One of the most common conditions I see in patients is sleeping problems. Rarely is this a person’s primary complaint though. I usually have to ask the patient about how they sleep before they realize that: a) their sleeping pattern needs improvement, and b) that I can help them. There are several types of sleeping issues, but it basically boils down to two at the end of the day. A person usually has a problem falling asleep, or they wake up and can’t go back to sleep. And in a worst-case scenario, both.
In my opinion and experience with patients, getting adequate sleep is one of the most important reasons people don’t heal well. To say it simply, our sleeping state should be uninterrupted and a time of recuperation and detoxification. The benefits of proper sleep are practically endless and a topic for an article in and of itself. In this article I’m going to talk the main reasons that I see people have sleep difficulties and some possible solutions.
Very often the problem of both an inability to fall asleep and inability to stay asleep stem from the same reason. That is usually abnormally high levels of stress hormones; typically cortisol and epinephrine (or adrenaline). The question is “Why”? If you recall my article on blood sugar regulation, you may remember that these stress hormones rise when blood sugar falls. The reason for this is because they mobilize stores of glucose and bring the blood sugar back up to normal levels. Keep in mind that the body will typically go to any length it can to keep blood sugar levels stable. Then again, the body will go to any length to keep anything stable because our bodies have built-in, self-healing and self-regulating mechanisms. Its “purpose”, if you will, is survival!
Obviously the action of stress hormones includes more than simply increasing blood sugar levels. Stress hormones get your body and mind ready to handle an emergency, or “fight or flight” situation. Thus, you won’t be falling asleep anytime soon if they are in your bloodstream in elevated levels. You will, however, be ready to run from a tiger. Now, if you fall asleep, wake up, and can’t go back to sleep – that’s almost always a drop in blood sugar during the middle of the night. Again, the stress hormones come and “save the night” and you’re left awake looking for a tiger.
So the key here is to get the blood sugar and stress hormones under control. I know I’ve said this many times about many problems, but believe me – there is a very good reason for it! And don’t think you’re out of the woods because your blood glucose levels fall within normal limits. And if they don’t, then you’ve really got a problem. Read my articles titled “General guidelines for a healthy diet” and “How to eat to maintain healthy blood sugar levels“, if you are not familiar.
If you can’t fall asleep, look at your eating choices and habits, and possible changes you can make which are addressed in the two articles above. If you wake up and can’t fall back asleep, keep a small snack next to your bed, have a few bites, and hopefully that will “save the night” and reduce your stress hormone output. It often works well – give it a try. If I had to choose, I’d go with a health-food bar. Standard Process makes some good ones. Just make sure it’s not very high in simple carbohydrates/sugars that will throw off your blood sugar even more.
One more quick word on high stress hormone levels. If you make good food choices and eat frequently throughout the day, as detailed in the links above, and still have sleeping difficulties…consider this. You may have a liver detoxification imbalance that prevents the breakdown of those stress hormones. This can be highly individualized, but here is some general information on that topic.
The one thing you can be sure of is that your sleeping difficulty is not a deficiency in “sleeping pills”. They typically don’t allow for a full restful night’s sleep, and might prevent you from going into the deepest, healthiest, healing stage of sleep.
While you are working on getting your blood sugar regulated through diet; here are a few more possibilities.
The late, great founder of applied kinesiology, George J. Goodheart DC, DIBAK, had some clinical pearls related to this issue. He would say that an inability to fall asleep is a patient who needs calcium; and a patient who falls asleep and then wakes up needs specific B-vitamins. Calcium (and magnesium) can often act as general “relaxers”, and the specific B-vitamins help to regulate blood sugar.
A few more things. Specific minerals can sometimes help relax an over-excited nervous system; like magnesium and potassium. Certain herbs can also be very helpful, such as: lemon balm, skullcap, valerian, oat straw, and passion flower, to name a few. Gymnema sylvestre is great for regulating blood sugar, but doesn’t act instantly, like those above that may. But remember, herbs can be likened to medication, as no one has a true herb-deficiency. They may however still possess some necessary vitamins and/or minerals that can help. Generally, I see herbs as a good way to “prime the pump” to get a process started, but definitely not something to be dependent upon long-term.
Also, consider caffeine. If you have a sleep disturbance, think about cutting out caffeine after 2pm. That’s still quite late to be drinking caffeinated in my opinion. I typically tell my patients that 1 (regular-size) cup of coffee or tea is fine in the morning.
Lastly, 7-9 hours of sleep seems best for most people. And don’t forget the old adage regarding sleep that says: “every hour before midnight, is equal to 2 hours after”. Try to get to sleep by midnight at the LATEST, and go to sleep before then if you feel tired. Don’t stay up and let that 2nd (stress hormone-induced) wind take hold.
Two more things. Structural stress on the cranium and TMJ can play a role in insomnia. That’s because the pineal gland (which regulates circadian rhythms) lies in the brain. So any stress to the cranium or jaw might affect that gland’s function. Also, the pineal secretes a hormone called melatonin, which is very much involved in sleeping well. This is sold over-the-counter as a dietary supplement. I do NOT recommend taking this leisurely, as you may become dependent on it. Taking any hormone from an exogenous (outside the body) source could cause your body to stop producing its own naturally. The body may recognize the outside source and decide that production needs to be shut down. Long-term, this can be a very big problem.
“Good night and good luck.”
Dr. Robert D’Aquila – NYC Chiropractor – Applied Kinesiology