It might start with a one-off night of rough sleep. One of those night’s where you can’t get your mind to switch off, the temperature is too hot or too cold, and your eyelids don’t want to shut. Then suddenly, you’re realising it’s been a week, a month, a year – maybe even a lifetime! – of broken, restless, or just a lack of sleep.
We all know how important a good night’s sleep is, and it’s only natural, right? Getting enough sleep, as well as maintaining high sleep quality, is foundational to overall health and feeling your best.
From helping your muscles recover from the day’s work, consolidating memories, optimising immune system function to repairing tissues, supporting brain health and balancing your hormones, a night of good sleep is one of the most important things you can gift yourself for whole health and healing.
Let’s take a look at some different factors that could be contributing to insomnia.
High Stress During the Day
Experiencing high levels of stress during the daytime, whether it’s due to high work demands, family schedules, personal issues or even just negative thoughts, can contribute to poor sleep at night.
This is because of your body’s physiological response to stress; any stressors (real or imagined) will stimulate a signal to your adrenal glands to release higher quantities of a hormone called cortisol. In normal amounts, cortisol gets us out of bed, keeps us alert and ready for activity, and naturally drops down as it gets dark.
Cortisol lowering when it’s dark is part of our natural circadian rhythm, and allows for its opposing, sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, to rise and dominate.
However, when cortisol levels are greater than normal, or raised cortisol is sustained throughout most of the day, it can be harder to fall asleep and achieve a restful sleep at nighttime. High stress often means high cortisol at later hours, and if cortisol is high at night, our sleep-supporting melatonin won’t function correctly, and that cortisol will keep telling our brain that it’s time to be awake and in action!
Try: Exploring stress management techniques that work for you. A simple breathing or meditative practice could be enough to bring you back into balance, but if more support is required, there are some lovely herbal remedies available. Check out our herb shop or contact us to see which herbs would be best for you.
Exposure to Blue Light at Night
Blue light! We’ve all heard about it, but what is it?
Blue light is the dominant light that comes from the sun, as well as from our electronic screens: televisions, laptops, computers, phones, tablets, the works.
During the daytime, when the sun is out, we’re exposed to blue light. This exposure is normal and necessary to energise us and keep us awake and alert; as humans, we do most of our work during daylight hours.
However, once we clock off work as the sun goes down, head home, turn the TV on, check our phone, finish off some work on the computer… we’re exposing ourselves to artificial blue light, specifically when we’re meant to be tapering down our exposure (in line with sunset). So, this artificial light switches on our brains, keeping us wired and stimulated as we’re meant to be winding down, setting ourselves up for a not-so-great sleep.
Try: Check out apps for your phones, tablets & computers, which specifically reduce blue light from your screen at night-time hours. Ideally, stop all screen time 2 hours before bed. If screens at night are unavoidable, consider getting some blue light blocking glasses.
One of the most common nutritional deficiencies we come across in our health clinic & health food store is magnesium.
Magnesium is a crucial mineral, responsible for hundreds of biological reactions in your body to keep your DNA healthy, ensure cellular energy production, maintain optimal calcium levels, improve blood sugar regulation and immunity, support muscle recovery and neurotransmitter production. Phew – that was a lot! And that’s just scratching the surface of magnesium’s role in our health.
Due to magnesium’s potent actions on supporting muscle relaxation, as well as maintaining production of calming neurotransmitters, a deficiency is one of the common drivers of sleep issues.
Specifically, magnesium supports the production of a calming neurotransmitter called GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) that’s important to help switch your brain off at bedtime, let go of any niggling thoughts, and ensure you can get to sleep soundly.
Did you know? Magnesium is further depleted in our bodies when cortisol is high. Yep, when our body needs to produce and release more cortisol, it relies on magnesium for the physiological processes. We stock a range of magnesium products, including tablets, powders and topical applications. Contact us here to explore your options with a naturopath.
Anxiety or Depression
Another aspect of health that must be addressed when exploring insomnia and problematic sleep is mental & emotional health. Conditions such as anxiety or depression can have a strong impact on sleep quality and contribute to an awful cycle of poor sleep and poor mood.
Both anxiety and depression will have an influence on your body’s hormone status and is associated with hormonal imbalances (such as excess cortisol and adrenaline, or low melatonin). Both of these conditions may also be interfering with harmonious neurotransmitter balance (e.g. serotonin and GABA disruption). These hormonal and neurotransmitter irregularities can certainly impact your sleep.
As well as this physiological understanding, anxious thoughts and feeling depressed can negatively affect your sleep simply from impacting your emotional balance. Many of us have been in a position of not being able to get to sleep when we’re experiencing a life-changing event, grief, deep sadness or overwhelming, worry thoughts that don’t seem to slow down.
Tip: We recommend working one-on-one with a professional to address your mental health holistically and appropriately. If you’re in crisis and need support, please reach out to Lifeline here
Have you heard about the connection between your digestive system and your brain? These two organs are strongly linked, with disturbances in either system stimulating reactions and affects in the other.
Intolerance to foods is an issue that many of us experience, such as dairy, fructose or gluten intolerance. When we consume foods that we’re intolerant to (or eat products that contain ingredients that our bodies are sensitive to), we’re triggering an inflammatory reaction in our gastrointestinal tract. When this is a rare event or a one-off, our body can recoup quite efficiently if we nourish our guts with good quality, wholefoods. However, when this exposure occurs at a chronic level, that is, repeatedly or consistently, our guts become REALLY unhappy.
An unhappy gut, with microbial imbalances, intestinal permeability, inflammation and poor nutrient absorption, leads to an unhappy brain. And if our brain isn’t nurtured by a healthy gut and environment, sleep problems are likely to arise. Sometimes, food intolerance can be the only driver for insomnia, unrest and emotional imbalance in our clinic. The research on the bi-directional relationship between the brain and the gut is still growing and emerging.
Tip: If you suspect you have a food intolerance that has gone undiagnosed, try working with one of our naturopaths to help you get to the bottom of it. Naturopaths are highly trained in digestive health and nutritional medicine and can guide you through an elimination diet.