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Insomnia - Great Sleep Explained
For anyone who has experienced a night of tossing and turning there is no denying that insomnia is a terribly frustrating state. Sleeplessness can manifest in two forms: Sleep on-set insomnia, which describes an inability to fall asleep and sleep maintenance insomnia, which occurs when one has difficulty staying asleep throughout the night. Both conditions are hazardous to your health and should not be taken lightly.
A staggering 70 million North Americans are currently suffering from sleep deprivation (1) and the consequences are far reaching. Your ability to sleep influences your healthy hormonal balance and conversely, your hormonal status influences your ability to sleep. During sleep, the body releases a powerful chemical messenger called Melatonin. Melatonin helps cool the body temperature and trigger the release of Human Growth Hormone. Melatonin acts as a potent anti-oxidant and immune booster (2) while HGH stimulates cellular regeneration and the repair of skin, bone and muscle tissue. (3) Sleep deprivation disrupts this natural rejuvenation process and research indicates “Chronic sleep loss could contribute to acceleration of the aging process” (4). It turns out the concept of “beauty sleep” is rooted in scientific truth, as deep, recuperative sleep supports regeneration and lack of sleep can speed degeneration.
The need for plenty of restful sleep goes far beyond the surface, dramatically impacting your ability to healthfully manage stress, metabolise food and maintain a balanced body weight. Even a few nights of sleep deprivation can impair your glucose tolerance and insulin response, creating a pre-diabetic condition in study subjects. (5) Another recent study confirms findings first discovered almost a decade ago; chronic lack of sleep triggers an elevation in stress hormones and a heightened daytime stress response. (6)
In addition to messing with mood, insomnia is often a contributing factor in weight gain and inability to lose weight, even when proper diet and exercise programs are employed. (7) By triggering the release of stress hormones which negatively impact blood sugar control and encourage abdominal weight gain, as well as stimulating the hormones that enhance appetite and diminishing the hormones that control appetite, sleeplessness is a fool-proof recipe for unwanted weight gain.
Disrupted sleep patterns have become so common place amongst Zoomers that lack of sleep, an inability to fall asleep and stay asleep, has become an accepted part of aging. Although the chemical messengers that promote restful sleep do naturally decline with age, sleep deprivation reduces the quality and quantity ofZwellspan**, and should not be accepted as inevitable.
**Zwellspan is a term we use to describe the positive quality of life that often seems to be out of our grasp as we age – improving your Zewllspan means regaining and maintaining the vigour and vitality you’re intended to have as you age. Living a full, active life as we age, particularly as we life even longer, is imperative, and it’s something that’s very attainable – Zwell is here to help you improve your quality of life, your Zwellspan.
There are many simple, natural measures that can be employed to restore restful, rejuvenating sleep. Before choosing any particular approach it is important to uncover the root cause of your sleeplessness. This information will help you narrow in on an effective solution best suited for you.
Factors to Consider
- The majority of insomnia is caused by emotional distress such as anxiety, depression and tension. (8) If you suspect psychological factors are negatively influencing your sleep patterns seek guidance from your health care professional. You may also wish to experiment with relaxation, meditation or yoga techniques to soothe your mind and create feelings of calm before bedtime.
- Many prescription medications can have a negative action on normal sleep cycles. If you are taking prescription medications speak with your pharmacist or health care provider about possible side effects and options for encouraging restful sleep.
- The impact of caffeine varies widely from person to person. Caffeine, even in small amounts from chocolate or cola can create a stimulating effect in sensitive people.
- Alcohol “produces a number of sleep-impairing effects.” (9) Alcohol causes the release of adrenaline, a stimulating hormone and blocks the transport of a calming amino acid called tryptophan to the brain.
- “Nocturnal Hypoglycemia” is a term that refers to a drop in blood glucose during sleep. Since many Canadians suffer with an inability to properly balance their blood sugar and tend to over-eat refined carbohydrate foods, it is common to see the blood sugar drop dramatically during sleeping hours. This disrupts normal sleep cycles and contributes to restlessness or awakening during the night.
- Inadequate stimulation, both mental and physical can contribute to sleeplessness. A tired mind is more likely to relax into sleep, so engage regularly in mentally challenging activities such as puzzles and word games. Additional studies demonstrate that regular physical activity improves the quality of sleep. (10)
- The natural age-related decline of melatonin may be an underlying cause of disturbances in sleep architecture in the Zoomer population. (11)
- “Sleep hygiene” is a term that refers to your habits in preparing for sleep and your sleep environment. An excess of light, noise, heat and outside distractions such as television, children or pets in your bed can all have a negative impact on your natural ability to fall into a restful sleep and stay sleeping throughout the night.
