Insomnia is a common sleep disorder in which you have trouble falling and/ or staying asleep. The condition can be short-term (acute), or it can last a long time (chronic). It may also be intermittent or come and go. Acute insomnia lasts from one night to a few weeks. Insomnia is chronic when it happens at least three nights a week for three months or more. Regardless of your irregular sleep patterns, insomnia is a complicated condition and a barrier to optimal health. People with insomnia can feel dissatisfied with their sleep and usually experience one or more of the following symptoms: fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and decreased performance in work or at school.
Acute insomnia is brief and often happens because of life circumstances (for example, when you can’t sleep before an exam, or after receiving stressful or bad news). Many people may have experienced this type of passing sleep disruption, and generally, it tends to resolve without any treatment over time.
Chronic insomnia can have many causes. Changes in the environment, unhealthy sleep habits, shift work, other medical disorders, and certain prescription medications could lead to a long- term pattern of insufficient sleep. People with chronic insomnia generally require some form of behavioral therapy, natural remedies, or sleep prescription at least for a while.
The Relationship Between Insomnia and the Brain
In some cases, insomnia may be caused by an imbalance of certain neurotransmitters in the brain that are known to be involved with sleep and wakefulness. These include melatonin, serotonin, and dopamine. Many possible chemical interactions in the brain could interfere with sleep. They may explain why some people are biologically prone to insomnia and seem to struggle with sleep for many years without any specific identifiable cause. There is also a direct relationship between the sleep/wake cycle and the amount of serotonin and melatonin being secreted at the right time to enhance the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a biological clock innate in everyone, which is influenced by lightness and darkness, which sends signals from the optic nerve back to the brain.
Food and Drinks Which Can Improve Sleep
We usually hear about foods and beverages to avoid, which may directly affect your sleep. Of course, it is not recommended to drink caffeine and other heavy heartburn-inducing foods at night. However, some specific foods and drinks can actually help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
Consider putting these on your next grocery list:
- complex carbohydrates – popcorn, whole wheat crackers with nut butter
- nuts -almonds and walnuts contain melatonin
- cottage cheese-lean protein with amino acid tryptophan which increases serotonin
- warm milk
- fruits -bananas, pineapples, and oranges
How Lifestyle Changes Can Improve Your Sleep
There is no question that some form of working out or regular exercise has tremendous positive health benefits. This also includes improving sleep patterns for the millions of Americans who struggle with insomnia. Regular exercise can decrease stress, boost alertness during the day, and even enhance the quality of sleep. There is no one perfect exercise that will improve your sleep, but any type of movement is better than none. These four things have been clinically studied and proven to help with your sleep/wake cycles.
- Aerobic (cardio) exercise- any exercise that will get your heart rate up, such as running, brisk walking, cycling, or swimming. The goal should be to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercises weekly.
- Strength training- building muscle has been shown to improve the quality of sleep.
- Yoga – these relaxing poses and stretches along with deep calming breathing exercises can be especially helpful if stress is the cause of your poor sleep.
- Balancing hormones – there is a direct link between hormone imbalance of estrogen and progesterone levels and the onset of sleep disorders. It becomes most noted when women transition into menopause. Be sure to have your hormone levels checked regardless of age.
Prescription Sleep Meds or Natural Remedies: Which Is Right For You?
Obviously, there are millions of insomniacs who live on powerful prescription sleep meds like Ambien, Lunesta, and Xanax every night to achieve some level of quality sleep. Side effects from these medications are common, but the chance of addiction is even more concerning. It’s not that the patient necessarily gets addicted to the drugs themselves. The problem arises when the insomniac becomes accustomed to the good night’s sleep that the drug induces and does not want to stop taking the medication. The other problem with this is tolerance, which means the drug slowly stops working, even when higher doses are taken. The dual issues of addiction and tolerance cause physicians to be cautious when prescribing sleep medications.
The flip side of the therapeutic option is to take a natural alternative or natural remedy to calm the nervous system and improve the probability of achieving deep REM (rapid eye movement) dream sleep. Such calming herbs as passionflower, chamomile, and valerian root have been used for decades to reduce anxiety, relax the nervous system, and improve sleep. Many times, however, these herbal medicines are not powerful enough alone to overcome insomnia, and stronger natural remedies are indicated.
Natural Sleep–Inducing Therapies
Science has proven that quality sleep is absolutely essential for repair and rejuvenation, both mentally and physically. Regular quality sleep is needed to maintain homeostasis and to hopefully move towards optimal health. Countless studies link insomnia and poor quality sleep with multiple disorders, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, depression, and even some cancers. Sleep medicine experts have also proven that the brain detoxifies and cleanses each time you achieve quality REM sleep, further helping to protect against cognitive decline and potential future dementias.
If you are open to trying natural remedies to improve sleep performance, the following are the leaders in the class of natural sleep aids:
- MELATONIN – This is the hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of your circadian rhythm (24-hour internal clock) with sleep. Melatonin has proven to be effective for alleviating jet lag and for milder cases of insomnia.
- SLEEP PERFECT FORMULA – This unique blend of natural sleep ingredients can successfully calm the nervous system, reduce anxiety, and help people fall asleep and stay asleep. The key nutrients include magnesium, valerian root, GABA, 5 HTP, chamomile, and melatonin.
- GABA CALM – GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the main neuro-inhibitory transmitter in the brain. It has powerful direct effects and will calm and relax the nervous system. It also helps with cognition. This may be taken by itself, which many times is successful at helping people fall asleep and stay asleep.
- MAGNESIUM – This mineral should be included for anyone suffering from insomnia. Taken before bedtime, this trace mineral has a powerful effect on the relaxation of the nervous system. Magnesium is one of the most common nutrients that adults lack.
To be healthy and remain in optimal health, sleep is probably the most essential self-care component. You always have choices along your personal health journey, so, choose wisely.