Insomnia

Lingering somewhere between asleep and awake all night long

"Eye-opening information explained why my GI track was unhappy and how my habits were causing me not to get restful sleep." JVW

Woman awake at night

Sleep is a time when the body and its systems get a chance to repair and rest, before getting up to begin another hectic and demanding day. Getting enough sleep is essential for maintaining optimum immune function in healthy individuals, and it is critical to restore immunity in those who have been chronically ill. Sleep disturbances lower resistance to infection, accelerate the progression of inflammatory diseases, depletes growth hormones, increases stress hormones, decreases productivity and can lead to heart disease, depression, chronic fatigue and headaches. It is vitally important for my mental wellbeing that I take care of my physical health. One is very much dependent on the other, so getting enough quality sleep every night must be a priority.

It has become fashionable to claim a need for very little sleep. With all that keeps us busy, the day just doesn’t seem long enough and sleeping may just seem like a waste of time. So, how much sleep is enough? The average person used to get nine hours of sleep per night, before the use of electric lights. Now the average is less than seven hours and shrinking. Studies have shown that most adults are mentally and emotionally at their best when they get eight to ten hours of sleep per night. Children need even more sleep than adults do.

Busy thoughts often keep me from resting my brain and I find that getting my mind to turn off can be a battle when it is time to turn in. Committing to a “bed time” is difficult enough, but even when I succeed at getting in bed at my scheduled bedtime, my mind refuses to comply. Even though I have taken natural supplements, like melatonin, to help me fall asleep - I still struggle to get there. When I do fall asleep, I often find myself up again just a few hours later and am unable to return to sleep. Oh, how I envy my children who seem to drop into a deep and sustained sleep, undisturbed by any noises, and often sleeping into the mid-morning hours. When I do manage to return to some form of “sleep”, I often linger somewhere between asleep and awake. When this continues night after night, resulting in about 6 hours of broke-up and less than restful “sleep”, the activities of the next day suffer as a direct result. I get irritable, easily fatigued and impatient, despite all my efforts not to be. I can’t nap during the day, even if I want to, because the sun is up. In fact, no matter what time I retire, I awake at 3 a.m., whether I want to or not. No alarm clock is needed in my bedroom!

Electromagnet frequencies (EMF's) from wifi, cellphones, towers, cordless phones, wireless mouse, bluetooth, wireless security systems can cause interrupted sleep, sleep that is not restful, unpleasant dreams and an inability to fall asleep. We unplug our wi-fi before bed every night. I can tell if my husband has forgotten and its been on all night. I don't sleep well or for as many hours as I would have if it were unplugged. We can do this because we live where cell phones don't work because no towers are nearby and our neighbors are acres away. If they have wi-fi, it doesn't reach us. In an apartment or neighborhood where homes are close together, wi-fi signals overlap and are always on, so the benefits of unplugging your wi-fi would not be realized.

Insomnia is defined as a habitual sleeplessness, repeated several consecutive nights or for a long duration. It can be a side effect from drugs, hypoglycemia, indigestion, pain, stress, or asthma. The information I found said that caffeine products and other stimulants also make sleeping difficult. I found this to be true. When I stopped drinking the Green Tea, that I so very much enjoyed every morning, I actually got sleepy at around 7:30 p.m. Systemic disorders that involve the liver, heart, kidneys, pancreas, digestive system, brain or lungs can have a serious affect on sleep patterns, as well as poor nutritional habits. There are some specific disorders that interfere with sleep, such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. Problems with the endocrine system, hormone changes (menopause), hypothyroidism, alcohol use and sleep-inducing medications can all affect a person’s ability to achieve a deep and restful sleep. It would be best to have a qualified physician evaluate you for these conditions first.

I decided to search for something that would assist the melatonin and help me sleep through the night. Sustained release melatonin contains ingredients that my body reacts to. I learned the hard way that it is important to know what the individual chemical components in plants are and what they do, because plants contain powerful volatile oils and other chemicals. Many of them are highly irritating to mucus membranes. This is a major concern as I must avoid plant chemicals that anger my IBS and Colitis. I researched the various medicinal herbs that would help my mind calm down and relax me. The following information is what I learned, the products I tried and the results I experienced.

