an energy-improving combination--may prove very helpful. (ADRENOTRATE)

HERBS Herbs used in tea or capsules may be very helpful in helping to support and balance body chemistry. Herbs are almost always better when taken in combination as opposed to individually. They are available from most health food stores prepackaged blends.

Valerian root, wild lettuce, blue vervain, catnip, blue violet, passion flower, and scullcap are likely best for sympathetics. Comfrey root, horsetail (shavegrass), oat straw, lobelia, chamomile and dandelion may be more suited for parasympathetics.

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It is evident that insomnia is a problem with many possible causes. Nonetheless, if viewed as the body's attempt to communicate in its own language that an imbalance exists, it may provide an important clue to help restore biochemical balance to one's system and health to one's life.

 

Copyright 2005 HealthSmart Nutrition. All rights reserved.
Revised: June 23, 2007

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