It’s estimated that around 30 per cent of adults in western countries will experience insomnia – an inability to fall asleep, or enjoy quality sleep – at some point in their lifetime, yet very little is understood about this debilitating condition.
Matthew Walker, director at University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science links sleep deprivation to a range of serious health issues including diabetes, Alzheimer’s, obesity, and poor mental health. He describes the implications of long term sleep deprivation as being “catastrophic”.
So why do some people have so much trouble falling asleep, while others can nod-off on a hard bench in the middle of Time Square? There are obvious causes of poor sleep – too much coffee, stress, illness, or a newborn baby in the house – however if you can rule all these out and are still feeling sleep-deprived you might want to consider the following:
You’re going to bed too early
It sounds counter-intuitive, but some insomniacs have reported great benefit from a simple change in behaviour that sees them staying up well past their usual bed time. Sleep therapists aren’t really sure why this works, but the theory is that by staying up late, the body and the mind are well and truly tired and this signals to the body’s homeostatic system that deep, restorative sleep is needed, pronto. So when your head hits the pillow it’s lights out – in more ways than one – and the quality of sleep you get is much deeper than usual.
No screen time before bed time
We all love fiddling around with our little electronic devices, however if you’re having trouble getting to the land of nod, you may want to consider banning yourself from all screen time a couple of hours before you head to bed. A number of studies have shown than the blue light radiating from our smartphones, tablets and laptops sends a signal to our brains, via our eyes, that messes with our circadian rhythms and can prevent sleep.
You’re not producing enough melatonin
Melatonin is the ‘sleep hormone’. Its production is usually triggered in the evening, when we’re tired, unwinding from the day, and looking forward to bed. It triggers the brain to start the process of sleep and without it we’d stay awake for days.
In 2013 a team from Yale University published a study that showed participants who took melatonin supplements went to sleep 7 minutes faster than the control group and stayed asleep 8 minutes longer. The study also found that overall sleep quality was significantly improved.
Along the same vein, a study conducted by the Charité Universitätsmedizin in Berlin found that melatonin increased a person’s REM sleep and normalised circadian rhythms – two of the most important factors in achieving quality sleep.
With a script from your integrative doctor, melatonin supplements can be made up by the fully qualified compounding pharmacists at National Custom Compounding. Visit our blog page for more information on melatonin.
Did you know some medications actually have caffeine in them? Other common medications used to treat everything from colds and asthma to heart disease can sometimes contain ingredients that block melatonin production (the hormone that signals to our brain that it’s time to sleep) or disrupt REM sleep. It may pay to ask your doctor about whether your medication could be a suspect cause of your insomnia. If so, your doctor will be able to recommend an alternative or give you a script for a compounded form of your medication – one that doesn’t contain caffeine or anti-sleep ingredients. This script can then be taken to a reputable compounding pharmacy who will make up your medication for you.
Get more Vitamin D
More than one study has shown that people with low levels of Vitamin D often suffer from poor sleep and that increasing the level of Vitamin D in the body through Vitamin D3 supplements brings about an improvement in sleep quality. We get Vitamin D from exposure to the sun, so while these studies only involved supplements it wouldn’t stretch the imagination to suggest that more sun, during safe periods of the day, might be helpful if you’re having trouble nodding off.
You’re not pulling your weight
We all know that after a day full of strenuous physical activity, we’re more tired than usual. However surprisingly little large-scale clinical research has been conducted on the relationship between exercise and sleep quality. While all forms of exercise are known to be beneficial in achieving a good night’s rest, some small studies have shown that weight-training in particular is helpful in improving both the quality and duration of sleep. So find something heavy and start lifting!
But alcohol definitely makes me sleepy! you say. That it does, however several hours after you drift off into a deep slumber, you’ll find yourself suddenly awake, staring at the ceiling – usually at 2am in the morning. Sound familiar? This is because alcohol is disruptive to REM sleep – the part of the sleep cycle that produces dreams and plays a big part in cell restoration and repair. Put 2-3 hours between your last drink and your bedtime and your chances of getting a good night’s rest will be greatly improved. Or better yet – stick to the chamomile tea!