Melatonin is a hormone that is used by the body to regulate the biological clock. It is produced in the pineal gland in the brain during hours of darkness, and assists the brain to produce moods and behaviors that are appropriate for certain times of the day and year. The body makes less melatonin as it ages. Melatonin has its greatest effect during the middle phase of sleep. When supplementing with melatonin, I have learned that timing is critical to re-establish sleep patterns. I take it within 30 minutes of going to sleep. Caution - The warnings I found say that melatonin can accumulate in the body fat and be released unpredictably, causing feelings of jet-lag during the day, so I don’t take more than 3 to 5 mg daily for longer than two weeks at a time. High doses can inhibit ovulation in women, especially those who take progesterone. I read somewhere, not to take melatonin with kava, 5-HTP, or valerian, because the combination can cause severe prolonged drowsiness. I have safely taken this product for years. I don’t know how I could manage without it.

Valerian is said to be good for nervousness, ulcers, headaches, colic, gas, pain, stress, anxiety, insomnia, convulsions, muscle cramps, spasms, improved circulation and acts as a sedative. It is also said to reduce mucus caused by colds. Its chemical and nutritional content includes, acetic acid (which is corrosive to the skin - causing burns and blisters, and irritates mucous membranes. Vinegar is 4-18% acetic acid), butyric acid, formic acid (also corrosive to the skin, repeated exposure develops allergies), and magnesium. It is a source of GABA, which blocks irrelevant nerve impulses in the brain, resulting in improved sleep quality and reduces the number of times a person wakes up during the night. It tends to decrease the amount of time needed to fall asleep and the duration of time spent in stage 1 of sleep. The volatile oils it contains include limonene, a sesquiterpene, calerian camphor (highly irritating to mucous membranes), alkaloids, chatinine, actinidine, choline, tannins (causes bowel irritation, liver damage, and gastrointestinal pain. The warnings I found say that excessive or long term use of herbs containing high tannin concentrations is not recommended), valerianine, and a natural source of valerian (Valium), which are water-soluble chemicals responsible for it’s sedative properties, responsible for easing nervous tension, muscle tension and anxiety. On the one hand, Valerian is said to benefit the nervous system and promote sleep, while at the same time the volatile oils cause intestinal inflammation that swells my intestines shut from one end to the other, like squeezing your hand into a tight fist. Even diarrhea can’t get through there. The warnings I found say that if taken at higher than recommended doses for long periods of time, withdraw symptoms are possible if discontinued suddenly. I heard that high doses can cause nausea, headaches, dizziness, weak heartbeat and even paralysis. It is considered safe by the FDA, when taken as recommended, but I must avoid this herb.

Skullcap is a powerful medicinal herb that is said to be good for nervous disorders, including epilepsy, insomnia, hysteria, anxiety, convulsions, migraine headaches, and withdrawal from barbiturates and tranquilizers. It is currently being used as an alternative medicine to treat ADD/ADHD. It is said to relieve pain, stress, muscle cramps and spasms. It improves circulation, strengthens the heart muscle and aids sleep. It is an anti-inflammatory, slightly astringent, and strong tonic. Its chemical and nutritional content includes, iron, vitamin E, scutellarin (flavonoid; used for constipation, liver complaints, dysentery and lung conditions), catalpol (flavonoid; anti-inflammatory), volatile oils; iridoids (creates the bitter taste that discourages herbivores and defends against pest infestation, but are believed to exhibit beneficial bioactivities to humans, including anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic) and tannins. Caution - The warnings I found say that it should be used with some caution, since an overdose can cause giddiness, stupor, confusion, irregular heartbeat and twitching. Skullcap has been linked to liver damage, though it is suspected that the source of damage was actually from plants of the Teucrium species, which were being substituted for Skullcap. It is important to acquire the herb from reputable sources. The label says, use in moderation and avoid if you have liver problems. It is used to promote menstruation, so it should not be given to pregnant women, since it can induce a miscarriage. There are no known cases of negative interactions with other herbs or medications, but due to it’s sedative effect, skullcap should not be combined with prescription sedatives. All plants contain tannins, but the level is low. This herb is not an antibiotic, antibacterial, antiseptic or anti-fungal, so it does not appear to possess the qualities that would harm friendly flora, or irritate mucous membranes. I have found this herb to be of benefit, with no unwanted side effects.

Passionflower contains chrysin, which acts on the same sites in the brain as the bensodiazepine drugs Librium and Valium, but without causing drowsiness during the day. It has a calming, sleep inducing effect that is not habit-forming. The active ingredient, harmine, helps to inhibit the breakdown of serotonin. Caution - Passionflower should not be used by pregnant women, because it could stimulate childbirth. I have used this herb and found it did benefit me, with no unwanted side effects.

