I haven’t been sleeping well lately. Ugh. It’s been quite a struggle to maintain my 7-8 hours of shuteye each night and I am tired! I know I’m not alone in my insomnia either. Millions of people (1 in 3 actually) can identify with this very common issue and would openly acknowledge that they have suffered from it at least once during their lifetime. There are a myriad of different reasons for it too – having children, stress & worry (about everything from money and jobs to marriage and family), lifestyle changes, ‘foodstyle’ changes, hormone changes and a slew of other underlying health issues and life circumstances. For me, it has waxed and waned over the years but recently has become more prominent again, so I thought I would share some of my own experiences with sleeplessness and some tips and strategies that have helped me work through it.
HOW LACK OF SLEEP AFFECT US
Because sleep deprivation can have such adverse effects on our body and mind, it has become one of the biggest health challenges today. We have all experienced the negative results of a single sleepless night – a day of grogginess and irritability, lack of concentration and general malaise. All of this is amplified when one night turns into days, weeks or months. It is during sleep that our body’s processes repair and rebuild, so of course the long-term repercussions of insomnia can be quite detrimental to our overall health and wellbeing. Here are just a few of the many health consequences we know to be a result of long-term sleep deprivation:
- It weakens the immune system
- It causes weight gain
- It impairs memory and cognitive function
- It destroys skin health and accelerates aging
- It lowers libido
- It can increase the risk of heart disease and hypertension
- It contributes to mood disorders and depression
- It further exacerbates hormonal imbalances
WHY AREN’T YOU SLEEPING?
It’s most helpful if you can understand what it is that’s keeping you up at night. I have been through insomnia a few times and what I have come to realize is that the “catch-all” approach to curing it doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone, in every instance – there are just too many variables in the cause. So it can only serve to help you if you have some idea why your sleep is being disrupted.
The first time I went through insomnia was the result of emotional stress. It was many years ago and I was working at a job I hated. I was young and passionate and wanted something completely different for myself but could not figure out how to go about getting it. Insomnia started taking over. Initially, I tried everything my doctor recommended but nothing helped. Eventually I discovered yoga and meditation and herbal remedies, and was able to resolve some of the sleep issues I was having. Of course, finally moving on from that job proved to be the best cure.
The second was a few years ago and I had decided that becoming vegetarian would be the ultimate gift to myself, for my health. Unfortunately, I was wrong and insomnia crept in soon after switching to that diet/lifestyle. For the record, I am NOT judging vegetarianism – I recognize that it works for some. It just didn’t work for me. It wreaked havoc on my system and seriously messed with my sleep cycle. Thankfully, I realized after only a few months that that was the root cause (of my insomnia) and was able to cure it by changing my diet back to include animal protein.
The most recent occurrence has been over the last few months, and with the help of my Naturopathic Doctor we’ve discovered that it is caused by the hormonal shifts of pre-menopause. Once again the cure will be completely different from the insomnia I’ve been through before. This time it will be about maintaining hormone balance through diet and supplements, meditation and exercise – totally individualized for my current needs and completely different from any previous episodes of insomnia.
FINDING YOUR WAY BACK TO SLEEP
As you can see, I’ve endured many bouts of insomnia during my lifetime. Each had a cause that was very different from the previous one and therefore required a very different resolution. The first step to understanding and dealing with insomnia is to learn what is keeping you up at night. Begin with the simplest, most common causes that are known to affect sleep and then make the appropriate changes. Here’s a list of some of them:
- Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and sugar (especially after mid-afternoon)
- Watching TV (or working at a laptop, smartphone, iPad, etc) before bed
- Working late at night
- Stress, worry
- Unhealthy diet with too many processed foods
- Lack of exercise
Of course this list doesn’t begin to cover ALL of the reasons one might suffer from insomnia but it does cover the basic ones that are the easiest to shift. Finding your way back to sleep will involve change, especially if your lifestyle includes any of the above root causes. Begin with small changes like: turning off the TV and all other electronics at least 1 hour before bed, limiting caffeine and other stimulants after 3pm, exercising daily and changing your eating habits. Trust me, it will make your life a whole lot easier if you start here.
If you have made all of the positive changes to your diet and lifestyle and find you still can’t get back to sleep, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor to make sure there isn’t another underlying cause. Also, I think it’s important to remember that we are all individual so what works for others may not actually work for you. For this reason, a Naturopathic Doctor and/or and Nutritionist can be a tremendous help, working with you to sort through what could be causing your insomnia and helping you create a solid plan for improvement.