Sleep problems affect approximately 30-50% of the population and 10% have chronic sleep problems.
Traditional medicine uses medication to induce sleep and expensive and intensive sleep studies to treat sleep disorders.
Holistic medicine practitioners find the underlying causes of sleep problems and correct them through non-pharmaceutical approaches.
Sleep is regulated on a circadian rhythm by the brain and adrenal glands. As darkness comes the pineal gland in the brain recognizes the change in light which stimulates melatonin- a hormone that puts you to sleep. The precursors to melatonin are the amino acid tryptophan which converts to 5-HTP which converts to serotonin and then melatonin.
Vitamins B6, B12, folic acid, niacin and minerals iron and magnesium are required for the production of melatonin so deficiencies in these can cause difficulty falling asleep.
Stress can inhibit your ability to fall asleep due to the fact the cortisol produced by the adrenal glands inhibits melatonin production. Stress can come in many forms including emotional, physical, chemical, chronic infections, nutritional deficiencies, anemia, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, over-training etc.
If you can fall asleep easily but wake up during the night many times or you can’t go back to sleep then you most likely have blood sugar and adrenal imbalances. While you are sleeping your body loses about 2/3 of it’s stored sugar reserves. Your adrenal glands maintain healthy blood sugar levels while you are sleeping but if your adrenals are exhausted you can’t keep your sugar levels normal. This causes small spurts of adrenaline to be produced in an attempt to raise blood sugar which wakes you up. This is a classic sign of hypoglycemia and adrenal fatigue.
The first step in correcting hypoglycemia and adrenal fatigue (which usually coincide) is to eat small frequent meals throughout the day and eat before you go to bed. Eating this way keeps your blood sugar levels stable and eating before bed ensures less of a blood sugar drop while sleeping. Each meal should contain high-quality protein, unprocessed carbohydrates and vegetables. Fruit is okay but should be limited and vegetables emphasized to ensure there are no blood sugar roller coasters which further stress the adrenal glands.
The next step is to eliminate as many sources of stress as possible such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, poor dietary choices, over-training etc.
A thorough work-up from a holistic-minded physician may be required to find out why your adrenal glands and blood sugar are out of balance. Correcting sleep problems is not just a matter of taking melatonin but finding the underlying cause of why you can’t sleep.