- Two pro-inflammatory cytokines (chemical signals) known as interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor have been noted in studies to be elevated in those suffering with insomnia. (12, 13) “These findings mean that insomnia may promote a constant state of low-grade inflammation that may accelerate many diseases of aging.” (14)
Conventional medicine offers a variety of prescription sleep aids.
Benzodiazepines. These drugs were introduced in the 1960s and were used for the treatment of insomnia. They were very popular sleep aids for several decades but are prescribed less frequently today because of concerns over dependency, impairment in memory and movement, and a “hangover” effect the next day. The following are some popular benzodiazepines:
- Valium® (diazepam)
- Dalmane® (flurazepam)
- Doral® (quazepam)
- Halcion® (triazolam)
- ProSom® (estazolam)
- Restoril® (temazepam)
- Klonopin® (clonazepam)
Nonbenzodiazepine, benzodiazepine receptor agonists. Introduced in the 1990s, these drugs are now the first-line treatment for insomnia. They include Ambien® (zolpidem) and Sonata® (zaleplon). These drugs have been shown to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and have fewer side effects than the benzodiazepines, but they are also recommended for short-term use. A newer drug in this class, Lunesta® (zopiclone), appears to be equally effective and may be acceptable for long-term therapy. In general, however, most researchers call for better long-term studies.
Other drugs used to treat insomnia include sedative antidepressants, such as trazodone (Desyrel®), amitriptyline (Elavil®) and doxepin (Sinequan®). These medications are usually prescribed for insomnia in the context of depression rather than for treatment of primary insomnia, at least in part because of their many side effects, including dry mouth, weight gain, constipation, and a host of other problems.
Melatonin. In Zoomer years, there is a natural decline in the body’s production of Melatonin, a chemical secreted by the pineal gland that helps induce sleep. Where natural Melatonin levels are low, supplementation has been shown to offer significant help with falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night. (17) Melatonin is a said to be “one of the best aids for sleep” (21) amongst the Zoomer population.
Passionflower. As a standardized herbal extract, Passionflower is an excellent sleep aid known for its ability to soothe anxiety and extend sleep time without the “hangover” effect often experienced when using pharmaceutical sleep aids. Having both a mild sedative effect and analgesic properties, Passionflower has been shown to relieve bodily tension and nerve pain that inhibit restful sleep. (18)
Valerian Root. Several double-blind studies have demonstrated that this plant significantly improves sleep quality for insomniacs. (19) In fact, one double blind study reports 89 percent of participants reported improved sleep with Valerian (20) without the daytime sleepiness often caused by pharmaceutical options.
Scullcap. This potent medicinal herb is used to soothe the nervous system and induce sleep in insomniacs. Favoured in alternative medicine as an antispasmodic and anti-anxiety remedy, Scullcap may help calm an overactive mind and encourage restful sleep without side effects such as sleepiness then following morning.
Zwell Lifestyle Recommendations
CRON. “Nocturnal Hypoglycemia” is a term that refers to a drop in blood glucose during sleep. Since many Canadians suffer with an inability to properly balance their blood sugar and tend to over-eat refined carbohydrate foods it is common to see the blood sugar drop dramatically during sleeping hours. This disrupts normal sleep cycles and contributes to restlessness or awakening during the night.
Likewise, the typical North American diet, high in saturated fat, red meat, caffeine, sugar and alcohol contributes to chronic and systemic inflammation in the body. Two pro-inflammatory cytokines (chemical signals) known as interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor have been noted in studies to be elevated in those suffering with insomnia. (12, 13)
The CRON diet consists of whole foods, rich in nutrients to heal and repair the body. It is high in fibre and naturally low in sugar, encouraging balance in blood glucose levels throughout the day and night. An abundance of alkalizing fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and legumes cools the fires of inflammation. Eating for maximum nutritional benefit ensures the body is given all of the raw materials needed to maintain and sustain the natural biological rhythms of activity and rest you are meant to live in for long term health.
Sleep & Stress. Stressful feelings have an undeniable impact on the quality and quantity of your sleep and conversely, the quality of your sleep has a direct effect on your body’s response to stress. Research shows that the majority of insomnia is caused by emotional distress such as anxiety, depression and tension. (8) And on the flips side, a recent study confirms findings first discovered almost a decade ago; chronic lack of sleep triggers an elevation in stress hormones and a heightened daytime stress response. (6) In addition to messing with mood, insomnia is often a contributing factor in weight gain by triggering the release of stress hormones which negatively impact blood sugar control and encourage abdominal weight gain.