L-Theanine is an amino acid. It reduces anxiety.

Vitamin B is essential for a good night sleep. A good vitamin B complex supplement is food for my nervous system and helps me in so many ways. Heat destroys vitamin B, so I keep it in the refrigerator and do not expose B vitamins to heat by drinking a hot beverage when I take my pill. Cooking meats at hight temperatures also destroys vitamin B. I store all my vitamins in the refrigerator.

I have discovered that calcium and magnesium are essential for good sleep, as well as bowel function. Deficiencies can cause me to wake up after a few hours and then not be able to return to sleep. I eat leafy green vegetables and almonds, which are a good source of these minerals. I would eat other sources of these nutrients, like oats, walnuts and sunflower seeds, if my body would allow it.

Hops is said to be good for nervousness, restlessness, pain, stress, insomnia, toothaches, earaches, ulcers, circulation and muscle cramps. Its chemical and nutritional content includes, asparagine (amino acid), choline, humulene (anti-inflammatory), inositol (aids in converting food to energy), lupulin (sedative effects on mind and body), manganese, PABA, picric acids (used to make munitions and explosives), and vitamin B. The picric acid concerned me. Consuming a substance, that is used to make explosives, and would travel through my digestive tract is most certainly going to irritate my intestinal mucous membranes, and it did.

5HTP is converted into serotonin, but other important neurotransmitters become more abundant as a result of supplementation, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and endorphins. Supplementation is said to increase the length of quality sleep time. I find this product is very beneficial and it is also one of my six friends that help me with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

St. John’s Wort acts as a nerve tonic and is said to relieve mild cases of depression and insomnia. I read that it is not to be taken with medications for depression, but that is not the case. This is also one of my six friends that help me with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Mullein is said to possess sedative and narcotic properties, but it is also said to expel mucous, acts as an emollient that soothes mucous membranes, and has strong astringent, anti-bacterial and anti-septic properties, which is thought to make it useful for treating bronchitis, asthma and other chest ailments. The volatile plant oils kill germs, making it extremely effective in treating mouth and gum ulcers, one source said. Topically, it is said to help relieve hemorrhoids. It contains tannin and the seeds contain rotenone and coumarin, which are considered dangerous by the FDA. I avoid this herb, because though it is said to reduce inflammation as a direct result of its astringent properties, I find that it actually irritates mucous membranes and causes inflammation of my bowels. I imagine that it strips my mucous membranes of their own natural mucous and replaces it with its own “emollient” properties. I found it to be constipating and a mucous membrane irritant that caused my intestines to swell shut for days.

Jamaican dogwood is said to act as a sedative, anti-spasmodic, heart tonic, analgesic, diuretic and pain reliever. In Central and South America it is used to poison fish, though I can’t imagine why anyone would want to do that. It contains a substance known as rotenone (used in insecticides to control lice, fleas and larvae, but rotenone is not considered to be toxic to humans). Jamaica dogwood contains picric acids (used to make munitions and explosives). I do not think the rotenone and picric acid would benefit me, so I avoid this herb.

Lemon Grass is known for its calming effect, which is helpful in relieving stress and anxiety. It is a rich source of calcium, B vitamins, copper, iron magnesium, manganese, zinc and potassium, as well as antioxidants that are valuable to strengthen the immune system. Its anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties are said to make it useful for skin conditions. It is effective against 12 types of fungi and 22 different strains of bacteria. It is said to detoxify and clean the liver, and is beneficial for the kidneys, bladder, and pancreas, and aids in toning the digestive tract. The warnings I found say that, as with any medicinal herbs, care should be taken when using lemon grass. There are no known adverse reactions or counter-indications for lemon grass with other drugs or dietary supplements. No harmful side effects have been established for long term use of lemon grass, but moderate initial use is recommended by the sources I have found. Caution - It should not be used by women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. It should not be used by people who have kidney or liver problems, and should be avoided by those who are allergic to lemon grass. This herb is a strong anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, so I am concerned that it does possess the qualities that would harm friendly flora, or irritate mucous membranes when used on a regular basis, so I do not include this in my regimen.

