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Everyone experiences poor sleep occasionally, but insomnia is tied to a true medical condition that should be addressed, says Dr. Paul Stallone.
by Dr. Paul Stallone
Everyone experiences the occasional night of poor sleep, and pinpointing the culprit is relatively easy; too much caffeine, a hectic day or a change in your daily routine. This is not considered insomnia, which includes chronic difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking too early and not feeling well-rested, even after sleeping through the night. Recovering from a bad night’s sleep is simple, sleep more the next night by either going to bed early or sleeping in.
Recovering from true insomnia depends on the type. Short-term insomnia typically lasts for about three months and is usually linked to obvious stress. About 15 to 20 percent of the population will have this type at some point in their life. Chronic insomnia has no time frame, and people can suffer for years. Chronic insomnia is generally tied to an underlying psychological or medical issue; about 10 percent of the population actually has this type. Both can be caused from stress, lifestyle, certain medical conditions, hormones, diet, alcohol, prescription and illegal drugs, and mental health problems. Most of these factors can be corrected, but some causes are unavoidable, like being a woman and/or over 40 years old, both of which are more prone to insomnia.
Talking with an allopathic physician about insomnia probably resulted in a prescription for a sleep aid. Like most conventional approaches, the symptom is treated, versus the cause. Insomnia is a symptom, not a condition or illness. The body doesn’t just decide not to go to sleep one night; there’s a biological reason why the sleep cycle has been disrupted. Truly addressing insomnia should involve determining this reason. Diagnosing the disruption of the sleep cycle can be fairly simple with the right naturopathic approach. Two common imbalances that can impact sleep are neurotransmitters and hormones.
Neurotransmitters are biochemical messengers in the nervous system that regulate sleep, mood, energy and focus by either stimulating or calming us. There’s a delicate balance between daytime stimulation and nighttime calmness. Producing stimulating neurotransmitters at night could cause anxiety, racing thoughts, increased heart rate and/or nightmares during sleep, all of which will definitely impact the quality of our sleep. Producing too little of the calming neurotransmitters at night will also interfere with sleep, as this could leave us feeling jittery and restless; neither conducive to sleep. As both imbalances may produce similar symptoms, testing is critical to determine what needs correcting.
Hormones that become imbalanced can also disrupt sleep, and there are quite a few which control virtually every function in your body, including sleep. Specific hormones should be produced at specific times during the day. If these levels get too high or too low, adequate energy during the day and productive sleep at night become almost impossible. Disorders of the thyroid hormone, testosterone, cortisol and growth hormone can all contribute to sleep disorders. Detecting which hormone is to blame is important for treatment. A skilled naturopathic physician will know which hormone to test and how.
Once our hormones or neurotransmitters are functioning properly, we’ll not only sleep better and have more appropriate energy, but we’ll also be balancing other functions, as well. Since our digestion, immune system and mood are influenced by hormones and neurotransmitters, we’ll be feeling a difference throughout our whole body. Being sleep deprived can lead to secondary conditions such as anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and obesity. People may not realize how much quality sleep can affect their quality of life. Insomnia requires an individualized approach, but this allows for quicker recovery. Anyone experiencing chronic insomnia should consult with a naturopathic physician to discover the root cause of their symptom; don’t lose sleep over losing sleep.