Do You Have One of the Four Types of Insomnia?

Patients often tell me that they are tired, and that it is causing a serious problem in their ability to function and enjoy life. They may find it hard to lose weight, have difficulty on their jobs, and they may be moody and irritable causing problems in their relationships.

Before the widespread use of electric lights, people slept an average of nine hours a night. The Inuits (Eskimos) slept 14 hours during the long winters, but only 6 in the summer months, naturally adapting to the amount of sunlight in far northern lands. For more about the history of sleep, check out this sleep time-line, from earliest history to the present.

Why we need to sleep has long been debated. But we do know that lack of sleep causes both physical and mental health issues. There does not seem to be much difference in the amount of sleep that people need to operate well.  7-9 hours seems to be the average. Get less than that and the statistics seem to stack up. Loss of productivity, cardiac issues, disease states, obesity, and earlier mortality are all consequences of insufficient sleep.

Since pharmaceutical companies fund many sleep studies, and the agenda may be to push sleep medication, the real question comes down to the individual. Do you feel rested and refreshed from your sleep?  If you sleep only five hours a night and you feel great and have plenty of energy, great! If not, let’s look at what could be improved so you are feeling restored from sleep. Over 38% of surveyed adults report that they fall asleep unintentionally at least once a day. They may need to be taking naps, or getting better nighttime sleep. Sometimes just allowing more time in bed helps. Surfing the Internet or watching television until 2 am can become a habit that needs to be broken so that more time is allowed for a good nights sleep.

There are four main types of sleep issues.

A.     Sleep Onset Insomnia-the inability to fall asleep.

The body needs to be in a state of “letting go” in order to fall asleep. If you are too mentally of physically wired when you hit the pillow, it may take some time to calm down enough. Start your bedtime ritual earlier. Dim the lights, turn off electronics, use a bath, yoga, or other means to relax. Don’t watch late night news. Develop a ritual that tells your body it is time to wind down.

B.     Sleep Maintenance Insomnia-repeated awakenings.

This is the person who reports being a “light sleeper”. They may not be reaching the deeper stages of sleep that are most restorative.  They hover in a light sleep and sound or movement, or body function like nighttime urination or night sweats, wakes them. Using earplugs, making sure the room is very dark, putting pets in another room, keeping the room at a comfortable temperature, and getting to bed earlier, may help. Studies show that going to bed between 10 pm and 12 midnight may allow a better night’s sleep. Our natural circadian body rhythm is geared toward light-dark cycles. Getting to bed early can make all the difference for some people, so that they do not get a “second wind” that causes the body to be “up” and not able to calm enough for deep sleep. Frequent awakenings can also be related to blood sugar imbalances, anxiety and toxins that prevent the body from purging cellular waste. Sleep Apnea is a type of Sleep Maintenance issue that is characterized by interrupted breathing. This prevents sufficient oxygen from reaching the cells, and may lead to various disease states. Oxygen is a vital nutrient. Sleep Apnea is most often associated with being overweight, so weight loss is a must. But there are other causes that can be treated naturally, such as acid reflux and allergies.

C.     Sleep Offset Insomnia-early morning awakenings.

If you are not happy to be up with the birds at early light, but have difficulty sleeping long enough to feel rested, the problem may also be blood sugar and adrenals. Your body may wake up because your blood sugar has dropped, and/or your cortisol levels are too high or too low. Think of cortisol as your get up and go hormone. At the right time, in the right amount, cortisol is an energizer for the body. Cortisol should be low at night so you can sleep, and peak about 8 am. Chronic severe stress may deplete your body of cortisol.

D.    Non-restorative Sleep- Not achieving deep sleep can leave you feeling like

you hardly slept, even if you spent hours in an un-awake state. If you are exhausted, it may be that your body battery is never really recharging. People who report that they never feel rested often over-eat and choose carbs and coffee for quick energy. This only adds to the problem. Switch to protein and fat, eat smaller frequent meals and don’t eat past 7 pm.

Getting your body in rhythm and balance so that you sleep well can require finding out exactly what is holding you back from getting the right kind of sleep. Hormones play a very large role, and that includes the pancreatic hormones that monitor blood sugar, as well as the male and female hormones. Good sleep is possible at any age, and sleep issues can be improved at any age, even after years of poor sleep.

There are root causes for some of these four problems, such as adrenal fatigue, liver and gall bladder congestion, allergies and sinus congestion, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Natural medicine can safely treat sleep issues, without the harmful side effects of prescription medication. 10 % of Americans use sleeping pills. Sleep medications such as Ambien are associated with great risks. Mayo Clinic has stopped using it because of patients falling while drugged. Sleep medications are associated with a four-fold increase in mortality compared to non-drug users, even at small doses.

Restful sleep is a vital part of a healthy and happy life, so consider insomnia as a signal that something needs to be tweaked in your body. Targeting your specific sleep issue is key. Hormone balancing, relaxing herbal medicines, or support for detoxification pathways can improve even long-term sleep problems.

There is an old Irish proverb. "A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book." 

You are the one who needs to be satisfied with your sleep. It all rests between you and your pillow. Just know that help is there if you need it, even if you have tried lots of remedies. Sleep is as natural as breathing, and better sleep can be achieved.

Sweet good night.