Anne Dunev, PhD CN
I have helped many, many people sleep better over years of clinical practice. The good news is that sleep problems are not just about “stress,” so there is something you can do about it. Sleeping well is the most natural thing in the world! If you cannot sleep, there is something going on physically — something that can be fixed.
The following are the main barriers I have found to a good night’s sleep.
Thyroid problems. The thyroid hormones can be out of balance and that may cause heart palpitations at night. Or the body may not be able to relax enough to sleep. Have your thyroid checked by a practitioner who really understands about the thyroid. Many doctors do not know how to test correctly for thyroid problems and you may be told that the blood lab work has come back “normal.” But if thyroid issues go undetected, it can have a serious effect on your over-all health, not just sleep.
Blood sugar problems. If you are sleepy in the middle of the afternoon, or fall asleep when sitting down, the problem may not be your lack of sleep, but your blood sugar. Try eliminating all sugar and bread or cereal products for 3 weeks and see if that helps. Eat only a small protein snack before bed, with some good quality fat. Be sure to eat a protein breakfast within an hour after rising. If you are not hungry in the morning and hate eating breakfast, your blood sugar is not on a normal cycle. Your blood sugar should fall at night so that you are ready to eat in the a.m. Eat small, frequent meals with good quality fat and protein at each. Good fats include real butter, unrefined oils, raw coconut oil, raw nut butters, organic dairy products.
Toxicity of liver/gall bladder. It is a principal of Chinese medicine that the organs detox at night. If an organ is very congested, that can cause wakefulness. If you wake up between 2 and 4 a.m. and find it difficult to go back to sleep, consider a liver/gall bladder detox. Truthfully, anyone can benefit from a “spring cleaning” for the liver and gall bladder, as the liver is the main detox organ for the blood. Allergies, obesity, cancer, aches and pains, constipation, flatulence, itching skin, skin eruptions like acne and eczema, bad breath, cravings for tobacco, alcohol, drugs and sweets, dry skin, worrying may all be signs of an over-burdened liver.
Adrenal fatigue. Fibromyalgia, asthma, allergies, muscular and nervous exhaustion, poor circulation, low blood pressure and anxiety may all be signs of adrenal exhaustion. These symptoms may interfere with restful sleep. See a practitioner who can test and treat adrenals. If you have thyroid issues, suspect adrenal problems, as well. The endocrine system works together like an orchestra. You can’t expect beautiful music unless all the instruments are being played.
Digestion issues. Eat lightly at night after 6 p.m. and take digestive enzymes and probiotics. Most of the patients I see who have a gastric reflux diagnosis actually have a hiatus hernia. Medical doctors don’t know how to fix it, but it is a simple adjustment by a Chiropractor or Naturopath. Don’t take medication that stops your digestion by lowering your stomach acid like the GURD medications do. Most of us need more stomach acid, not less, due to our high sugar and carb diets. But we need the stomach acid to break down proteins we eat. If indigestion is keeping you up at night, find someone who can actually fix your digestive ability, not mask the symptoms with drugs.
The bottom line is to consider insomnia as a symptom of a deeper problem. The answer is not sleep medication, or psychotropic medication, as the medications themselves are toxic to the organs, have side-effects, are often addictive and may be a short-term crutch that masks or worsens a long-term health problem.
If your medical doctor simply wants to give you medication without identifying the underlying problem, find a practitioner who can really help. Lack of sleep puts tremendous stress on the body. Sleep is a time of healing and repair, and if that is not taking place health can deteriorate rapidly. Life becomes burdensome when the body is exhausted. Treat insomnia as a secondary condition and know that your body is asking for help. Find the real cause of your insomnia and you will be able to correct a health issue that is demanding your attention.
Your body deserves to be rested and refreshed from a good night’s sleep. Sweet dreams.
This post first appeared in The Huffington Post.