Lack of sleep can be a terrible thing. It affects your mood, your physical condition and mental acuity. When it is chronic and insomnia becomes a part of your life, it can get overwhelming. In all cases chronic insomnia starts with a specific trigger such as being woken by a newborn baby, or suffering an emotional upheaval or stress, and then is maintained either because the original stressor does not subside or because your body’s response to it becomes habitual. This post examines the chemical and hormonal background behind insomnia with a view to increasing your understanding and therefore your ability to overcome it.
It is so easy to say this and hard to hear, but your mindset can be an important factor in overcoming insomnia. I think it is very important that once you understand some of the underlying hormonal influencers on your sleep patterns, you can start to feel more in control and empowered around your sleep issue. The moment you relinquish the idea of you being able to effect a change, then you also give up the power to help yourself.
Anxiety and insomnia
More often than not anxiety plays a major part in insomnia. Even if anxiety was not your original trigger, the sense of anxiety that arises around not being able to sleep means that it can become a significant and understandable factor. This is commonly treated with Homeopathy.
Let’s take a look at the main chemical and hormonal influencers on our sleep.
This is our get up and go hormone. Levels are at their peak in the morning to get you going, and they drop at night to allow you to switch off and sleep. If you drink coffee or have other stimulants, or you are under stress, your adrenaline levels do not fall and this can pevent you from getting to sleep.
This is a neurotransitter called gamma aminobutyric acid. It has many functions but a key one is that is inhibits the production of adrenaline; so activities you can do that increase your production of GABA are important if you have difficulty getting to sleep. When your levels of GABA are low you feel anxious, and depressed and when your levels rise your heart beat slows, your breathing rate slows and your muscles relax. GABA can be bought as an amino acid in some health food stores and taken as a supplement.
Seratonin and Melatonin
Seretonin is known as the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. If we have low levels we can feel ‘down’ and Seratonin levels rise as adrenaline levels fall during the evening. As it gets darker outside, Melatonin levels (which is made from Seratonin) rise. This is why jetlag can be such as issue for some people as their wake-sleep cycle is disrupted and it takes a few days for their body to make the right nuerotransmitters in the right amounts for them to settle into a new sleep cycle. The key piece of information here is that if you do not have sufficient levels of Seratonin, you cannot make enough Melatonin and Seratonin is made from Typtophan. If you are lacking Melatonin your sleep symptoms may be some or all of the following:
1. Difficulty getting to sleep
2. Difficulty staying asleep/sleeping ‘lightly’
3. Waking very early
So What Can you do to help Yourself?
1.Take specific Nutrients
One way to treat a lack of Seratonin is to supply your body with the nutrients it needs to make it. Seratonin is made from 5HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan). This
is basically a combination of Trypophan and the following nutrients:
Taking a high potency supplement containing these nutrients should support the production of Seratonin and therefore Melatonin.
2. Eat more Tryptophan containing foods such as chicken, cheese, tuna, tofu, eggs, nuts, seeds.
As a Homeopath I would not reccommend taking Melatonin as it can have some unpleasant side effects. When insomnia is really entrenched however and the anxiety and emotional and mental root causes are being addressed, it can sometimes help to take a supplement of 5HTP. As the buidling block of Seratonin and therefore Melatonin , this allows your body to convert the correct amount and means your body is being encouraged to do most of the work to help get you back on track.
This can break the clinical loop that has been established and can be very useful when patients are on insomnia pharmaceutical drugs as it can enable them to reduce their dosages. 5-HTP needs to be taken 1-4 MG 45 minutes before sleep with a carbohydrate snack such as a cracker. Eating carbohydrate with your supplement cause the release of insulin and insulin transports tryptophan to the brain.According to experts 5-HTP should not be taken in combination with SSRI anti-depressant drugs so please consult your GP.
4. Magnesium and Calcium
Both these minerals work synergistically to calm and relax muscles and nerves. If you suffer from insomnia you may find it helpful to take a supplement.
Homeopathy and Insomnia
While there is sometimes a place for a very short term use of sleep medications, they have been shown to cause dependency after 7 days. Homeopathy is a good support for stress, anxiety and trauma. It is also effective when well prescribed at treating sleep issues. If you are already on longterm sleep pharmaceutical drugs you need to reduce the dose very slowly in conjunction with your GP because most insomnia medications cause the body to be less sensitive to your own GABA so you can experience a rebound level of anxiety. Homeopathy can really help at this time but the ideal time to visit your Homeopath for insomnia treatment is before you get to the stage when you need to take any pharmaceutical drugs for insomnia.
Happy Homeopathic prescribing 🙂
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© Sam Adkins 2010
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This article was brought to you by Sam Adkins The Homeopathic Coach who teaches families about healthy living and natural remedies using homeopathic medicine. An internationally renowned expert, her helpful articles are regularly syndicated online. She publishes the ezine Homeopathy@Home to provide free Homeopathic tips, tools and resources to educate and inspire you to use Homeopathy at home. www.thehomeopathiccoach.com