Sleep is your body’s time for repair and rejuvenation. When this natural healing process is disturbed by sleeplessness a cascade of negative consequences begin. Engage every day in activities that help reduce and manage your stressful feelings before they manifest into many sleepless nights.
Likewise, do not take a few nights of lying awake for granted. Research shows that after only a few nights of inadequate sleep stress hormones rise, setting off a chain reaction of daytime irritability and blood sugar imbalances that set the stage for serious degenerative disease.
Sweat. Studies demonstrate that regular physical activity can improve the quality and quantity of your sleep (10) however “according to Health Canada, less than 50% of Canadians live an active lifestyle.”(15) Vigorous cardiovascular exercise 3-6 hours prior to bedtime can encourage restful sleep by working with your body’s natural inclination to recover from rigours activity. If you work out closer to bed time stick to resistance training or stretching to avoid a spike in body temperature that can discourage the natural chemical reactions that trigger restful sleep.
Connect. In a recent study conducted at Northwestern University, subjects who went to bed feeling lonely, sad or overwhelmed demonstrated high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) the next day. (16) We know that elevated cortisol levels can be a factor in poor blood sugar management and in turn, disrupted sleep patterns. This is yet another example of how your intangible feelings can create very tangible outcomes in your physiology. Pay attention to your emotional well-being and reach out; get involved in something fun after work, volunteer, plan a trip with your partner or friends. Connecting with others is an important aspect of feeling well and sleeping well.
Safety Considerations & Contraindications
- This information is meant for educational purposes and is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure disease. If you require medical attention, please seek a licensed health care provider.
- Therapeutic use of natural food constituents (such as vitamins, minerals and herbal extracts) may potentiate the effects of prescription medications. Speak with a licensed health care practitioner about possible interactions.
- Check with your health care professional before beginning any exercise or diet program.
- These recommendations may not be suitable for children, pregnant or lactating women.
- Melatonin may increase blood pressure in those on anti-hypertensive medications.
- Do not take melatonin if you are depressed.
- Do not take high doses of melatonin if you are trying to conceive. High doses of melatonin have been shown to inhibit ovulation.
- Exceeding the recommended dose of Melatonin can cause morning grogginess, a feeling of having a hangover or a “heavy head,” or gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea.
- Scullcap should not be used by pregnant women, or women who wish to become pregnant.
1. Dr. Natasha Turner, ND., The Hormone Diet, Random House Canada, 2009, Pg. 150
2. Srinivasan V et al 2005
3. Dr. Natasha Turner, ND., The Hormone Diet, Random House Canada, 2009, Pg 151
4. Copinschi G 2005
5. Morselli L, Leproult R, Balbo M, Spiegel K. Role of sleep duration in the regulation of glucose metabolism and appetite. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab.2010 Oct;24(5):687-702.
6. Rev Med Liege. 1999 Nov;54(11):898-900.
7. Stanford University Medical Center (2004, December 9). Stanford Study Links Obesity To Hormonal Changes From Lack Of Sleep.
8. Michael Murray, ND., Jospeh Pizzorno, ND., Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 2nd Edition, Three Rivers Press, New York, NY, 1998. Pg. 602
9. Michael Murray, ND., Jospeh Pizzorno, ND., Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 2nd Edition, Three Rivers Press, New York, NY, 1998. Pg. 603
10. H. Kaplan and B. Sadock, Modern Synopsis of Comprehensive Textbook Psychiatry IV, (Baltimore: Williams & Wilkens, 1985), 558-74
11. Munch et al M 2005; Pandi-Perumal SR et al 2005
12. Burgos I et al 2005
13. Vgontzas AN et al 2002
15. Dr. Natasha Turner, ND., The Hormone Diet, Random House Canada, 2009, Pg. 317
16. Northwestern University (2006, October 31). Adults Who Go To Bed Lonely Get Stress Hormone Boost Next Morning. ScienceDaily.
17. A.B. Dollins et al., “Effect of Inducing Nocternal Serum Melatonin Concentrations in Daytime on Sleep, Mood, Body Temperature and Performance,” Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 91 (1994): 1824-8
18. Dr. Natasha Turner, ND., The Hormone Diet, Random House Canada, 2009, Pg. 168
19. P. Leathwood, F. Chauffard, E. Heck, and R. Munoz-Box, “Aqueous Extract of Valerian Root Improves Sleep Quality in Man,” Pharmacol Biochem Behaviour 17 (1982): 65-71.
20. O. Lindahl and L. Lindwall, “Double Blind Study of Valerian Preparation,” Pharmacol Biochem Behav 32 (4) (1989): 1065-6.
21. Michael Murray, ND., Jospeh Pizzorno, ND., Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 2nd Edition, Three Rivers Press, New York, NY, 1998. Pg. 606