Lavender is best known for its calming and soothing effects on the nervous system, which is said to be a valuable remedy for insomnia. Traditionally, it was stuffed into pillow cases to help relieve restless sleep. As a topical medicinal herb, it is used to treat fungal infections, wounds, eczema and other skin problems. It is an anti-spasmodic, which is useful in relieving cramps, headaches, and improving mood. It contains volatile oils with significant antiseptic properties. The warnings I found say that it may increase the sedative effect of antihistamines and depressants, such as morphine or oxycodone, as well as other anti-anxiety medications or sedatives. I have read not to take lavender oil internally. Direct contact with mucous membranes causes irritation, so I don’t use it as a tea. I find this dried herb gives me the best results when I use it traditionally in a little cotton bag, inside my pillow case. I also use the essential oil in a defuser to fill the air, which makes my bedroom smell wonderful and definitely lives up to its reputation for soothing nerves.

Chamomile is said to be a good nerve tonic, sleep aid, appetite stimulant, and digestive aid. It relieves colds, asthma, colitis, diverticulitis, fever, headaches, hemorrhoids, muscle cramps, pain and is useful for the bladder,. It is said to be effective in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis, worms and jaundice. Its chemical and nutritional content includes, anthemic acid (irritates mucous membranes), calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, tannic acid, tiglic acid (skin irritant and considered a toxic substance) and vitamin A. The warnings I found say that it should not be used for long periods of time. Do not use if you have an allergy to ragweed. Decreases spasm of smooth or skeletal muscle. Reduces inflammation. Kills bacteria on skin. Cautions - The warnings I found say to avoid if you are pregnant, think you may be pregnant or plan to become pregnant. I began to drink a cup of chamomile tea before bed every night and discontinued it after the 3rd night, because it swelled my intestines shut. When I learned of the volatile oils it contained, I realized why my body reacted to it. With all that said, I have discovered the wonderful sleep benefits of using chamomile essential oil in a defuser in my bedroom. I enjoy a restful nights sleep from just breathing in the aromatherapy oil.

This study into the chemical composition of many commonly used medicinal herbs has proven to be very helpful in my understanding of just how powerful plant chemicals are. The many books I have read about medicinal herbs and resources I have found online have convinced me that taking medicinal herbs should not be done casually or without the guidance of a trained professional.

Other things I found to be helpful information:
CAUTION! It is recommended not to use sleep aids for more than two weeks at a time. Antidepressant drugs or tranquilizers, such as Vibrium, Valium or Xanax should not be taken with sleep-aids. Don’t use an herb if you are taking a prescription medication without consulting a doctor, and always consult your physician before you take sleep aids.

Other helpful tips:
I do not eat within two hours of going to sleep. Digestion stops when the body is in a horizontal position and food sits in the gut for hours, causing sleep disturbances as well as constipation, gas, abdominal distention and inflammation.

I avoid stimulants, especially within eight hours of bed time; such as coffee, chocolate, tea and alcohol. Low blood sugar levels release stress hormones, that in turn release sugars stored in the liver, which cause people to wake up in the middle of the night. I avoid consuming sugar before bed to keep my glucose level up, because sugar before bed is a stimulant that produces unpleasant dreams.

I drink water every two hours during the day and my last glass two hours before bed time, so I don’t wake up feeling dehydrated in the middle of the night or need to go to the bathroom.

Foods that I avoid feeding my family for dinner are those that contain tyramine, which increase the release of norepinephrine, a brain chemical stimulant. This would include - spinach, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, sausage, ham, cheese, bacon, wine and alcohol, sauerkraut, chocolate, sugar, tobacco and caffeine.

Foods I include in my families’ dinner menu are those that contain high levels of the amino acid L-tryptophan, which promotes sleep. This would include - turkey, tuna, figs, dates, bananas, and nuts.

Two hours before bed time, I turn off lights to encourage the production of melatonin. I also avoid staring at television or a computer screen, as this projects light into the eyes and discourages the production of melatonin. Instead, I read a book.

I do not to take over the counter sleep aids, because they do not produce the deep, restful sleep I desire and may also produce several undesirable side effects, including depression, confusion, unpleasant dreams, and can cause addiction or dependency.

The ticking of a clock will keep me awake or prevent me from sleeping deeply. I wear headphones that are designed to cancel out noise for construction workers. To make it comfortable, I put one ear piece inside the neck of a "neck pillow".

I can't sleep in the same room, much less in the same bed with anyone, so I have my own room.

Sleepin wearing noise canceling headphones
Sweet Dreams!

Don't give up! The beginning is always the hardest part. It will get easier.

If you have questions, email johnna@wholefamilyhealthandnutrition.com to schedule your free introductory consultation. I look forward to serving you. JVW

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. The information provided in this blog the mention of these products is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, and is not an endorsement of any particular product or brand. Always consult a medical professional before you begin taking any supplements or herbs.