Investigating Insomnia: Beyond Basics

Basic information on sleep hygiene and natural remedies for insomnia abound. If you have not tried any of the natural medicine options like valerian, passionflower, L-theanine, or melatonin, our wellness specialists would be happy to show you the various options available. But what if you have tried the basic natural remedies, and still suffer from chronic insomnia?

Here are some of the technicalities of sleep, and things to consider investigating further when first line therapies are not enough.

1. REM sleep heals: Are you someone who burns the candle at both ends, or one of the lucky folk who continue to perform well on 4-5 hours of sleep or less?  There are 4 stages of Rapid Eye Movement sleep, each of which have specific healing actions for the mind and body. Ideally, the body cycles through four to five 90 minute cycles per night of these stages while sleeping. (That is a minimum of 6 – 7.5 hours sleep per night.) During this time, memory is improved, ghrelin and lectin ~ the hormones related to hunger signals ~ are reset, and the pancreas rejuvenates which affects insulin levels. Without sufficient REM sleep memory falters, appetite increases, and insulin deregulates. Therefore, although you may still feel good and function well, less than 6 hours is not enough for the deep rejuvenation that sleep provides. In fact, recent studies have shown that increasing hours of sleep alone can improve fat loss.

2. Alcohol increases deep sleep and decreases REM sleep; this is why people often awake feeling unrefreshed after drinking even with a full night’s sleep as the body does not fall into the restorative levels of REM repair under alcohol’s influence. Chronic low levels of REM sleep due to consistent evening alcohol excess lead to the same problems listed above: poor memory, weight gain, increased appetite, and insulin resistance.

3. Sleep-specific neurotransmitter testing is an individualized way to understand the underlying mechanisms of chronic insomnia. This testing is done by NeuroScience, through Naturopathic Doctors, Integrative Medicine Doctors or Nurse Practitioners, and some Psychiatrists. There are several different kinds of brain chemistry imbalances that can cause insomnia. These can be grouped into excess excitatory neurotransmitters like adrenaline (norepinephrine), dopamine, histamine, and cortisol or deficient calming neurotransmitters like serotonin and gaba. Treating your specific causation patterns  leads to improved outcomes for individual patients

4. Other factors that can cause poor sleep and may need to be investigated or treated include:

  • stress (anxiety, depression and cortisol levels)
  • toxins (flame retardant mattresses and other chemicals)
  • poor diet (inflammatory foods, caffeine, MSG)
  • pain (digestive, reproductive, or musculoskeletal)
  • genetics (in utero flooding of transplacental neurotransmitters sets up chronic deficiency/excess patterns.)

Impaired sleep is becoming recognized as a key factor in many of the chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, and depression. Insomnia effects 25% of Americans, and current statistics suggest up to 74% of stay at home moms have chronic sleep problems. Yet only 7% of women are being treated for sleep disorders. While sleep used to be considered a passive part of our daily life, it is now being recognized as a crucial time for metabolic resetting and cellular repair. Take the time for a good nights rest, or look into underlying factors that may be disrupting your sleep. Your mind and body will thank you for it!

About the Author

Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness Staff

Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness Staff

Our staff specialties range from pharmaceuticals to nutritional health and wellness, to sports nutrition. We are here to share that knowledge. If we don't know immediately, we'll find out. Stop into the pharmacy or nutritional health and wellness department to ask questions relating to your specific needs, or send us an email.

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